Conscientious objection

Supporting Conscientious Objectors and Deserters in Times of War: an objector’s perspective

Return to Conscientious Objection: A Practical Companion for Movements

A native of Belgrade, Serbia, Bojan Aleksov became an anti-war activist in 1991. Since 2007, he has been a lecturer in Balkan history at University College London. His very personal perspective on anti-war activism in the former Yugoslavia appeared as 'Resisting the Wars in the Former Yugoslavia: An Autoethnography' in Resisting the Evil: [Post-]Yugoslav Anti-War Contention. Here, he writes from the same personal perspective about how to support conscientious objectors and deserters in times of war.

Conscientious Objection (CO) was never going to be easy, certainly not in Serbia during the 1990s.

Throughout history, people have strived for peace and yet our past often looks like a succession of wars. It's one thing to want peace, another to achieve and maintain it. 'Others' are usually blamed for war and aggression, while we see ourselves or our people as victims. We claim that we are defending ourselves from these vicious 'others'. Even big powers and their more imperially inclined elites usually justify their wars as preventative, defensive, 'good' wars, while enemies are only after 'bad' wars. Indeed, the greatest achievement of modern times in preventing war, or limiting its disastrous consequences, has so far only been to set some rules of how to wage war, and some conventions on war crimes.

The Impact of International Mechanisms in Local Cases: the example of Colombia

Return to Conscientious Objection: A Practical Companion for Movements

Alba Milena Romero Sanabria is a political scientist at the National University of Colombia. She has worked for the recognition of the right to conscientious objection to military service for ten years, alongside participating in nonviolence training processes. She is a member of Asociación Acción Colectiva de Objetores y Objetoras de Conciencia (ACOOC, Conscientious Objectors' Collective Action) and Conscience and Peace Tax International. Her co-author Andreas Speck is originally from Germany, were he refused military and substitute service in the 1980s. He has been involved in the environmental, anti-nuclear and antimilitarist movements ever since. From 2001 until 2012 he worked for War Resisters' International (WRI) and today lives in Spain. Together, they use the example of Colombia to illustrate how international human rights mechanisms can be put to use in local cases, and in combination with other tactics, when campaigning for the right to conscientious objection.

On the international level, the right to Conscientious Objection (CO) has been on the political agenda of the UN General Assembly, the Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, the Human Rights Commission, and other UN institutions.1 In addition, the right is addressed by other international institutions, especially the inter-American and European systems.2 At the same time, different movements have implemented strategies to try to prioritise within states' agendas the recognition of the right to conscientious objection.

International Solidarity

Return to Conscientious Objection: A Practical Companion for Movements

Alexia Tsouni is a Greek human rights activist and a feminist. She is a board member of the European Bureau for Conscientious Objection (EBCO). She is also a member of the group on the right to conscientious objection of Amnesty International's Greek section. She writes about how conscientious objection movements can reach out for international solidarity, and the crucial role this can play.

Organising Refuser Support

Return to Conscientious Objection: A Practical Companion for Movements

A key activity of the movements for whom this book is intended is likely to be supporting those who refuse to join the military. How to go about organising that support is the question addressed by Sergeiy Sandler in this chapter. Sergeiy is a conscientious objector and antimilitarist activist from Israel. He is one of the founders of the Counselling Network for Refusers operated by the Israeli feminist and antimilitarist movement New Profile and is also an International Council member of the War Resisters' International.

On March 2nd, 2001, about thirty people met in a small conference room in the Druze Palestinian town of Isfiya on Mount Carmel. A few of us had had some years of experience supporting declared conscientious objectors. Others had been helping friends and acquaintances obtain medical exemptions from military service. A few more came to learn from the rest. Working under the aegis of the feminist antimilitarist movement, New Profile, we formed a network of volunteers committed to counselling and supporting any person refusing to perform military service in Israel. More than fourteen years later, this network receives, and successfully resolves, well over a thousand calls for support every year, from people from all walks of life, genders, and ethnic backgrounds. Many more use us to help themselves: our Internet forum and other resources posted online have hundreds of thousands of hits a year. We were even enough of a menace for the Israeli police to start a criminal investigation against us (for 'inciting draft evasion', i.e. encouraging people to resist conscription) a few years back. All in all — a nice little success story, especially if measured against the bleak backdrop of Israeli political realities.

Consensus Decision Making

Return to Conscientious Objection: A Practical Companion for Movements

Here, an introduction to making group decisions by consensus is reproduced from War Resisters' International's Handbook for Nonviolent Campaigns. This is one way of working constructively with differences in terms of privilege and with different motivations.

