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.

Return to Conscientious Objection: A Practical Companion for Movements

Javier Gárate was one of the first publicly declared conscientious objectors in Chile and cofounder of the conscientious objection group, Ni Casco Ni Uniforme (Neither Helmet Nor Uniform).  From 2005 to 2015 he worked at War Resisters´ International (WRI) as the nonviolence programme worker.  He currently lives in Belgium, where he enjoys the local beers, chips and chocolate, while plotting nonviolent training and action.  His discussion here is of conscientious objection as an entry point into other forms of progressive activism, or a 'springboard for radical change'.

When we talk of the peace, anti-war or antimilitarist movements, we are often talking about different movements.  Not all supporters of anti-war and peace movements consider themselves antimilitarists, and the concept of peace also covers a lot more than just being against war.  However, when we look at the struggle for conscientious objection, we see it present in all forms of struggles against war and militarism.  That is one of the biggest strengths of the struggle for conscientious objection – its diversity.

The struggle for conscientious objection often starts as a personal decision, when you find yourself confronted with the fact that you are forced to serve in the military and you almost have no choice but to think ‘where do I stand when it comes to doing or not doing military service?’, or with questions such as: ‘am I OK with being trained to kill?’.  We know that there are many different reasons for becoming a CO: as an assertion of my human right to say I don’t believe in killing others, as an opposition to militarism and patriarchy, as a refusal to support a specific military mission, and many more.  In my case was a rejection of all that militarism stands for and in particular a strong critique of the role the military continued to play in Chile after the end of Pinochet's military dictatorship: even if we no longer lived under a dictatorship, we did live in a military state.

International Prisoners for Peace Day has been celebrated on December 1st for years. The purpose of the day is to provoke conversation and commemorate peace prisoners with different expressions of support and solidarity.

This year we commemorated especially conscientious objectors in South Korea. In South Korea t no alternatives to military service exist, nor a right to conscientious objection. Therefore about 700 peace prisoners are serving time - just for their views. The sentence for objection in South Korea is very long; 18 months in prison.

After Conscription

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Return to Conscientious Objection: A Practical Companion for Movements

Alternativa Anitmilitarista Movimiento Objeción de Conciencia (AA.MOC or Anitmilitarist Alternative Conscientious Objection Movement) are a Spanish movement which arose out of the Spanish experience of conscription and resistance in the form of Insumisión, loosely translateable as insubordination or disobedience.  Members have written about the transition to the post-conscription era in Spain, and the challenges faced by antimilitarists in this transition.

'The past can't be accessed by merely remembering: it must be constructed, and this is a collective task.  Our interpretations of the events through which we live will construct their history.'

Ana M. Fernández 

For Alternativa Antimilitarista.MOC (AA.MOC), writing about the terrain which opened up before us after conscription means analysing the Spanish Insumisión campaign – the campaign of civil disobedience and total objection to military service – and stirring up many diverse experiences, emotions, sorrows and joys.

Return to Conscientious Objection: A Practical Companion for Movements

Alena Karaliova is a human rights lawyer.  In 2012, she started working on the protection of the rights of conscripts, both those doing military service and those doing alternative civilian service.  Her main spheres of activity are in providing legal and assistance; carrying out legal and comparative analysis of regulatory legal acts relating to conscription, military service and alternative service; and interacting with international human rights organisations.  Writing here, she gives us an overview of the campaign for alternative service in Russia.    

In Russia: men from the age of 18 to 27 are subject to conscription if they are considered to be in ‘good health’.  This lasts for one year, with only one day off per week and no vacation.  Usually, only a third of all men of conscription age are actually conscripted (a third cannot serve due to bad health and a third are not conscripted at all because there is no need).

Return to Conscientious Objection: A Practical Companion for Movements

Kaj Raninen has been involved in the antimilitarist movement since the beginning of the 1990s.  He is currently general secretary of the Finnish Union of Conscientious Objectors.  Ruka Toivonen, meanwhile, is a Helsinki based transgender activist and student. They study queer theory, prison systems and social history, but value their experience in radical grassroots organising as their highest and most precious education.  They have been involved in the Finnish Union of Conscientious Objectors for many years.  Here, they discuss the relative strengths and weaknesses of conscientious objection campaigns that focus on total objection and alternative service. 
Finland still has comprehensive conscription for men.  Even though the number of people doing military service has declined and will most likely continue to do so, about two thirds of all men coming of age still go through military service (about 20,000 per year).  Women have had the option of volunteering for the army since 1994, and a few hundred enrol each year.  Approximately 7-8% of men choose an alternative, non-military service which is twice the length of the shortest period of military service (165 compared to 347 days) and the same length as the longest.


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Approaching prisoners for peace day, reading about the state of conscientiousness objection and conscription in different places in the world, it's sad to see that more than 60 years after the founding of the “Prisoners For Peace Day”, it is still so relevant.

In the past few months there have been small advancements, such as Ukraine’s high court and South Korea's lower courts recognizing the right to CO, Yiannis Glarnetatzis, a Jehovah Witness from Greece found innocent (though only for procedural reasons) and gay people in Turkey being able to be released from army service without going through humiliating check-ups.

The Turkish army exempts gay men from serving in the army, since they categorize homosexuality as a ‘psycho-sexual disorder’. A new change in the process will allow men to declare they are gay in an interview without undergoing humiliating tests such as rectal examination or showing sex pictures. Getting an exemption still puts gays in danger of future discrimination, since it means their sexual orientation is listed on their official record.


In the trial of Vitaliy Shalaiko, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Ukraine’s high court has affirmed the right of conscientious objectors to refuse to be drafted to the army even in times of war. COs will be allowed to do alternative service instead of being drafted. Also in the Ukraine, President Petro Poroshenko has declared that the age of conscription will be increased from 18 to 20, and that the conscripts will not be required to fight in Anti-Terrorist Operation zones. He added that the army would move towards having more contracted soldiers.  

In south Korea, a growing number of lower courts have recently ruled in favour of COs, acknowledging their right to the freedom of conscience. One example is “Suwon district court” which on August 13th found two COs not guilty. The court said that “their objection to military service neither undermines the function of the nation nor violates others’ rights and interests”. A day earlier, the Gwangju District Court ruled in favour of a conscientious objector, based on a similar argument. Though this is an improvement in the status of COs in south Korea, the supreme court has not been making similar judgements, having turned down an appeal of a CO on August 28th, thus imprisoning him for 18 months.

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