In this year's final CO Update, we're glad to share with you a number of good news from different countries.
Our first story is from South Korea. For the first time, an appeal court has overturned the guilty verdicts of two young men refusing to serve in the army. The decision was a clear message to the Korean government that it needs to stop punishing conscientious objectors. There are now hundreds of young men serving in prison in South Korea -more than the rest of the world put together- for their conscientious objection to military service. The Korean Government should take necessary steps to end this human rights crisis as soon as possible. We will keep following developments from South Korea closely in 2017 as well, and support the rights of conscientious objectors in the country.
The appeal court of the Gwangju District in Korea, overturned the guilty verdicts of two conscientious objectors, Cho Rak-hoon and Kim Hyung-geun. The decision is a victory for conscientious objectors in Korea as it is the first time an appeal court has reversed guilty verdicts in a conscientious objectors case. The appeal court also rejected prosecutors’ calls to convict a third conscientious objector, Kim Hye-min, who was found not guilty at his initial trial in May 2015.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in favour of Leonidas Papavasilakis, a conscientious objector who the Greek government refused to recognise, in its Chamber judgement on 15th September 2016.
The court found that the authorities had violated article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights (which provides a right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion).
During a War Resisters' International trip to Thailand last month we met Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, a conscientious objector. Here's a short interview by WRI staff member Hannah Brock, talking with Netiwit about conscription and the role of the army in Thailand.
Make sure 'CC' is on if you want subtitles (in English).
On 1st December Prisoners for Peace day this year, actions took place across many different countries in solidarity with Israili conscientious objectors Tamar Alon and Tamar Ze'evi, who were imprisoned for refusing to be part of the occupation and to serve in the Israeli army.
Six conscientious objectors – all of them Jehovah's Witnesses refusing to be conscripted on grounds of conscience – have been reported to be convicted and sentenced in Turkmenistan so far in 2016. Five of the COs were sentenced to two-year suspended prison terms for their refusal to compulsory military service, and a sixth received a one-year corrective labour sentence, where he lives at home under restrictions and a fifth of his wages are seized.
The European Bureau for Conscientious Objection (EBCO) launched its Annual Report 2016 on Conscientious Objection in Europe on last month n Athens, Greece. The report edited by Derek Brett and researched by Martina Lucia Lanza, was presented with the participation of activists and representatives from countries including Cyprus, Greece, Finland and Turkey.
On July 13, 2016, non-governmental organisations in Venezuela filed an appeal to the Supreme Court of Justice for the partial annulment of the Law of Registration and Enlistment for the Integral Defence of the Nation, which establishes an obligation to enroll on the Military Register, on grounds of unconstitutionality.
The judicial action sought to reverse the unconstitutional ramifications of the law, which limits Venezuelans' right to free self-development, equality before the law and freedom of conscience and association, as well as affecting rights to work and education.
Artur Avanesyan, a twenty-year-old Jehovah’s Witnesses, is serving a 30-month sentence in the Shushi prison colony of Nagorno-Karabakh despite his willingness to perform alternative civilian service. As reported by Human Rights Without Frontiers International, the courts of Nagorno-Karabakh, on all levels, have denied his fundamental right of conscientious objection to military service.
In his statement Avanesyan says “My conscience doesn’t permit me to perform military service. I love my neighbor, and I do not want to take up arms or even learn to harm anyone.”
In November this year, Georgia’s Minister of Defence, Levan Izoria, announced the reenactment of compulsory military service at the country's Ministry of Defence (MoD), after being abolished several months ago by the former Minister Tina Khidasheli. Minister Izoria also stated that, restoring the compulsory military service, its implementation will include some changes.
Ruslan Kotsaba, a journalist from Ukraine who was earlier charged with high treason for his refusal to military draft, and held in detention for more than 15 months, was released on 14th July following the order of the Court of Appeal in Ivano-Frankivsk region.
Ruslan Kotsaba, originally a supporter of the Maidan protests, uploaded a video on YouTube to voice his opposition to Ukraine’s warfare in the eastern part of the country in January 2015. In a statement addressing the President Petro Poroshenko, the journalist announced his refusal to be called up, calling on his fellow countrymen to do likewise and make a stand against conscription. In his address, he stressed his view that the ongoing conscription at that time in Ukraine was unlawful since the Ukrainian government had not declared war.1
A new law on alternative civilian service was put into force in Belarus in June 2016. With the new law 10,000 young Belarusian men to be drafted this fall will be able to apply for exercising alternative civilian service, or ‘alternativschiki’.