Report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Asma Jahangir*
MISSION TO TURKMENISTAN**
H. Conscientious objection
50. The Special Rapporteur remains very concerned that conscientious objection is considered as a criminal offence in Turkmenistan. Indeed, according to article 219 of the Criminal code, “evasion of call-up to military service in the absence of legal grounds to an exemption from this service is punished by corrective work of up to two years or imprisonment of up to two years”. A number of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been detained in the past years for having refused to perform military service due to their religious beliefs. The Special Rapporteur was informed of case where a person, who had already been convicted in 2000 to one year of detention for having evaded military service, had to face criminal prosecution for the same offence again in 2007. This individual was, however, pardoned by a Presidential decree in September 2007.
51. With regard to the right to conscientious objection, the Special Rapporteur wishes to refer to a 2006 case in which the Human Rights Committee observed that while the right to manifest one’s religion or belief does not as such imply the right to refuse all obligations imposed by law, it provides certain protection, consistent with article 18, paragraph 3, against being forced to act against genuinely-held religious belief. The Committee also recalled its general view expressed in general comment No. 22 (1993), that to compel a person to use lethal force, although such use would seriously conflict with the requirements of his/her conscience or religious beliefs, falls within the ambit of article 18.
VI. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
61. During her mission, the Special Rapporteur was very encouraged by the political will expressed by certain of her official interlocutors to address the issue of conscientious objection and to find a suitable solution. She is aware that the authorities have attempted to accommodate conscientious objectors by offering them military positions which do not involve the use of weapons. Although this demonstrates the willingness on the part of the authorities to offer an alternative to these persons, the Special Rapporteur would like to draw the Government’s attention to resolution 1998/77 of the Commission on Human Rights. Accordingly, conscientious objectors should be provided with various forms of alternative service compatible with the reasons for conscientious objection, of a non-combatant or civilian character, in the public interest and not of a punitive nature.
68. The Government should ensure that conscientious objectors in Turkmenistan, in particular Jehovah’s Witnesses who refuse to serve in the army due to their religious beliefs, be offered an alternative civilian service which is compatible with the reasons for conscientious objection. As such, the Government should also revise the Conscription and Military Service Act which refers to the possibility of being sanctioned twice for the same offence. The Special Rapporteur would like to recall that according to the principle of “ne bis in idem”, as enshrined in article 14 (7) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, no one shall be liable to be tried or punished again for an offence for which he or she has already been convicted or acquitted in accordance with the law and penal procedure of each country.