Why consensus?

There are many ways a group can make decisions, and it's important to choose the method that is best for the decision that needs to be made. This may be voting, one person decides (usually a 'leader' or another person tasked with that responsibility), a randomised method like flipping a coin, or consensus decision making.

Often in a democratic vote, a significant minority is unhappy with the outcome. Whilst they may acknowledge the legitimacy of the decision – because they accept these rules of democracy – they may still actively resist it or undermine it, and work towards the next voting opportunity.

Idan's Story

Return to Conscientious Objection: A Practical Companion for Movements

Idan Halili became the first Israeli conscientious objector to refuse military service on the g

Junsgik's Story

Return to Conscientious Objection: A Practical Companion for Movements

Jungsik Lee is a South Korean writer, theatre director, video artist and conscientious objector who served a prison term from the 25th of February 2010 to the 9th of May 2011. Since being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS on December 9, 2013, Lee's work has focused on topics related to those 'diseases of modern society': alienation, loneliness, despair, and hunger. This personal account discusses the experience of belonging to a sexual and gender minority in South Korea, and of deciding to become a conscientious objector because of that experience.

A note on the content: this is a personal account, which describes traumatic experiences such as social and family exclusion, gender dysphoria, suicidal ideation, medical malpractice, and imprisonment. There are no graphic details however.

Alice in Wonder Armed Forces

I was in wonderland when I was young. Of course, I never fell down a rabbit hole or got lost in the middle of a maze garden. I've only seen a giant bunny and card soldiers in pictures of fairy tales. But this place where I belong is more frightening and weird than the world in which Alice had her adventure.

An army uniform painted by World Without War as part of a demonstrationAn army uniform painted by World Without War as part of a demonstration

Oscar's Story

Return to Conscientious Objection: A Practical Companion for Movements

Oscar was born in Medellín and is a member of the Medellín Network for Conscientious Objection (Tejido por Objecion de Conciencia de Medellín). He is also a leader ofMedellín's Mennonite Peace Church social action group and the secretary of the Medellín Network of Peace Churches, as well as being a nonviolent activist and a restorative justice facilitator at two detention centres in Medellín. Here, he gives us an account of working in Colombia's conscientious objection movement on the grounds of his Mennonite interpretation of Christianity.

For many people, Christianity is synonymous with ecclesiastical hierarchy, the Crusades, economic exploitation, dark alliances with sectors of the far right, and other phenomena of the kind. That branch of the Church which has worked for justice and dignity over the course of centuries, and which has assumed a historic commitment to resisting any kind of oppression, in the name of Jesus, has been rendered invisible. In this branch of the Church however, we have been steadfastly promoting the struggle for the protection of human rights, the environment, all forms of life, and dignity as the most important property of every human being, considering God the primary interested party in this struggle, based on our interpretation of Jesus' summary of the Ten Commandments: 'Love God above all things and your neighbour as yourself'.

Julián's Story

Return to Conscientious Objection: A Practical Companion for Movements

Julián Andrés Ovalle was born in Bogotá, Colombia, in 1981. For ten years, he was part of Acción Colectiva de Objetores y Objetoras de Conciencia (ACOOC, Conscientious Objectors' Collective Action), an organisation which aims to create the concrete conditions for people to be able to opt for alternatives to militarism, specifically alternatives to obligatory military service in Colombia. Currently, he is working towards the consolidation of a Latin American and Caribbean Antimilitarist Network. Here, he writes about being a conscientious objector on the grounds of his pacifism in Colombia.

The persistence of wars is shocking evidence that people are the ones who sustain them. It’s not just the major powers, those with industrial interests or armies; we individuals from all over the world provide financing and legitimacy which keeps weapons firing indiscriminately. It is not just neoliberal interest in controlling land for the exploitation of its natural resources, it is also our everyday consumption which enables large companies to continue extracting, producing, and selling for profit.

Richard's Story

Return to Conscientious Objection: A Practical Companion for Movements

Richard Steele, from South Africa, was imprisoned three times in the 1980s for his anti-apartheid activism. During that decade he was caretaker of Phoenix Settlement, Gandhi’s original ashram outside Durban, then worked for the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, also based in Durban. He was an activist in the End Conscription Campaign anddescribes this experience and his experience as a white man conscientiously objecting to the regime of apartheid.

On the 25th of February 1980 I was sentenced by a military court in Pretoria to 12 months in military prison for refusing to submit to compulsory military service. I was 23 years old, and had just finished a BA degree in Psychology and English, and a postgraduate teaching diploma at the University of Cape Town.

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