War Resisters' International has been asked to explain to Inland Revenue why it has not paid a portion of its employees' income tax deductions. Office coordinator Andreas Speck has sent the following letter in response.
War Resisters' International
5 Caledonian Rd, London N1 9DX, Britain
Accounts Office Shipley
London, 11 June 2008
Withholding of tax used to fund war – your reference 846 P 00185689 0813
We received your notice dated 12 May 2008. We want to point out that in withholding the proportion of tax used to fund war, we exercise our human right to freedom of conscience.
The interpretation of human rights is constantly changing, and nowadays there are no doubts any more that conscientious objection to military service is a human right, derived from Art. 9 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. We are convinced that the same is the case for conscientious objection to military taxation. We therefore dispute that the debt – the amount of which we do not dispute – constitutes a legal debt, as it is a result of a law which violates basic human rights, as implemented by the Human Rights Act. You will be aware that the case of the Peace Tax Seven has now been submitted to the European Court of Human Rights, so the issue is legally still open. Until this has been resolved, we do not consider the amount “owed” by us as a legal debt, as we dispute that the Inland Revenue has a right to demand this money from us, as this would constitute a violation of the right to freedom of conscience.
The legal argument is only one part. More important to us are ethical issues: We stand in the tradition of War Resisters' International?s founding statement: "War is a crime against humanity. I am therefore determined not to support any kind of war, and to strive for the removal of all causes of war." Paying the proportion of tax which is used to fund war would effectively constitute a support to war, and contradicts our ethical convictions.
We - the staff of War Resisters' International - come from different parts of the world: Chile, Germany, and Britain. We come from different traditions of nonviolent resistance to war and human rights violations, and refusing to pay the portion of tax used to fund war is an important aspect of putting our ethical convictions into practice. In doing so, we follow the tradition of important nonviolent theoreticians and activists: Etienne de la Boetie, Henry David Thoreau, Tolstoi, Bart de Ligt, Mohandas K. Gandhi.
Henry D Thoreau wrote in his famous essay Civil Disobedience: "If the injustice ... is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn."
In this tradition, WRI issued a statement in response to the "war on terrorism":
"...War Resisters' International urges
- all soldiers - in whichever forces they are supposed to fight: follow your conscience and refuse to take part: apply for conscientious objector status, refuse orders, desert, Say No!
- all those involved in preparations for war, in administration or in arms factories: refuse to do so, Say No!
- journalists and the media asked to promote war: refuse to do so, insist on writing and broadcasting the uncensored truth, Say No!
- all those who pay tax: demand that your taxes are used for peace, withhold the proportion of tax used for war, Say No!
- its members and everyone: support those refusing to participate in war and preparations for war, get involved in direct nonviolent resistance against war!"
As staff of War Resisters' International, we wanted to act in accordance with what we call on others to do, and requested from our Executive Committee to withhold the portion of tax used to fund war. The Executive - as employers - decided in their meeting from 7-9 December 2001, to do so on our behalf. We do so with the hope that our action - together with many other similar actions by other people and organisations - will contribute to the development of human rights and peace.
We again want to stress that it is not our intention to avoid paying this portion of due taxes, but merely to ensure that our human right to freedom of conscience, as enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act, is upheld by receiving a guarantee that our taxes are not used to further the suffering and destruction brought about by war.
We would be grateful to receive notice that the withheld portion of tax can be paid directly to a non-military budget, preferably one which will contribute directly to the improvement of global security by non-military means. Failing this, we do not see any other alternative than keeping withholding the amount requested by the Inland Revenue, as we do not consider this amount a legal debt.
Again we want to stress that we would very much appreciate discussing this matter with one of your representatives, preferably outside court - and maybe in a public discussion? However, if this matter cannot be resolved outside a court, then we will be prepared to present our arguments in court.
War Resisters' International Office Coordinator