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A conscientious objector (CO) is an "individual who has claimed the right to refuse to perform military service" on the grounds of freedom of thought, conscience, and/or religion. In general, conscientious objector status is only considered in the context of military conscription and is not applicable to volunteer military forces.
In some countries, conscientious objectors are assigned to an alternative civilian service as a substitute for conscription or military service. Some conscientious objectors consider themselves pacifist, Non-interventionist, non-resistant, non-aggressionist, or antimilitarist.
The international definition of conscientious objection officially broadened on March 8, 1995 when the United Nations Commission on Human Rights resolution 1995/83 stated that "persons performing military service should not be excluded from the right to have conscientious objections to military service." That definition was re-affirmed in 1998, when the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights document called "Conscientious objection to military service, United Nations Commission on Human Rights resolution 1998/77" officially recognized that "persons [already] performing military service may develop conscientious objections.". A number of organizations around the world celebrate the principle on May 15 as International Conscientious Objectors Day.
- 1 Historical introduction
- 2 International law
- 3 Selective conscientious objection
- 4 Religious motives
- 5 Alternatives for objectors
- 6 Conscientious objection around the world
- 6.1 Belgium
- 6.2 Canada
- 6.3 Czechoslovakia
- 6.4 Finland
- 6.5 Germany
- 6.6 Israel
- 6.7 Italy
- 6.8 Marshall Islands
- 6.9 Romania
- 6.10 Russia
- 6.11 South Africa
- 6.12 South Korea
- 6.13 Spain
- 6.14 Turkey
- 6.15 United Kingdom
- 6.16 United States
- 6.17 Being a “Conscientious Objector” and Medal of Honor holder
- 6.18 Other countries
- 7 Conscientious objection in Professional forces
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
Historically, many conscientious objectors have been executed, imprisoned, or otherwise penalized when their beliefs led to actions conflicting with their society's legal system or government. The legal definition and status of conscientious objection has varied over the years and from nation to nation. Religious beliefs were a starting point in many nations for legally granting conscientious objector status.
Formal legislation to exempt objectors from fighting was first granted in mid-18th century Britain following problems with attempting to force Quakers into military service. In 1757, when the first attempt was made to establish a professional national military reserve, a clause in the Militia Ballot Act allowed Quakers exemption from military service.
Nuremberg Principle IV
The Nuremberg Principles were a set of guidelines for determining what constitutes a war crime. The document was created by the International Law Commission of the United Nations to recognize the legal principles underlying the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi party members following World War II.
Nuremberg Principle IV states: "The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him."
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
In 1948, the issue of the right to "conscience" was dealt with by the United Nations General Assembly in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It reads: "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance." The proclamation was ratified during the General Assembly on 10 December 1948 by a vote of 48 in favour, 0 against, with 8 abstentions.
In 1974, the Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, Sean MacBride said, in his Nobel Lecture, "To the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights one more might, with relevance, be added. It is 'The Right to Refuse to Kill.'"
In 1976, the United Nations treaty the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights entered into force. It was based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and was originally created in 1966. Nations that have signed this treaty are bound by it. Its Article 18 begins: "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. ..."
However, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights left the issue of conscientious objection inexplicit, as we see in this quote from War Resisters International: "Article 18 of the Covenant does put some limits on the right [to freedom of thought, conscience and religion], stating that [its] manifestations must not infringe on public safety, order, health or morals. Some states argue that such limitations [on the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion] would [derivatively] permit them to make conscientious objection during time of war a threat to public safety, or mass conscientious objection a disruption to public order,...[Some states] even [argue] that it is a 'moral' duty to serve the state in its military."
On July 30, 1993, explicit clarification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Article 18 was made in the United Nations Human Rights Committee general comment 22, Paragraph 11: "The Covenant does not explicitly refer to a right to conscientious objection, but the Committee believes that such a right can be derived from article 18, inasmuch as the obligation to use lethal force may seriously conflict with the freedom of conscience and the right to manifest one's religion or belief." In 2006, the Committee has found for the first time a right to conscientious objection under article 18, although not unanimously.
In 1997, an announcement of Amnesty International's forthcoming campaign and briefing for the UN Commission on Human Rights included this quote: "The right to conscientious objection to military service is not a marginal concern outside the mainstream of international human rights protection and promotion."
In 1998, the Human Rights Commission reiterated previous statements and added "states should . . . refrain from subjecting conscientious objectors . . . to repeated punishment for failure to perform military service." It also encouraged states "to consider granting asylum to those conscientious objectors compelled to leave their country of origin because they fear persecution owing to their refusal to perform military service . . . ."
