- Greece maintains conscription. However, the implementation of the right to conscientious objection for conscripts does not conform to international standards.
- Greece does not recognise the right to conscientious objection for professional soldiers.
Conscription is enshrined in Article 4 paragraph 6 of the Greek constitution from 1975, which reads: “Every Greek capable of bearing arms is obliged to contribute to the defence of the Fatherland as provided by law”1. The relevant law is Law 3421/20052. According to this law, all Greek males are obliged to serve in the Armed Forces, from 1st January of their 19th year until the 31st December of the 45th year3. The duration of service is quite complex to calculate, as there are a range of rules about reduction of service time. Since 1 January 2004, the starting point for the calculation of those reduction is a service time of 17 months for Reserve Officers and 12 months for regular soldiers4.
Although conscription is supposed to be universal, only about one third of those called up for military service do actually serve. The majority is able to obtain deferments or some form of exemption, mostly for health reasons5.
Although the Greek Armed Forces still rely heavily on conscripts, the Greek military too aims to attract an increasing number of voluntary professional soldiers. According to reports, about 50% of the strength of the Greek army are made up of professional soldiers6.
The Greek military promotes a career in the Armed Forces through recruitment adverts on TV, but also through its presence during so-called “professional orientation” lessons during the last year of high school. It is believed that the Greek Armed Forces mostly achieve their recruitment targets for professional soldiers7.
Conscientious objection for conscripts
The right to conscientious objection was first recognised in 1997 with Law 2510/19978. This law came into effect on 1 January 1998. Presently, this right is regulated by Law 3421/2005. Both religious and non-religious grounds for conscientious objection are legally recognised. According to Article 59 paragraph 1 of the Law 3421/2005, CO status may be granted to "those who invoke their religious or ideological convictions in order not to fulfil their draft obligations for reasons of conscience". Article 59 paragraph 2 stipulates that the reasons of conscience "are considered to be related to a general perception of life, based on conscientious religious, philosophical or moral convictions, which are inviolably applied by the person and are expressed by a corresponding behaviour".
There is a strict time limit for submitting CO applications. Applications can only be made before starting military service, at the latest on the day before enlistment into the armed forces.
According to Article 59 paragraph 3(a) of Law 3421/2005: "those who have carried arms for whatever length of time in the Greek or foreign armed forces or in the security forces"cannot be considered as conscientious objectors. CO applications can thus not be made by serving conscripts or reservists.
CO applications must be made to the Ministry of Defence. The application must include a copy of the applicant's criminal record and documents proving that the applicant does not have a gun licence or a licence for hunting (Law 3421/2005, Article 59.3(c) and 59.3(b)).
Applications are considered by a committee, which falls under the authority of the Ministry of Defence. The committee consists of a legal expert, two university professors who are specialised in philosophy, psychology or social-political sciences, and two military officers. Applicants may be ordered for a personal interview with the committee, during which they need to prove their "general perception of life, based on conscious religious, philosophical or moral convictions, implemented infrangibly by the person and expressed by holding a respective attitude", as laid down in Article 59 paragraph 2 of Law 3421/2005.
The committee makes a consultative decision, which needs to be confirmed by the Ministry of Defence. The Ministry of Defence usually accepts the consultative decisions of the committee.
If the application is rejected, there is a right of appeal to the civil court within five days of receiving the decision.
The length of substitute service is 23 months, which is almost twice the length of military service. In some cases, due to family reasons, COs are allowed to perform a shorter service of at least 15 months.
Conscientious objection for professional soldiers
Greece does not recognise the right to conscientious objection for professional soldiers.
The regulations for leaving the Armed Forces prematurely are presently not known.
Draft evasion and desertion
According to Articles 51 to 54 of Law No. 3421 of 12 December 2005, unofficially translated as "Military Service for the Greeks," those who evade compulsory military service will face several consequences, including the following:
- They will not receive a military certificate showing that they served in the army, which is a prerequisite for obtaining certain jobs;
- They cannot vote or be elected;
- If they pursue a professional career that requires a licence (such as medicine, law, etc.), they cannot get this licence; if they already possess such a licence, it will be revoked;
- They cannot be employed as civil servants;
- They cannot leave the country or work on a ship that sails outside Greek waters;
- They cannot obtain a passport; if they already have one, it cannot be extended;
- If they eventually decide to complete their military service, they must serve six months in addition to the time normally required;
Once they complete their military service, the previously mentioned consequences are void and their record is cleared9.
Conscripts who respond the call-up and enlist in the armed forces but refuse to don uniform or bear arms, are ordered to perform unarmed military service. If they refuse to do so they are tried before a military court for 'disobedience'. Because such refusal is no longer considered a felony the conscript is not imprisoned, but must remain in the military camp until trial. Art. 53 of the Military Penal Code prescribes the penalties for disobeying orders. The penalty is imprisonment for double the duration of military service, that is for 4 years10.
According to art. 33 of the new Military Penal Code desertion is punishable
- in peacetime by one year's imprisonment;
- in wartime by death or life imprisonment;
- in periods of general mobilisation by a minimum of two years' imprisonment.
