Right to Refuse to Kill

War Resisters' International's programme The Right to Refuse to Kill combines a wide range of activities to support conscientious objectors individually, as well as organised groups and movements for conscientious objection.

Our main publications are CO-Alerts (advocacy alerts sent out whenever a conscientious objector is prosecuted) and CO-Updates (a bimonthly look at developments in conscientious objection around the world).

We maintain the CO Guide - A Conscientious Objector's Guide to the International Human Rights System, which can help COs to challenge their own governments, and protect themselves from human rights abuses.

Information about how nation states treat conscientious objectors can be found in our World Survey of Conscientious Objection and recruitment.

More info on the programme is available here.

Refusal to take part in war is as old as war itself. However, with the introduction of conscription as a more "effective" means for recruiting (first in France on 5 September 1798), and modern warfare, war resistance too had to become more organised. Former WRI Council secretary Tony Smythe wrote in 1967: "Men have always been impressed, levied, requisitioned, conscripted and bullied into the armies of their rulers but modern mass compulsory recruitment has been applied on a scale which makes it one of the major repressive institutions of our time, It is an integral part of the total war concept.

Index of papers relased under the Freedom of Information Act

WRI has obtained the following papers from the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) pursuant to a Freedom of Information request in August 2007.

Cover letter 17-08-2007-161349-004 Speck (Ministry of Defence)
Armed forces policy on conscientious objectors (Ministry of Defence)
AGAIs Vol 5 Instruction 006 - Retirement or discharge on grounds of conscience (Royal Army)

Personnel, Legal, Administrativeand General orders 0801.

Since the founding of War Resisters' International in 1921, the right to refuse to kill - conscientious objection - has been at the core of WRI's work. Although this right to today recognised as an international standard, it is in practice often not granted, and those who claim their right are thrown into prison, or worse (see for example the article on Eritrea in this Broken Rifle).

Presentation at the international seminar "Unarmed Resistance: the transnational factor", Coventry, 15 July 2006

Andreas Speck, War Resisters' International

WRI homepage > Programme Areas > The Right to Refuse to Kill > Solidarity with war resistance in Turkey (for Coventry seminar)



The Turkish war resisters movement - a brief hi



Conscription and Conscientious Objection

What is conscientious objection

The recognition of the right to conscientious objection

Different faces of conscientious objection

Challenges for the CO movement

The role of the right to conscientious objection

Speech at Public Hearing "The Right of Soldiers to Refuse to Participate in Wars Violating International Law" at European Parliament in Strasbourg

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Members of the European Parliament,

I'm pleased to have the opportunity today to speak about the kind of protection soldiers need when they refuse to commit violations of international law or declare their conscientious objection.

I work in a German organisation called Connection.

Notes on the acquittal of a German military officer who refused to carry out a military order in connection with the Iraq War document for the Green/EFA hearing on 14 March 2006 on the right to refuse participation in an illegal war

On 21 June 2005 the German Federal Administrative Court brought down an exciting judgement: Major Florian Pfaff of the German Federal Army, previously sanctioned by his superiors because of his refusal to follow an order related to the war in Iraq, got his right.

organised by the Intergroup on Peace Initiatives (http://www.quaker.org/qcea/intergroup/index.html), co-chaired by Tobias Pflueger (Germany, European United Left/Nordic Green Left - GUE/GNE) and Caroline Lucas (UK, Greens)

Additional reading

English summary of the Federal Administrative Court decision on Florian Pfaff's case, with link to original documents in German
Presentation by Rudi


Although the United States does presently not enforce conscription, its present practice of recruitment for the Armed Forces and of keeping personnel within the forces once recruited gives reasons to concern from a human rights perspective. The focus lies on recruitment of the one hand, and on the difficulties to get out of the military once enlisted on the other hand.

On 4 January, 2004 Five conscripted Conscientious Objectors were sentenced to an additional year in prison on top of the year they have been held for refusing to serve in the IDF. The sentence is, in effect, an unlimited one as the prosecution intends to jail them till they agree to serve. That's the price they will pay for refusing to be part of the brutal occupation.

The 5 COs are being punished because of their convictions - the severity of the punishment reflects the Israeli government's fear of those convictions.

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