Handbook on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status
The Handbook on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status (the Handbook) of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) states:
"171. Not every conviction, genuine though it may be, will constitute a sufficient reason for claiming refugee status after desertion or draft-evasion. It is not enough for a person to be in disagreement with his government regarding the political justification for a particular military action. Where, however, the type of military action, with which an individual does not wish to be associated, is condemned by the international community as contrary to basic rules of human conduct, punishment for desertion or draft-evasion could, in the light of all other requirements of the definition, in itself be regarded as persecution."
Selective conscientious objection
United Kingdom Air Commodore Lionel Charlton served in the military from 1898 to 1928. In 1923 he selectively refused to serve in the RAF Iraq Command. (He later went on to serve as Air Officer Commanding No 3 Group.)
On June 4, 1967, John Courtney Murray, an American Jesuit priest and theologian, delivered an address at Western Maryland College concerning a more specific type of conscientious objection: "the issue of selective conscientious objection, conscientious objection to particular wars, or as it is sometimes called, discretionary armed service."
On March 8, 1971, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in the case of Gillette v. United States that "the exemption for those who oppose "participation in war in any form" applies to those who oppose participating in all war and not to those who object to participation in a particular war only."
On September 24, 2003, in Israel, 27 reserve pilots and former pilots refused to serve in only specific missions. These specific missions included "civilian population centers" in "the [occupied] territories." These pilots clarified: "We ... shall continue to serve in the Israel Defense Forces and the Air Force for every mission in defense of the state of Israel."
On May 25, 2005, journalist Jack Random wrote the following: "The case of Sergeant Kevin Benderman (Iraq War Resister) raises the burning issue of selective conscientious objection: While it is universally accepted that an individual cannot be compelled against conscience to war in general, does the same hold for an individual who objects, in the depths of the soul, to a particular war?"
Cases of behaviour which could be considered as religiously motivated conscientious objection are historically attested long before the modern term appeared. For example, the Medieval Orkneyinga Saga mentions that Magnus Erlendsson, Earl of Orkney – the future Saint Magnus – had a reputation for piety and gentleness, and because of his religious convictions refused to fight in a Viking raid on Anglesey, Wales, instead staying on board his ship singing psalms.
The reasons for refusing to perform military service are varied. Many conscientious objectors cite religious reasons. Unitarian Universalists object to war in their sixth principle "The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all". Members of the Historic Peace Churches such as Quakers, Mennonites, Amish, Old Order Mennonite, Conservative Mennonites and Church of the Brethren object to war from the conviction that Christian life is incompatible with military action, because Jesus enjoins his followers to love their enemies and to refuse violence. Since the American Civil War, Seventh-day Adventists were known as non-combatants, and had done work in hospitals or to give medical care rather than combat roles, and the church has upheld the non-combative position. Jehovah's Witnesses and Christadelphians, refuse to participate in the armed services on the grounds that they believe they should be neutral in worldly conflicts and often cite the latter portion of Isaiah 2:4 which states, "...neither shall they learn war anymore." Other objections can stem from a deep sense of responsibility toward humanity as a whole, or from simple denial that any government possesses the moral authority to command warlike behavior from its citizens.
In the early Christian Church followers of the Christ refused to take up arms.
In as much as they [Jesus’ teachings] ruled out as illicit all use of violence and injury against others, clearly implied [was] the illegitimacy of participation in war... The early Christians took Jesus at his word, and understood his inculcations of gentleness and non-resistance in their literal sense. They closely identified their religion with peace; they strongly condemned war for the bloodshed which it involved.—The Early Christian Attitude to War.
After the Roman Empire officially embraced Christianity, the Just War theology was developed in order to reconcile warfare with Christian belief. After Theodosius I made Christianity an official religion of the Empire, this position slowly developed into the official position of the Western Church. In the 11th century, there was a further shift of opinion in the Latin-Christian tradition with the crusades, strengthening the idea and acceptability of Holy War. Objectors became a minority. Some theologians see the loss of a pacifist position as a great failing of the Church; see Constantinian shift and Christian pacifism.
Ben Salmon was a Catholic conscientious objector during World War I and outspoken critic of Just War theology. The Catholic Church denounced him and The New York Times described him as a "spy suspect." The US military (in which he was never inducted) charged him with desertion and spreading propaganda, then sentenced him to death (this was later revised to 25 years hard labor). On June 5, 1917, Salmon wrote in a letter to President Wilson:
Regardless of nationality, all men are brothers. God is "our Father who art in heaven." The commandment "Thou shalt not kill" is unconditional and inexorable. ... The lowly Nazarene taught us the doctrine of non-resistance, and so convinced was he of the soundness of that doctrine that he sealed his belief with death on the cross. When human law conflicts with Divine law, my duty is clear. Conscience, my infallible guide, impels me to tell you that prison, death, or both, are infinitely preferable to joining any branch of the Army.
