Conscientious objection

Factsheet on conscientious objection from the European Court of Human Rights

Published September 2015 - download here.

A factsheet hsa been published covering case law within the European Court of Human Rights and Selection of cases pending before the Court, relating to conscientious objection to military service.

Concluding observations on the fourth periodic report of the Republic of Korea

* Adopted by the Committee at its 115th session (19 October–6 November 2015)

C. Principal matters of concern and recommendations

Views under the Optional Protocol

6. The Committee remains concerned about the absence of a specific mechanism to implement the Committee’s Views under the Optional Protocol In particular, the Committee notes with concern that the State party has, except in one case, failed to implement the Committee’s Views, notably the numerous cases concerning conscientious objection (art. 2).

7. The State party should establish mechanisms and appropriate procedures to give full effect to the Committee’s Views so as to guarantee effective remedies in all cases of violations against the Covenant It should also fully implement the Views the Committee has issued so far.

Concluding observations on the fifth periodic report of Austria*

* Adopted by the Committee at its 115th session (19 October–6 November 2015).

Freedom of conscience and religious belief

33. The Committee notes that the length of the civilian alternative service to military service for conscientious objectors is longer than military service and may be punitively long if not based on reasonable and objective grounds (arts. 18 and 26).

32. The State party is encouraged to ensure that the length of service alternative to military service required for conscientious objectors is not punitive in nature.

Conscientious Objection: A Practical Companion for Movements - now available online!

Conscientious Objection: A Practical Companion for Movements is now available online here.

You can also buy a paperback version.

This book is intended as a practical companion for conscientious objection movements and all those whose work forms part of the continuum of war resistance. 

It has been written by activists who are campaigning against all kinds of injustice, all over the world.  Learning from the lived experience of these activists, the aim is to help movements work together, surmount the external challenges they face, and enhance the concept of conscientious objection, using it in new and innovative ways - such as against war profiteering, or the militarisation of youth.  The book also has a specific focus on gender, and the often invisible role of gender, both in the war machine, and in the movements which oppose it. 

To read this book is to be encouraged, not just to notice gender and the other power structures upholding militarism, but to actively work to undermine them - and in doing so, to start dismantling militarism itself.

Refusing Violence, Fighting All Injustice, and Creating Alternatives: conscientious objection in wider nonviolent struggles

Return to Conscientious Objection: A Practical Companion for Movements

Laura Pollecutt is a long term activist and writer.  She has been both volunteer and staff member for a number of human rights and peace organisations during apartheid and in the new dispensation – South Africa's post-apartheid state.  Together, she and Hannah Brock write about conscientious objection in wider nonviolent struggles.1

'Conscientious objection is not "opting out".  It is an effort to stimulate a new social imagination and a revolutionary mentality that does not normalise violence'.
Howard Clark, 20102

The conscientious objector movements we have been speaking of in this volume are largely antimilitarist, nonviolent and progressive.  That is to say, their conscientious objection is not an end in itself, but is part of a struggle for a different world.

Building the Alternative

Return to Conscientious Objection: A Practical Companion for Movements

Hannah Brock details some of the 'constructive programmes' which conscientious objection movements have historically developed as alternatives to militarist 'solutions' for social problems.1

Antimilitarist conscientious objection is only part of a journey towards a demilitarised communal life, and many conscientious objection groups endeavour to create that world in the shell of this one.

This can happen both in terms of how the groups organise internally: how they make decisions, what actions they take and their membership.  This might include using consensus decision making, using nonviolent language, ensuring a diversity of gender identities are affirmed, etc.  These are all outward expressions of the internal political approach of the group.  These expressions can also happen in a more public and external way, by initiating activities that productively work outside the violence of the current system as far as possible: showing how it can be done. Gandhians would call such initiatives 'constructive programmes'.

Resisting Gang Recruitment

Return to Conscientious Objection: A Practical Companion for Movements

Igor Seke is a member of War Resisters' International's Right to Refuse to Kill committee, based in Mexico.  He is particularly active in countering the militarisation of youth.  Here, he discusses youth resistance to recruitment by armed gangs, and makes the case for considering this a form of conscientious objection, as part of a continuum of war resistance.

