From 20-22 September, a regional conference "To Europe through conscientious objection and civilian service" took place in Sarajevo, organised by the regional network "Objection for peace". The conference brought together CO activists from Croatia, Bosnia & Hercegovina, Macedonia, and Serbia & Montenegro with government representatives from the ministries responsible for conscientious objection - in most cases the Ministry of Defence. Only Serbia & Montenegro did not send a delegation from the Ministry of Defence, but it was still represented by the Ministry for Human Rights and Ethnic Minorities, although this ministry does not have the responsibility for conscientious objection.
The first day of the conference focused on a proposed regional standard on the right to conscientious objection, which had been developed by the regional CO network, and is based on recommendation of the Council of Europe and the United Nation Commission on Human Rights. Although all states of the region now recognise the right to conscientious objection in principle, the conference also showed that the implementation of this right does not yet meet the regional standards, or the Council of Europe recommendations, especially in the Republika Srpska of Bosnia & Hercegovina, Macedonia, and in Serbia & Montenegro. In addition, the implementation of a substitute service for conscientious objectors meets with a wide range of problems - some of them of a political nature, but many also for reasons of lack of expertise and finances. The conference therefore also welcomed the assistance of the Council of Europe, and hopes that this assistance will continue in the future.
War Resisters' International was represented by Andreas Speck, WRI's CO campaigning worker, who gave a presentation on demilitarisation in the global context. Bart Horeman, Treasurer of WRI and co-author of the 1998 world survey Refusing to bear arms talked about the Necessity of civil society control and monitoring of the institutional implementation of the right to conscientious objection.
The conference was an important step for the regional CO network, and a huge success. In different country working groups, the CO activists from the country met with their government delegation, and in some cases this lead to a better understanding of the issue of conscientious objection. The Macedonian delegation announced that they will look into passing the responsibility for conscientious objection from the Ministry of Defence to a civilian ministry, and the delegate of the Republika Srpska was open for a reduction of the length of substitute service in this part of Bosnia & Hercegovina.
The conference was also a good opportunity for networking with groups from the region.The background papers of the conference and contact addresses can be found on the WRI website.