Because of their conscientious objection to participation in military service, whether armed or unarmed, Jehovah's Witnesses have often faced imprisonment or other penalties. In Greece, for example, before the introduction of alternative civilian service in 1997, hundreds of Witnesses were imprisoned, some for three years or even more for their refusal. In Armenia, young Jehovah's Witnesses were imprisoned because of their conscientious objection to military service; this was discontinued in November 2013. The government of South Korea also imprisons hundreds for refusing the draft. In Switzerland, virtually every Jehovah's Witness is exempted from military service. The Finnish government exempts Jehovah's Witnesses from the draft completely.
The following is said of the Seventh-day Adventists (SDA) by a neutral, non-SDA organization: "Many Seventh-day Adventists refuse to enter the army as combatants, but participate as medics, ambulance drivers, etc. During World War II in Germany, many SDA conscientious objectors were sent to concentration camps or mental institutions; some were executed. Some Seventh-day Adventists volunteered for the US Army's Operation Whitecoat, participating in research to help others. The Church preferred to call them "conscientious participants", because they were willing to risk their lives as test subjects in potentially life-threatening research. Over 2,200 Seventh-day Adventists volunteered in experiments involving various infectious agents during the 1950s through the 1970s in Fort Detrick, MD. " A schism arose during and after World War I between Seventh-day Adventists in Germany who agreed to serve in the military if conscripted and those who rejected all participation in warfare — the latter group eventually forming a separate church (the Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement).
For believers in Indian religions, the opposition to warfare may be based on either the general idea of ahimsa, nonviolence, or on an explicit prohibition of violence by their religion, e.g., for a Buddhist, one of the five precepts is "Pānātipātā veramaṇi sikkhāpadam samādiyāmi," or "I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures," which is in obvious opposition to the practice of warfare. The 14th Dalai Lama has stated that war "should be relegated to the dustbin of history." On the other hand, many Buddhist sects, especially in Japan, have been thoroughly militarized, warrior monks (yamabushi or sóhei) participating in the civil wars. Hindu beliefs do not go against the concept of war, as seen in the Gita. Both Sikhs and Hindus believe war should be a last resort and should be fought to sustain life and morality in society.
Bahá'ís are advised to do social service instead of active army service, but when this is not possible because of obligations in certain countries, the Bahá'í law of loyalty to one's government is preferred and the individual should perform the army service.
Some practitioners of pagan religions, particularly Wicca, may object on the grounds of the Wiccan rede, which states "An it harm none, do what ye will" (or variations). The threefold law may also be grounds for objection.
A notable example of a conscientious objector was the Austrian devout Roman Catholic Christian Franz Jägerstätter, who was executed on August 9, 1943 for openly refusing to serve in the Nazi Wehrmacht, consciously accepting the penalty of death. He was declared Blessed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007 for dying for his beliefs, and is viewed as a symbol of self-sacrificing resistance.
Alternatives for objectors
Some conscientious objectors are unwilling to serve the military in any capacity, while others accept noncombatant roles. While conscientious objection is usually the refusal to collaborate with military organizations, as a combatant in war or in any supportive role, some advocate compromising forms of conscientious objection. One compromising form is to accept non-combatant roles during conscription or military service. Alternatives to military or civilian service include serving an imprisonment or other punishment for refusing conscription, falsely claiming unfitness for duty by feigning an allergy or a heart condition, delaying conscription until the maximum drafting age, or seeking refuge in a country which does not extradite those wanted for military conscription. Avoiding military service is sometimes labeled draft dodging, particularly if the goal is accomplished through dishonesty or evasive maneuvers. However, many people who support conscription will distinguish between "bona fide" conscientious objection and draft dodging, which they view as evasion of military service without a valid excuse.
Conservative Mennonites do not object to serving their country in peaceful alternatives (alternative service) like hospitals, farming, forestry, road construction and similar occupations. Their objection is in being part in any military capacity whether noncombatant or regular service. During World War II and the Korean, Vietnam war eras they served in many such capacities in alternative I-W service programs initially through the Mennonite Central Committee and now through their own alternatives.
The idea of conscientious objection has existed since the incorporation of forced military service but was not officially recognized until the twentieth century, when it was gradually recognized as a fundamental human right as a part of the freedom of conscience.
