British conscientious objector refused recognition

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Related peace activist(s): Michael Lyons (236 LYONS)
Related peace activist(s): Michael Lyons (236 LYONS)

Michael Lyons, a medical worker in the British navy, was denied recognition as conscientious objector on 17 December 2010. Michael Lyons joined up in 2005, aged 18. Since then he has stopped to
think more about his work, partly prompted by researching information about the war in Afghanistan after being told some months ago that he would be deployed there in 2011. He applied for conscientious objection after reading of the "enormous under-reporting of civilian casualties in the conflict I was about to enter", according to the Buxton Advisor. However, his application for CO status, a few months ago, submitted via his commanding officer, was turned down. Thanks to information from the military counselling group At Ease, he found that he had a right to appeal against this decision to an Advisory Committee on Conscientious Objectors (ACCO) - an official body outside the Ministry of Defence which was last convened in 1996.

The committee had heard how anecdotal evidence of civilian casualties, including children, had prompted Mr Lyons to research the political reasons for the war. "I was unable to find a real, just and noble cause to go out but I still had a sense of duty to my country," he said, according to the Buxton Advisor. "It was a big dilemma. Soon after, a large number of military documents were leaked by WikiLeaks. Examples included a convoy of marines tearing down a six-mile highway, firing at people with no discrimination. I came to the conclusion I couldn't serve on a moral ground and I couldn't see any political reason for being there."
The Telegraph reports that Mr Lyons, from Plymouth, came from a military family and was the great-grandson of a decorated Second World War hero. He described to the committee how he was further put off serving in Afghanistan when he learnt he may not be able to treat everyone, regardless of who they were. He said: "It seems from previous testimony and courses I've done that even going out as a medic with all good intention, if you're at a patrol base or forward operating base, it's likely you'll have to use your weapon and will have to turn civilians away who are in need of medical aid."
He broke down in tears as he told the hearing: "If more people in my position stood up, there would be a lot less innocent lives lost around the world."

Albert Beale writes: "Those attending the hearing were convinced that his appeal to be granted CO status would succeed."
The three tribunal members - a judge and two lay assessors - said that they would try to reach their conclusion, and announce it, as soon as the hearing was finished. After an adjournment of an hour or so, they returned and said that their recommendation to the Secretary of State - the senior government minister at the MoD - would be that the appeal be turned down, and the original decision by the military to refuse to recognise him as a CO be upheld.

The precedent is that the minister - though formally responsible for the decision - always accepts the tribunal's advice.

Michael Lyons and his family are taking time to consider what to do next. Although there is no other prescribed legal route laid down to allow him to take the issue further, it is clear that Michael is not someone who will be able to pretend he believes other than what he does. Whatever happens to him next might be something that requires support from peace campaigners, nationally and internationally.

Sources: Albert Beale: Conscientious objector refused recognition, Email, 18 December 2010; The Telegraph: Navy medic loses appeal over objections to Afghan duty, 17 December 2010; Buxton Advisor: 'Conscientious objector' loses Afghan appeal, 21 December 2010

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