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.

Conscientious Objection: A Practical Companion for Movements is now available online here.

You can also buy a paperback version.

This book is intended as a practical companion for conscientious objection movements and all those whose work forms part of the continuum of war resistance. 

It has been written by activists who are campaigning against all kinds of injustice, all over the world.  Learning from the lived experience of these activists, the aim is to help movements work together, surmount the external challenges they face, and enhance the concept of conscientious objection, using it in new and innovative ways - such as against war profiteering, or the militarisation of youth.  The book also has a specific focus on gender, and the often invisible role of gender, both in the war machine, and in the movements which oppose it. 

To read this book is to be encouraged, not just to notice gender and the other power structures upholding militarism, but to actively work to undermine them - and in doing so, to start dismantling militarism itself.

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Laura Pollecutt is a long term activist and writer.  She has been both volunteer and staff member for a number of human rights and peace organisations during apartheid and in the new dispensation – South Africa's post-apartheid state.  Together, she and Hannah Brock write about conscientious objection in wider nonviolent struggles.1

'Conscientious objection is not "opting out".  It is an effort to stimulate a new social imagination and a revolutionary mentality that does not normalise violence'.
Howard Clark, 20102

The conscientious objector movements we have been speaking of in this volume are largely antimilitarist, nonviolent and progressive.  That is to say, their conscientious objection is not an end in itself, but is part of a struggle for a different world.

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Hannah Brock details some of the 'constructive programmes' which conscientious objection movements have historically developed as alternatives to militarist 'solutions' for social problems.1

Antimilitarist conscientious objection is only part of a journey towards a demilitarised communal life, and many conscientious objection groups endeavour to create that world in the shell of this one.

This can happen both in terms of how the groups organise internally: how they make decisions, what actions they take and their membership.  This might include using consensus decision making, using nonviolent language, ensuring a diversity of gender identities are affirmed, etc.  These are all outward expressions of the internal political approach of the group.  These expressions can also happen in a more public and external way, by initiating activities that productively work outside the violence of the current system as far as possible: showing how it can be done. Gandhians would call such initiatives 'constructive programmes'.

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Igor Seke is a member of War Resisters' International's Right to Refuse to Kill committee, based in Mexico.  He is particularly active in countering the militarisation of youth.  Here, he discusses youth resistance to recruitment by armed gangs, and makes the case for considering this a form of conscientious objection, as part of a continuum of war resistance.

The military is, unfortunately, not the only entity that recruits for war.  In northern parts of Central America, there is a seemingly unending campaign to recruit minors by the violent gangs known as 'Maras'.  The recruitment process consists of trying to bribe the youth, either with gifts, money, mobile phones and other commodities, or by creating illusions of the power and protection they would get as gang members.  Honduras is the country with the highest homicide rate in the world, and Guatemala and El Salvador are next on the list.  The homicides are committed mainly by members of either the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang, or M-18, another gang.  These highly armed and extremely violent groups wage a war against the entire society, especially against its most vulnerable parts.  The minors they recruit are usually, but not exclusively, from families with low incomes, and are sometimes as young as nine or ten years old.  The gangs force them to execute crimes that include not only robbery and drug dealing, but also murder, sometimes even of their own friends and family members.  In this way, the gangs try to make sure their 'future members' are totally submitted to the gang's power and hierarchy.

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Christine Schweitzer is the Chair of WRI, researcher at the Institute for Peace Work and Nonviolent Conflict Resolution (www.ifgk.de), and works for the German NGO 'Federation for Social Defence' (www.soziale-verteidigung.de).   She has more than 30 years of experience as a practitioner and researcher in nonviolence movements.  She resides in Hamburg, Germany.

In 1996, after a two year siege, the Taliban occupied Kabul and created the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.  Their troops moved through Afghanistan seeking to bring the whole territory under their control.  In 1997 they approached Jaghori, a district in the central highlands of Afghanistan.  The inhabitants of Jaghori, probably 200,000 people, were Shia, the Taliban Sunnis.  The Jaghori therefore had every reason to fear the Taliban.  But instead of either fleeing, or settling for armed resistance as they had done at the time of the Soviet invasion, they decided to surrender, but negotiate conditions which would allow them to maintain their way of life.  Central to that was the education of girls.  The Taliban grudgingly agreed to allow primary primary education for girls to continue, but forbade any secondary education for them.  However, the Jaghori also continued providing secondary education for girls, tricking visiting Taliban officials by pretending that the older girls were teachers, for example.  All teachers also continued to teach science, history and maths – again, only when delegations were expected did they switch to Taliban-approved religious materials.

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For over thirty years, the Fiscal Objection Campaign has denounced military spending, with members 'redirecting' a portion of their taxes when making their tax returns.  In this article, we explain and evaluate our experiences in Alternativa Antimilitarista (AA, or Antimilitarist Alternative), as part of a  short workshop on this campaign at our summer conference (in Navacepeda de Tormes, Avila, in July 2014).


Fiscal objection to Spanish military spending has, from the beginning and to this day, been expressed in annual campaigns which open and close in tandem with the income tax collection campaign of the Tax Office.  This form of direct action was proposed at the Nonviolent Assembly of Andalusia in 1982, the year in which Spain joined NATO after the attempted coup d'etat of 1981.  In this same year the government contributed financially to the deployment of NATO missiles to Eastern Europe, giving rise to a social climate which keenly rejected Spainish association with the Atlantic bloc and the military spending entailed by such an association.