Despite the fact that international institutions like the United Nations (UN) or the Council of Europe (CoE) regard and promote conscientious objection as a human right, as of 2004[update], it still does not have a legal basis in most countries. Among the roughly one-hundred countries that have conscription, only thirty countries have some legal provisions, 25 of them in Europe. In Europe, most countries with conscription more or less fulfill international guidelines on conscientious objection legislation (except for Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Finland and Russia) today. In many countries outside Europe, especially in armed conflict areas (Democratic Republic of the Congo), conscientious objection is punished severely.
While conscientious objectors used to be seen as deserters, traitors, cowards, slackers or simply un-patriotic, their image has changed drastically in the Western world in past decades. Especially in Europe, where objectors usually serve an alternative civilian service, they are regarded as making an equally important contribution to society as conscripts. Parallel to that, the number of objectors has risen significantly, too: e.g., in Germany, where conscientious objection is a constitutional right, from less than one percent of all eligible men to more than fifty percent in 2003.
Conscientious objection around the world
Conscription was mandatory to all able-bodied Belgian males until 1994, when it was suspended. Civilian service was possible since 1963. Objectors could apply for the status of conscience objector. When granted, they did an alternative service with the civil service or with a socio-cultural organisation. The former would last 1.5 times as long as the shortest military service, the latter twice as long.
After their service, objectors are not allowed to take jobs that require them to carry weapons, such as police jobs until the age of 42.
Since conscription was suspended in 1994 and military service is voluntary, the status of conscience objector can not be granted anymore in Belgium. Women could not get this status either.
Mennonites and other similar peace churches in Canada were automatically exempt from any type of service during World War I by provisions of the Order in Council of 1873 yet initially, many were imprisoned until the matter was again resettled. With pressure of public opinion, the Canadian government barred entry of additional Mennonite and Hutterite immigrants, rescinding the privileges of the Order in Council. During World War II, Canadian conscientious objectors were given the options of noncombatant military service, serving in the medical or dental corps under military control or working in parks and on roads under civilian supervision. Over 95% chose the latter and were placed in Alternative Service camps. Initially the men worked on road building, forestry and firefighting projects. After May 1943, as the labour shortage developed within the nation and another Conscription Crisis burgeoned, men were shifted into agriculture, education and industry. The 10,700 Canadian objectors were mostly Mennonites (63%) and Dukhobors (20%).
In Czechoslovakia, those not willing to enter mandatory military service could avoid it by signing a contract for work lasting years in unattractive occupations, such as mining. Those who didn't sign were imprisoned. Both numbers were tiny. After the communist party lost its power in 1989, alternative civil service was established. As of 2006, both the Czech Republic and Slovakia have abolished conscription.
Finland introduced conscription in 1881, but its enforcement was suspended in 1903 as part of Russification. During the Finnish Civil War in 1918, conscription was reintroduced for all able-bodied men. In 1922, the option of noncombatant military service was introduced, but service in the military remained compulsory on pain of imprisonment. After the struggle of pacifist Arndt Pekurinen a law was passed providing for a peacetime-only alternative to military service, or civilian service (Finnish siviilipalvelus). The law was dubbed "Lex Pekurinen" after him. During the Winter War, Pekurinen and other conscientious objectors were imprisoned, and Pekurinen was eventually executed at the front in 1941, during the Continuation War.
After the war, a conscientious objector's civilian service lasted 16 months, whereas military service was 8 months at its shortest. To qualify for civilian service, an objector had to explain his conviction before a board of inspection that included military officers and clergymen. In 1987, the duration of the service was shortened to 13 months and the board of inspection was abolished. In 2008, the term was further shortened to 12 months to match the duration of the longest military service (that of officer trainees and technical crew). Today, a person subject to conscription may apply for civilian service at any time before or during his military service, and the application is accepted as a matter of course. A female performing voluntary military service can quit her service anytime during the first 45 days, however, if she wants to quit after those 45 days she would be treated like a male and assigned to civilian service.
Persons who have completed their civilian service during peacetime have, according to the legislation enacted in 2008, the right to serve in non-military duties also during a crisis situation. They may be called to serve in various duties with the rescue services or other necessary work of a non-military nature. Persons who declare themselves to be conscientious objectors only after a crisis has started must, however, prove their conviction before a special board. Before the new legislation, the right to conscientious objection was acknowledged only in peacetime. The changes to the service term and to the legal status of objectors during a crisis situation were made as a response to human rights concerns voiced by several international bodies, who are overseeing the implementation of Human Rights agreements. These organisations had demanded Finland to take measures to improve its legislation concerning conscientious objectors, which they considered discriminatory. None of these organisations have yet raised concerns on the current legislation.
There are a small number of total objectors who refuse even civilian service, and are imprisoned for six months. This is not registered into the person's criminal record.
