Approaching International Conscientious Objection Day (15th May), the updates from the last couple of months - which have unfortunately been mostly negative - are reminding us: we need to keep mobilising our movements for conscientious objection, and strengthening our networks of international solidarity.
Conscientious objectors (COs) are still facing imprisonment in many countries today. The recent examples include Onur Erden from Turkey who has been sentenced to 10 months on the charge of 'deserting mandatory military service', and Atalia Ben-Abba from Israel who has been imprisoned multiple times for her refusal to be conscripted. In some other countries, COs are recruited illegally by force, as in the recent case of Diego Blanco from Colombia, or they are pressurised to join up the army, as in another recent case, Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal from Thailand.
In Greece, as pointed out repeatedly by the European Bureau of Conscientious Objection and the Association of Greek Conscientious Objectors, rights violations of COs prevail. This is despite the fact that the right to conscientious objection is recognised formally by the Greek Government. You can find more about the problematic practice of alternative military service in Greece in the recently updated country report in WRI's World Survey of Conscription and Conscience Objection.
During these months, we have also seen backlashes in a number of countries. The Swedish Government is to reintroduce conscription, this time including women as well as men. It came seven years after conscription was abolished in the country. In Georgia, the Ministry of Defense has reintroduced compulsory military service, several months after it was abolished by the former Minister. In Croatia, government officials announced their intentions to reintroduce military service, which was suspended in 2008.
Meanwhile there is no progress in extreme contexts, such as Eritrea - as pointed out by IFOR - where forced recruitment is still widespread, and both men and women are conscripted for an indefinite time; or Rwanda -as covered by a recent WRI and Connection e.V. report - where desertion remains the only option for many soldiers due to lack of lawful ways to leave the army. Many other problematic cases are covered by another WRI report which was submitted to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in February.
This is not to say all the updates have been negative. For instance, the Defense Minister of Taiwan has recently announced their plans to abolish conscription by 2018. However, the overall picture confirms why we need to keep fiercely defending right to conscientious objection, both for mobilising our peace movements and for defending the rights of those who refuse to hold arms. There are various ways of doing it, but one specific example is WRI's CO-Alerts, which is an email alert system to pressure local authorities where COs face persecution. Register to our email alert system, support COs across different countries, and inform us when a CO from your country/region faces persecution.
Also, in this issue you are going to read two inspiring stories of resistance from the archives: Conscientious objection of the West Highland Line train drivers in Scotland during the times of Iraq War in 2003, and the resistance of Ex-Maoist child soldiers last year who have been discontent with the Communist Party of Nepal for discarding them during the peace process.
And finally, as we approach the International CO Day, inform us about any of your activities or actions via firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com so that we can share your inspiring stories in our next issue.