According to art. 36, desertion and fleeing abroad is punishable
- in peacetime by one to 10 years' imprisonment;
- in wartime by death or life imprisonment.
Deserters are treated very harsh. They receive heavy sentences and then are still required to serve in the armed forces. Most of them have fled abroad and are unable to return.
1http://www.ministryofjustice.gr/eu2003/constitution.pdf, accessed 8 April 2008
3Greek Consulate Sidney: Military Service Information, http://www.greekconsulate.org.au/catalog.php?id=183, accessed 8 April 2008; similar information is also available on the websites of other Greek consulates.
4http://www.greekconsulate.org.au/catalog.php?id=183, accessed 8 April 2008
5An ailing military draft system, Kathimerini, English edition, 18 August 2005, http://www.ekathimerini.com/4dcgi/news/content.asp?aid=59751, accessed 8 April 2008; Conscripts failing to sign up, Kathimerini, English edition, 16 August 2005, http://www.ekathimerini.com/4dcgi/news/content.asp?aid=59653, accessed 8 April 2008
6Southeast European Times: Greece to Increase Professional Army, Reduce Length of Compulsory Service, 3 January 2003, http://www.setimes.com/cocoon/setimes/xhtml/en_GB/features/setimes/newsbriefs/2003/01/030103-WMI-007, accessed 8 April 2008
7Email Alexia Tsouni to War Resisters' International, 28 February 2008.
9Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa: Greece: Consequences of evading military service (January 2003 - March 2006), 2 March 2006, http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca/en/research/rir/?action=record.viewrec&gotorec=449934, accessed 8 April 2008
10Greek Association of CO's, 1995. The legal dimension for COs in Greece. Athens; Amnesty International, 1993. 5,000 years of prison: conscientious objectors in Greece. AI, London.
War Resisters' International maintains a unique resource, the World survey of conscription and conscientious objection to military service: a database of country profiles and information on the situation for COs and conscripts around the world.
On Monday 12 of December, a few days after the anniversary marking 30 years from the first declaration of refusal to enlist on ideological grounds of Mihalis Maragkakis, three new conscientious objectors proceeded to an unprecedented, as for Greece, massive refusal to be examined by the Conscience Examination Committee.
Specifically, the 3 conscientious objectors, responding to the Call to boycott the Conscience Examination Committee, issued by the Association of Greek Conscientious Objectors (AGCO), they reported to the Ministry of National Defence. Upon their arrival, the 3 conscientious objectors stated to the Ministry's employee who was escorting them, that they have a common stance, and therefore they wanted to enter altogether in the room in order to declare orally the reasons for holding this stance and to collectively present their protest. When she passed this information to the president of the Committee, Mr. Theodoros Raptis, member of the State's Legal Council, who was entering in the same time, he responded that these things will not be discussed in the corridor, without showing the minimum interest to know what exactly the three objectors had asked for.
The Association of Greek Conscientious Objectors calls on those who have submitted applications in order to be recognized as conscientious objectors and perform alternative service, to boycott, from now on, the Conscience Examination Committee. The existence of a committee, which, like another Holy Inquisition, interrogates the conscientious objectors, violates any sense of the protected right to freedom of conscience.
Furthermore, this interrogation, under the threat of rejection and the subsequent sanctions for insubordination in case the rejected persons insist in their conscientious objection, leads to the collection of data (profiling) of people, based, among other things, on their political beliefs, which they are kept in records of the Ministry of National Defence. What's even worse, the Committee has recently exercised unacceptable pressure to the conscientious objectors under examination, in order to reveal other comrades in their political activities,[i] sometimes even asking the latter to act as testifiers in order to confirm the claims of the applicants. This results either in the profiling of persons beyond the objector under examination, or in the rejection of any applicant who refuses to do so.
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: 3 December 2015, adopted by the Human Rights Committee at its 115th session (19 October-6 November 2015)
Conscientious objection to compulsory military service
We are conscientious objectors from all around the eastern Mediterranean region. Our region has suffered for so long from oppression, injustice, militarisation, military occupations and wars, as well as poverty, illiteracy, hunger and lack of social infrastructure. In this difficult period, when our region seems to fall even more into the chaos of war, we raise a common voice for peace and against militarisation.
We refuse to allow this cycle of violence, initiated by oppressive states and economic interests, to continue; we refuse to be a part of it; we refuse to be enemies with people who just happen to be of a different nationality or religion; we will not be dragged into their wars and armies leading to death and destruction in the region.
At a time when the democratic demand is the abolition of compulsory military service, the ministry of Defense, on the contrary, seems to wish the extension of this service to women.
According to publications, a new bill is prepared for the foundation of military secondary schools (lycea) in which all those planning to follow military or police professions will enrol, and also the women enrolling such lycea will have to subsequently perform “voluntary” military service, in order to be eligible for exams in the respective academies. We are faced with a proposal for radical and reactionary reform of the education system in the second grade, which must not pass. What does the Minister of Education say? Does the Minister of Defense decide alone for his own ministry? On what right?