Under the Nazis, conscientious objection was not recognized in the law. In theory, objectors would be drafted and then court-martialled for desertion. The practice was even more harsh: going beyond the letter of an already extremely flexible law, conscientious objection was considered subversion of military strength, a crime normally punished with death. On September 15, 1939 August Dickmann, a Jehovah's Witness, the first conscientious objector of the war to be executed, died by a firing squad at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Among others, Franz Jägerstätter was executed after his conscientious objection, on the grounds that he could not fight in the forces of the evil side. He is now somewhat the patron saint of conscientious objectors.
After World War II, there was no official right to conscientious objection in the German Democratic Republic. Nevertheless, and uniquely among the Eastern bloc, objections were accepted and the objectors assigned to construction units. They were however part of the military, so that a fully civilian alternative did not exist. Also, "construction soldiers" were discriminated against in their later professional life.
According to Article 4(3) of the German constitution (Grundgesetz): "No person shall be compelled against his conscience to render military service involving the use of arms. Details shall be regulated by a federal law."
According to Article 12a, a law may be passed that requires every adult male to military service called Wehrdienst; also, a law can require conscientous objections to a service of utterly non-military nature (called Zivildienst) no longer than the Wehrdienst. Both laws were passed, and, until the suspension of the draft in 2011, required men to perform such actions. Initially, conscientious objectors had to be accepted, appearing in person, by committees installed for that purpose at the draft offices (or contest a negative decision at the administrative court). The suspension of the procedure (1977), allowing to "object with a post card", was ruled unconstitutional in 1978. Beginning in 1983, the competence was shifted to the Zivildienst office (judging over a written justification without appearing in person) and was generally considered to be not much more than a formality. The Zivildienst was for times up to one third longer than the Wehrdienst, which seemed to contradict the Constitution at first sight but was jointly justified by the fact that soldiers could later be called to military exercises (Wehrübungen), had to work longer, and that with the more lenient acceptation since 1983, the will to endure some additional hardship should serve as a test of conscience (ruled constitutional by the Court of Constitution in 1985). The difference was decreased over time, and equal length was reintroduced in 2004.
The Wehrdienst was controversial through all the time of its existence. Among the reasons mentioned were: that people could be required to fight against their German co-nationals, that men were discriminated against, and that especially after the end of the Cold War, a rather arbitrarily selected part of a year's male youth was drafted (by direct non-drafting of capable young men, and by, supposedly, artificially high standards in medical examination), contradicting the "service justice" (Wehrgerechtigkeit). President Roman Herzog said in a speech in 1994 that only necessity for national defence, not any other arguments can justify the draft. (Interestingly enough, the necessity of Zivildienst performers to assist in social services, especially in the health area, came to be generally considered such an "other argument".) Though the context clearly indicates that in his opinion this necessity was still given, the speech was frequently cited in favor of suspension.
As of 2011 the draft has been halted in Germany, primarily for the latter reasons (service justice, and a changed view of its necessity).
 All Israeli citizens and permanent residents are liable to military service. However, the Ministry of Defense has used its discretion under art. 36 of this law to automatically exempt all non-Jewish women and all Arab men, except for the Druze, from military service ever since Israel was established. Israeli Arabs may volunteer to perform military service, but very few do so (except among the Bedouin population of Israel).
In discussing the status of the armed forces shortly after the founding of the State of Israel, representatives of orthodox religious parties argued that yeshiva students should be exempt from military service. This derives from the Jewish tradition that if a man wants to dedicate his life to religious study, society must allow him to do so. The request of orthodox political parties to 'prevent neglect of studying the Torah' was granted by the authorities. But in recent years this exemption practice has become the subject of debate in Israeli society, as the absolute and the relative numbers of the men who received this exemption rose sharply. In 2012, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in the case of Ressler et al. v. The Knesset et al.. that the blanket exemption granted to ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students was ultra vires the authority of the Minister of Defence, and that it violated Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty and was, therefore, unconstitutional.
As for conscientious objection, in 2002, in the case of David Zonschein et al. v. Military Advocate General et al., the Supreme Court reiterated its position that selective conscientious objection was not permitted, adding that conscientious objection could only be recognized in cases of general objection to military service.
Women can claim exemption from military service on grounds of conscience under arts. 39 (c) and 40 of the Defense Service Law, according to which religious reasons can be grounds for exemption.
Until 2004 conscription was mandatory to all able-bodied Italian males. Those who were born in the last months of the year typically used to serve in the Navy, unless judged unable for ship service (in this case they could be sent back to Army or Air Force). Until 1972, objectors were considered as traitors and tried by a military tribunal. Since 1972, objectors could choose an alternative civilian service, which was eight months longer than standard military service (fifteen months, then twelve, as for Army and Air Force, 24 months, then eighteen, then twelve as for the Navy). Since such length was judged too punitive, an arrangement was made to make the civilian service as long as the military service. Since 2004, Italian males no longer need to object because military service has been turned into volunteer for both males and females.