A mural for migrant children at the Fr Matias de Cordova Human Rights Centre in Tapachula, Mexico (credit: Manu Ureste)A mural for migrant children at the Fr Matias de Cordova Human Rights Centre in Tapachula, Mexico (credit: Manu Ureste)The military is, unfortunately, not the only entity that recruits for war.  In northern parts of Central America, there is a seemingly unending campaign to recruit minors by the violent gangs known as 'Maras'.  The recruitment process consists of trying to bribe the youth, either with gifts, money, mobile phones and other commodities, or by creating illusions of the power and protection they would get as gang members.  Honduras is the country with the highest homicide rate in the world, and Guatemala and El Salvador are next on the list.  The homicides are committed mainly by members of either the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang, or M-18, another gang.  These highly armed and extremely violent groups wage a war against the entire society, especially against its most vulnerable parts.  The minors they recruit are usually, but not exclusively, from families with low incomes, and are sometimes as young as nine or ten years old.  The gangs force them to execute crimes that include not only robbery and drug dealing, but also murder, sometimes even of their own friends and family members.  In this way, the gangs try to make sure their 'future members' are totally submitted to the gang's power and hierarchy.

Communities Resisting War

Return to Conscientious Objection: A Practical Companion for Movements

Christine Schweitzer is the Chair of WRI, researcher at the Institute for Peace Work and Nonviolent Conflict Resolution (, and works for the German NGO 'Federation for Social Defence' (   She has more than 30 years of experience as a practitioner and researcher in nonviolence movements.  She resides in Hamburg, Germany.

In 1996, after a two year siege, the Taliban occupied Kabul and created the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.  Their troops moved through Afghanistan seeking to bring the whole territory under their control.  In 1997 they approached Jaghori, a district in the central highlands of Afghanistan.  The inhabitants of Jaghori, probably 200,000 people, were Shia, the Taliban Sunnis.  The Jaghori therefore had every reason to fear the Taliban.  But instead of either fleeing, or settling for armed resistance as they had done at the time of the Soviet invasion, they decided to surrender, but negotiate conditions which would allow them to maintain their way of life.  Central to that was the education of girls.  The Taliban grudgingly agreed to allow primary primary education for girls to continue, but forbade any secondary education for them.  However, the Jaghori also continued providing secondary education for girls, tricking visiting Taliban officials by pretending that the older girls were teachers, for example.  All teachers also continued to teach science, history and maths – again, only when delegations were expected did they switch to Taliban-approved religious materials.

War Tax Resistance: Fiscal Objection to Spanish Military Spending

Return to Conscientious Objection: A Practical Companion for Movements


For over thirty years, the Fiscal Objection Campaign has denounced military spending, with members 'redirecting' a portion of their taxes when making their tax returns.  In this article, we explain and evaluate our experiences in Alternativa Antimilitarista (AA, or Antimilitarist Alternative), as part of a  short workshop on this campaign at our summer conference (in Navacepeda de Tormes, Avila, in July 2014).


Fiscal objection to Spanish military spending has, from the beginning and to this day, been expressed in annual campaigns which open and close in tandem with the income tax collection campaign of the Tax Office.  This form of direct action was proposed at the Nonviolent Assembly of Andalusia in 1982, the year in which Spain joined NATO after the attempted coup d'etat of 1981.  In this same year the government contributed financially to the deployment of NATO missiles to Eastern Europe, giving rise to a social climate which keenly rejected Spainish association with the Atlantic bloc and the military spending entailed by such an association.

Conscientious Objection beyond the Military

Return to Conscientious Objection: A Practical Companion for Movements

Here, a UK based feminist discusses forms of action other than refusal to join the military which could nonetheless be considered forms of conscientious objection, despite also taking place outside of conscientious objection movements – at least as these are currently understood. 

For an antimilitarist, conscientious objection is likely to mean conscientious objection to participating in war via the military.  As militaries, both voluntary and conscripted, are overwhelmingly comprised of men, this means an antimilitarist conscientious objection movement will almost inevitably centre men.  But if the movement’s interest in conscientious objection lies in its anitmilitarist potential, then to avoid centring men in approaching conscientous objection is paramount, for the relationship between militarism, masculinity and male supremacy – as reading this book should make clear – is a circular one, and to centre men would be to sustain male supremacy and with it the whole cycle of militarism to which the movement is opposed.  This chapter discusses the pros and cons of thinking about forms of resistance to militarism other than refusal to participate in war via the military – forms of resistance more open to women – as forms of conscientious objection.  Such forms of resistance are then discussed in greater detail in the subsequent chapters.

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