Conscientious objection

Total Objection and Alternative Service: a Finnish perspective

Return to Conscientious Objection: A Practical Companion for Movements

Kaj Raninen has been involved in the antimilitarist movement since the beginning of the 1990s.  He is currently general secretary of the Finnish Union of Conscientious Objectors.  Ruka Toivonen, meanwhile, is a Helsinki based transgender activist and student. They study queer theory, prison systems and social history, but value their experience in radical grassroots organising as their highest and most precious education.  They have been involved in the Finnish Union of Conscientious Objectors for many years.  Here, they discuss the relative strengths and weaknesses of conscientious objection campaigns that focus on total objection and alternative service. 
Finland still has comprehensive conscription for men.  Even though the number of people doing military service has declined and will most likely continue to do so, about two thirds of all men coming of age still go through military service (about 20,000 per year).  Women have had the option of volunteering for the army since 1994, and a few hundred enrol each year.  Approximately 7-8% of men choose an alternative, non-military service which is twice the length of the shortest period of military service (165 compared to 347 days) and the same length as the longest.

COLOMBIA: new website allows people to easily report illegal batidas (press gangs)

A new website has been launched to allow people to easily report illegal batidas (press gangs) that happen on the streets of Colombia. allows you to easily upload stories and pictures, and will list batidas that have occurred, especially in Antioquia and Cundinamarca. 


Approaching prisoners for peace day, reading about the state of conscientiousness objection and conscription in different places in the world, it's sad to see that more than 60 years after the founding of the “Prisoners For Peace Day”, it is still so relevant.

In the past few months there have been small advancements, such as Ukraine’s high court and South Korea's lower courts recognizing the right to CO, Yiannis Glarnetatzis, a Jehovah Witness from Greece found innocent (though only for procedural reasons) and gay people in Turkey being able to be released from army service without going through humiliating check-ups.

TURKEY: Gay conscripts will no longer need to have rectal examinations or show sex pictures

The Turkish army exempts gay men from serving in the army, since they categorize homosexuality as a ‘psycho-sexual disorder’. A new change in the process will allow men to declare they are gay in an interview without undergoing humiliating tests such as rectal examination or showing sex pictures. Getting an exemption still puts gays in danger of future discrimination, since it means their sexual orientation is listed on their official record.


UKRAINE: high court affirmed the right to CO, president makes changes in conscription

In the trial of Vitaliy Shalaiko, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Ukraine’s high court has affirmed the right of conscientious objectors to refuse to be drafted to the army even in times of war. COs will be allowed to do alternative service instead of being drafted. Also in the Ukraine, President Petro Poroshenko has declared that the age of conscription will be increased from 18 to 20, and that the conscripts will not be required to fight in Anti-Terrorist Operation zones. He added that the army would move towards having more contracted soldiers.  

SOUTH KOREA: lower courts find COs innocent and citizenship dropping in order to evade draft

In south Korea, a growing number of lower courts have recently ruled in favour of COs, acknowledging their right to the freedom of conscience. One example is “Suwon district court” which on August 13th found two COs not guilty. The court said that “their objection to military service neither undermines the function of the nation nor violates others’ rights and interests”. A day earlier, the Gwangju District Court ruled in favour of a conscientious objector, based on a similar argument. Though this is an improvement in the status of COs in south Korea, the supreme court has not been making similar judgements, having turned down an appeal of a CO on August 28th, thus imprisoning him for 18 months.

SYRIA: nowhere to run from conscription

In Syria, there is nowhere to run from conscription. Depending on where one is located, young men, and in some cases also women, are drafted to fight in the civil war.

GREECE: CO Yiannis Glarnetatzis tried and found innocent

In September 2013, Yiannis Glarnetatzis was tried at court without being summoned to attend the trial. The sentence - insubordination charges with one year imprisonment suspended for two years, and revoking his CO status - were sent to an outdated address, and he only learned of the judgement a few months later, when he received requests to pay for the costs of the trial, sent to his current address.

South Korea: More than 8,000 signatures presented for the human right of conscientious objection

In a joint action War Resisters’ International, Connection e.V. (Germany), Amnesty International Korea and World Without War (South Korea) today presented more than 8,000 signatures from 108 countries, including members of parliaments from Germany, European Union and South Korea, to the ministry of defense in Seoul, the capital of South Korea. The organizations demand the recognition of conscientious objection and the immediate and unconditional release of conscientious objectors in prison (...more). The signatures were presented by an international delegation on the International Day of Prisoners for Peace, December 1, with participation from War Resisters‘ International and Connection e.V.

BELARUS:COs stand show trial

In Belarus, a law enabling alternative civilian service for religious COs is due to come in to force on June 1st 2016, but that has not stopped the army from continuously calling up COs to attend military service. Lately, two Jehovah Witnesses, Dmitry Chorba and Viktor Kalina, have been tried in “show trials”, as well as another 5 young men who chose not to go to the army for non-religious reasons. Their hearings took place in front of a selected audience of final year students from a nearby school and newly called up young men who have doubts regarding military service, thus, to deter other young men from refusing military service.


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