In the Republic of the Marshall Islands no person can be conscripted if, after being afforded a reasonable opportunity to do so, he has established that he is a conscientious objector to participation in war (compare Marshall Islands Constitution Article II Section 11).
In Romania, as of 23 October 2006 conscription was suspended, therefore, the status of conscience objector does not apply. This came about due to a 2003 constitutional amendment which allowed the parliament to make military service optional. The Romanian Parliament voted to abolish conscription in October 2005, with the vote formalizing one of many military modernization and reform programs that Romania agreed to when it joined NATO.
The Russian Empire allowed Russian Mennonites to run and maintain forestry service units in South Russia in lieu of their military obligation. The program was under church control from 1881 through 1918, reaching a peak of seven thousand conscientious objectors during World War I. An additional five thousand Mennonites formed complete hospital units and transport wounded from the battlefield to Moscow and Ekaterinoslav hospitals.
After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Leon Trotsky issued a decree allowing alternative service for religious objectors whose sincerity was determined upon examination. Vladimir Chertkov, a follower of Leo Tolstoy, chaired the United Council of Religious Fellowships and Groups, which successfully freed 8000 conscientious objectors from military service during the Russian Civil War. The law was not applied uniformly and hundreds of objectors were imprisoned and over 200 were executed.The United Council was forced to cease activity in December 1920, but alternative service was available under the New Economic Policy until it was abolished in 1936. Unlike the earlier forestry and hospital service, later conscientious objectors were classified "enemies of the people" and their alternate service was performed in remote areas in a gulag-like environment in order to break their resistance and encourage enlistment.
In the present day, Russian draft legislation allows people to choose an alternative civilian service for religious or ideological reasons. Most objectors are employed in healthcare, construction, forestry and post industries, serving 18 to 21 months.
During the 1980s, hundreds of South African white males dodged the draft, refused the call-up or objected to conscription in the South African Defence Force. Some simply deserted, or joined organisations such as the End Conscription Campaign, an anti-war movement banned in 1988, while others fled into exile and joined the Committee on South African War Resistance. Most lived in a state of internal exile, forced to go underground within the borders of the country until a moratorium on conscription was declared in 1993. Opposition to the Angolan War, "South Africa's Vietnam," was rife in English-speaking campuses, and later the war in the townships became the focus of these groupings.
Since the establishment of the Republic of Korea, thousands of conscientious objectors had no choice but to be imprisoned as criminals. Every year about 500 young men, mostly Jehovah's Witnesses, are arrested for refusing the draft.
South Korea's stance has drawn criticism from The U.N. Human Rights Committee, which argues that South Korea is violating article 18 of the ICCPR, which guarantees freedom of thought and conscience. In 2006, 2010, and again in 2011 the U.N. Human Rights Committee, after reviewing petitions from South Korean conscientious objectors, declared that the government was violating Article 18 of the ICCPR, the provision that guarantees the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
The government's National Action Plan (NAP) for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights has not shown a clear stance on the pressing human rights issues such as, among other things, the rights of conscientious objectors to military service.
In September 2007 the government announced a program to give conscientious objectors an opportunity to participate in alternative civilian service. The program stipulates three years of civilian service that is not connected with the military in any way. However, that program has been postponed indefinitely after the succeeding administration took office in 2008.
The government argues that introducing an alternative service would jeopardize national security and undermine social equality and cohesion. This is amid an increasing number of countries which retain compulsory service have introduced alternatives. In addition, some countries, including those with national security concerns have shown that alternative service can be successfully implemented.
On January 15, 2009, the Korean Presidential Commission on Suspicious Deaths in the Military released its decision acknowledging that the government was responsible for the deaths of five young men, who were Jehovah's Witnesses and had forcibly been conscripted into the army. The deaths resulted from "the state's anti-human rights violence" and "its acts of brutality" during the 1970s that continued into the mid-1980s. This decision is significant since it is the first one recognizing the state's responsibility for deaths resulting from violence within the military. According to the Commission's decision, "the beatings and acts of brutality committed against them by military officials were attempts to compel and coerce them to act against their conscience (religion) and were unconstitutional, anti-human rights acts that infringed severely upon the freedom of conscience (religion) guaranteed in the Constitution."
The records of conscientious objectors to military service are kept by a governmental investigative body as criminal files for five years. As a consequence, conscientious objectors are not allowed to enter a government office and apply for any type of national certification exam. It is also very unlikely that they will be employed by any company that inquires about criminal records.
