This edition of CO-Update is a reminder of the possibility of regression and the incremental and sometimes patchy nature of 'progress'.
Recent months have seen a sharp increase in the persecution of conscientious objectors in Greece, whilst in Israel, CO Natan Blanc is in prison for the ninth time, caught in a cycle of release, call up and reimprisonment.
Over the past months, there has been a dramatic upswing in the persecution of conscientious objectors in Greece. All of those listed below have already been tried or imprisoned, some over twenty years ago, and they now face further legal action against them.
Israeli conscientious objector Natan Blanc is how in prison for the ninth time. At the end of this spell, he will have been in prison for more than 150 days altogether.
After his seventh prison sentence, Natan appeared in front of the “Incompatibility Committee” - at his request. However, on February 24th they ruled that he could not be released from military service, and was once again scheduled to return to the Induction Centre, and hence faced another imprisonment.
The cases of ten Turkmen Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors are being considered by the United Nations Human Rights Committee. The complainants, led by Navruz Nasyrlaev, filed complaints of torture and violation of their rights to freedom of religion or belief with the UN Human Rights Committee on 3 September 2012.
These complaints have noted that in the Seydi Labour Camp - where most conscientious objectors (COs) are held - COs have regularly been subjected to spells in the punishment cell, whilst some have been brutally beaten.
On 18 March, the Armenian parliament approved alternative service amendments in their first reading which would that mean that COs motivated by their religious beliefs – in practice in Armenia mainly Jehovah's Witnesses – will undertake alternative service of a reduced length.
The Turkish government has been criticised by an EU Commissioner for omitting conscientious objection reform from its package of reforms designed to align Turkish legislation with the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights.
European Commissioner Stefan Füle said on April 12th, “While I understand the focus of the Fourth Judicial Reform package is on compliance with European Court of Human Rights rulings, I note with regret the omission of conscientious objection in the package”.
The UN Human Rights Council's Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, has highlighted issues with conscientious objection to military service in the Republic of Cyprus and the northern Turkish-administered region.
In the south, substitute service for conscientious objectors is between three and five months longer than military service. According to international standards, substitute service required of conscientious objectors in lieu of compulsory military service must be compatible not be punitive in nature (UN Commission on Human Rights resolution 1998/77, OP4.) - this includes the duration of substitute service.
In the north – the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus – the right to conscientious objection is not legally recognised.
The Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights has published a guide to applicable international standards and jurisprudence relating to conscientious objection to military service.
It is designed as a guide for 'State officials who are responsible for implementing laws, administrative decrees or regulations relating to conscientious objection to military service, as well as Members of Parliament and Government officials who may be involved in drafting laws or administrative decrees or regulations on this subject.'
The annual International Conscientious Objectors day takes place on 15th May. The day focusses on the struggle for the right to conscientious objection. You can find out about events around the world on our events page here. If you have any that you would like us to advertise, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
WRI are jointly coordinating an international Day of Action For Military-Free Education and Research on 14 June 2013 - part of our Countering the Militarisation of Youth work. The day will be based on a recent German week of action, with 100+ groups and actions in 8+ cities. Education centres were leafleted with info highlighting dangers of joining the military, accompanied sometimes with fake blood, a coffin, and chocolate 'medicine' (to protect students against military propaganda).