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Hannah Brock gives us an historical example of objection to war profiteering which conscientious objection movements today could emulate.1

The introduction to this book puts the following question: 'and what of the future?  Conscientious objection movements have often been inspired by the old expression 'imagine if there was a war and no one showed up?'.  Well, soon perhaps hardly anyone will need to show up for there to be a war, as technology 'advances' and can do the killing of 1,000 armed people at the touch of a button.  Increasingly, professional armies using remote control weapons, private security firms and robots have taken over from the mass armies of the mid 21st century.  Yet even with these 'advances', you still need people to wage war. Those people are increasingly not members of the armed forces however, but instead the 'civilian' branches of the supply chains for weapons and the militarism that make war inevitable.  This opens up whole new vistas of people who might resist war and their part in it.

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Here, a UK based feminist discusses forms of action other than refusal to join the military which could nonetheless be considered forms of conscientious objection, despite also taking place outside of conscientious objection movements – at least as these are currently understood. 

For an antimilitarist, conscientious objection is likely to mean conscientious objection to participating in war via the military.  As militaries, both voluntary and conscripted, are overwhelmingly comprised of men, this means an antimilitarist conscientious objection movement will almost inevitably centre men.  But if the movement’s interest in conscientious objection lies in its anitmilitarist potential, then to avoid centring men in approaching conscientous objection is paramount, for the relationship between militarism, masculinity and male supremacy – as reading this book should make clear – is a circular one, and to centre men would be to sustain male supremacy and with it the whole cycle of militarism to which the movement is opposed.  This chapter discusses the pros and cons of thinking about forms of resistance to militarism other than refusal to participate in war via the military – forms of resistance more open to women – as forms of conscientious objection.  Such forms of resistance are then discussed in greater detail in the subsequent chapters.

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Bülent Küçükaslan was born in 1973 and lives in Istanbul. He has been a wheelchair user since 1999 due to a spinal cord injury and founded the Engelliler.biz web based platform (www.engelliler.biz) on disability issues in 2003.  He is the administrator and managing editor of this platform, with almost 80,000 members.  He contributes to the disability movement in Turkey through such work, as well as through his essays and other forms of activism on disability.  Here he writes about the intersections of (dis)ableism, militarism – in particular conscription – and masculinity in Turkey.

One of the career paths that most decisively idealises the human body is the military.  Certain terms, produced to appease those who are keen to engage in masculinist language patterns, such as 'to be harsh', 'to be alert', 'to be a man', 'to stand up straight', 'to obey orders', 'to not waiver', 'to not feel pain', 'to not feel sick', 'to not sleep', 'to not tire', are particularly presented as the building blocks of the military – despite the fact that these  words are simply part of anyone’s life, and not the special result of military activities.

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Doğu Durgun is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at Sabancı University in Istanbul, Turkey.  After finishing his B.A. in Economics at Hacettepe University, he pursued his M.A. in Political Science at Galatasaray University.  He is currently working on a comparative-historical analysis of conscientious objection in Turkey and Israel and gives us a discussion here of how women and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans (LGBT) people's conscientious objections have impacted on the conscientious objection movement in Turkey.

Compulsory military service for all male citizens is one of the processes through which militarisation is perpetuated in Turkey.  The state and military officials enforce military service by laws, regulations and disciplinary proceedings.  Although it has lost its hegemonic power over politics, the military is still promoted as a sacred institution.  People trust the military even more than democratic institutions.  This institutional praise goes hand in hand with the sociocultural perception of the military as an indispensable rite of passage.  Culturally, military service is conceptualised as a step towards attaining the hegemonic model of masculinity.  Male citizens pursue their obligation in order to find a decent job, to get married and to 'begin their lives'.  'Every Turk is born as a soldier' is a motto which summarises the importance of the military in the construction of Turkish identity.  However, there are many individuals who refuse to take part in the military due to personal, moral, political, and/ or religious motivations.  Individuals resist enlistment by evading the draft, deserting their units or by taking exemption reports.  They are labelled draft dodgers or deserters by Turkish military law and the general public.  However, from the 1990s onwards, certain men have put forth their objections in public declarations and refused to be labelled draft dodgers or deserters.  The term 'conscientious objector'  has thus come to be associated in the Turkish political lexicon with these men, who conceptualise their resistances as a form of civil disobedience.

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Ferda Ulker, one of the first Turkish women to publicly declare herself a conscientious objector, writes about how gender and militarism intersect in the particular context of Turkish society, though her insights also have a broader application for any  patriarchal  and militarised society – which is to say, most if not all societies.

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Yong-suk Lee refused to serve in the South Korean military based on his opposition to war and violence and was imprisoned from August 2006 to October 2007.  He is a member of the steering committee and a nonviolence trainer at World Without War.  He explains how conscientious objection is making small but significant fissures in the deep militarism of South Korea

During the past 100 years Korea has endured a countless number of minor and major conflicts. During the first 36 years of the 20th century, Korea was under Japanese imperial rule and many Koreans were, either directly or indirectly,  swept up in the Pacific wars that were waging at the time. With the 2nd   world war at an end and the shackles of colonial rule thrown off, the country became divided in 1950 and with the Korean war escalating into an international one the whole country, north and south, became a battle zone.  Subsequently, continuous waves of small scale regional skirmishes continue to this day. On the one hand during the 1960s and 70s the military dispatched troops on a large scale to participate in the US instigated Vietnam war.  With 350,000 troops dispatched to Vietnam, the South Korean deployment was second only in scale to the US' and this deployment played a significant role in the militarisation of Korean society.  Over the past 100 years the Korean people have on a regular, ongoing basis suffered the effects of many wars such as the Asia-Pacific war, the Korean war, and the Vietnam war, and from the effects of other small scale regional armed conflicts.  Consequently, there is a residual dread of war that remains in the collective consciousness of the Korean people.  Regrettably, Korean civil society has failed in its part of enabling the people to address these real fears in a positive manner and successive Korean governments have been able to exploit that situation by continuing to promote a strong military ‘defence’ as the answer to these fears.

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