"Conscientious objectors ... often spend the rest of their lives tainted by their decision... Criminal records from draft dodging make it difficult for objectors to find good jobs and the issue of army service is often raised by potential employers during job interviews. "-reuters.com"
From 2000 to 2008, Korean Military Manpower Administration said that at least 4,958 men have objected to service in the military because of religious beliefs. Among those, 4,925 were Jehovah's Witnesses, 3 were Buddhists, and the other 30 refused the mandatory service because of conscientious objections other than religious reasons. Since 1950, there have been more than 16,000 Jehovah's Witnesses sentenced to a combined total of 31,256 years for refusing to perform military service. If alternative service is not provided, some 500 to 900 young men will continue to be added each year to the list of conscientious objectors criminalized in Korea. 
Conscientious objection was not permitted in Spain under the rule of Francisco Franco. The Spanish Constitution of 1978 acknowledged conscientious objectors. The Spanish parliament established a longer service (Prestación Social Sustitutoria) as an alternative to the Army. In spite of this, a strong movement appeared that refused both services. The Red Cross was the only important organisation employing objectors. Because of this, the waiting lists for the PSS were long, especially in areas like Navarre, where pacifism, Basque nationalism and a low unemployment rate discouraged young males from the army[original research?]. Thousands of insumisos (non-submittants) publicly refused the PSS, and hundreds were imprisoned. In addition a number of those in the military decided to refuse further duties. A number of people not liable for military service made declarations of self-incrimination, stating that they had encouraged insumisión. The government, fearing popular reaction, reduced the length of service and instead of sentencing insumisos to prison declared them unfit for public service.
Fronting the decreasing birth rate and the popular opposition to the army, the Spanish government tried to modernise the model carried from the Franco era, professionalizing it. The new army tried to provide an education for civilian life and participated in peace operations in Bosnia.
The issue is highly controversial in Turkey. Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan are the only three countries refusing to recognise conscientious objection and sustain their membership in the Council of Europe. In January 2006, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found Turkey had violated article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (prohibition of degrading treatment) in a case dealing the conscientious objection of Osman Murat Ulke. In 2005, Mehmet Tarhan was sentenced to four years in a military prison as a conscientious objector (he was unexpectedly released in March 2006). Journalist Perihan Magden was tried by a Turkish court for supporting Tarhan and advocating conscientious objection as a human right; but later, she was acquitted.
As of March 2011, there were 125 objectors including 25 female objectors in Turkey. Another 256 people of Kurdish origin also had announced their conscientious objection to military service. Conscientious objector İnan Süver was named a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.
In 14 November 2011, the Ministry of Justice announced that a draft proposed to legalise the conscientious objector in Turkey and it is going to be in effect two weeks after the President approves of the law change. This decision for legalization by the Turkish government is because of the pressures coming from European Court of Human Rights. ECHR gave the deadline to Turkish government until the end of year 2011 to legalize conscientious objection. Draft withdrew afterwards.
A commission was founded within the National Assembly of the Republic to write a new constitution in 2012. The commission is still on negotiations on various articles and conscientious objector is one of the most controversial issues.
The country recognized the right not to fight in the 18th century following problems with attempting to force Quakers into military service. The Militia Ballot Act of 1757 allowed Quakers to be excluded from military service. It then ceased to be a major issue, since Britain's armed forces were generally all-volunteer. However, press gangs were used to beef up army and navy rolls on occasions from the sixteenth to the early nineteenth centuries. Pressed men did have the right of appeal, in the case of sailors, to the Admiralty. The Royal Navy last took pressed men in the Napoleonic War.
A more general right to refuse military service was not introduced until during the First World War, when Britain introduced conscription with the Military Service Act of March 1916. The Act allowed for objectors to be absolutely exempted, to perform alternative civilian service, or to serve as a non-combatant in the army's Non-Combatant Corps, according to the extent to which they could convince a Military Service Tribunal of the quality of their objection.
Around 16,000 men were recorded as conscientious objectors, with Quakers, traditionally pacifist, playing a large role: 4500 objectors were sent to do 'work of national importance' such as farming, 7000 were ordered non-combatant duties, but 6000 were forced into the army, and when they refused orders, they were sent to prison. When the well-known pacifist and religious writer Stephen Henry Hobhouse was drafted in 1916, he and many other Quaker activists took the unconditionalist stand, refusing both military and alternative service—and these men too were sent to prison. Cases regarding conscientious objectors formed only a tiny proportion of Military Service Tribunals' cases, estimated at 2%; in the first six months of following the Military Service Act, tribunals heard 750,000 cases, of which 16,000 (the total number of conscience cases for 1916–18) is 2.13%. Tribunals were notoriously harsh towards conscientious objectors, reflecting widespread public opinion that they were lazy, degenerate, ungrateful 'shirkers' seeking to benefit from the sacrifices of others.
Thirty-five objectors, including the Richmond Sixteen, were taken to France and formally sentenced to death but immediately reprieved to ten years in prison; conditions were made very hard for conscientious objector prisoners — ten died in prison, and around seventy died elsewhere as a result of their treatment. Many objectors accepted non-combatant service, for example working in the dangerous role of stretcher-bearers. Conscientious objectors who were deemed not to have made any useful contribution were disfranchised for five years after the war, but there was no administrative machinery to enforce such disfranchisement.
Britain's conscription legislation of 1916 did not apply to Ireland, although it was then all part of the United Kingdom; although the prospect of its introduction led to the Conscription Crisis of 1918. Similarly, British conscription in the Second World War did not apply to Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, many Irishmen volunteered to fight in both world wars. The various parts of the British Empire and Commonwealth had their own laws: in general, all the larger countries of the Empire participated, and some were, in proportion to their population, major participants.
In the Second World War, following the National Service Act of 1939, there were nearly 60,000 registered Conscientious Objectors. Testing by Conscientious Objection Tribunals resumed, this time chaired by a judge, but it was much less harsh; if you were not a member of the Quakers or some similar pacifist organization, it was generally enough to say that you objected to "warfare as a means of settling international disputes", a phrase from the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928. The tribunals could grant full exemption, exemption conditional on alternative service, exemption only from combatant duties, or dismiss the application. Of the 61,000 who were registered, only 3,000 were given complete exemption and 18,000 were dismissed as false claimants. Of those directed to non-combatant military service almost 7,000 were allocated to the Non-Combatant Corps, set up in mid-1940; its companies worked in clothing and food stores, in transport, or any military project not requiring the handling of "material of an aggressive nature". In November 1940 it was decided to allow troops in the NCC to volunteer for work in bomb disposal. In total over 350 volunteered. Other non-combatants worked in the Royal Army Medical Corps. Other acceptable occupations were farm work, mining, firefighting, Ambulance Service. About 5,500 objectors were imprisoned, charged with offences relating to their unrecognised objection. A further 1,000 were court-martialled by the armed forces and sent to military detention barracks or civil prisons. Nevertheless, the social stigma attached to 'conchies' (as they were called) was considerable: regardless of the genuineness of their motives, cowardice was often imputed.
Britain retained conscription, with rights of conscientious objection, as National Service until 1960. The use of only volunteer soldiers was hoped to remove the need to consider conscientious objectors. Ever since World War I, however, there have been volunteer members of the armed forces who have developed a conscientious objection to continuing in service; a procedure was devised for them in World War II, and, with adaptations, it continues to this day.
During the American Revolutionary War, exemptions varied by state. Pennsylvania required conscientious objectors, who would not join companies of voluntary soldiers called Associations, to pay a fine roughly equal to the time they would have spent in military drill. Quakers who refused this extra tax had their property confiscated.
The first conscription in the United States came with the Civil War. Although conscientious objection was not part of the draft law, individuals could provide a substitute or pay $300 to hire one. By 1864 the draft act allowed the $300 to be paid for the benefit of sick and wounded soldiers. Conscientious objectors in Confederate States initially had few options. Responses included moving to northern states, hiding in the mountains, joining the army but refusing to use a weapon, or imprisonment. Between late 1862 and 1864 a payment of $500 into the public treasury exempted conscientious objectors from Confederate military duty.
We were cursed, beaten, kicked, and compelled to go through exercises to the extent that a few were unconscious for some minutes. They kept it up for the greater part of the afternoon, and then those who could possibly stand on their feet were compelled to take cold shower baths. One of the boys was scrubbed with a scrubbing brush using lye on him. They drew blood in several places.
In the United States during World War I, conscientious objectors were permitted to serve in noncombatant military roles. About 2000 absolute conscientious objectors refused to cooperate in any way with the military. These men were imprisoned in military facilities such as Fort Lewis (Washington), Alcatraz Island (California) and Fort Leavenworth (Kansas). Some were subjected to treatment such as short rations, solitary confinement and physical abuse severe enough as to cause the deaths of two Hutterite draftees.
Eventually, because of the shortage of farm labor, the conscientious objectors were granted furloughs either for farm service or relief work in France under the American Friends Service Committee. A limited number performed alternative service as fire fighters in the Cascade Range in the vicinity of Camp Lewis, Washington and in a Virginia psychiatric hospital.
During World War II, all registrants were sent a questionnaire covering basic facts about their identification, physical condition, history and also provided a checkoff to indicate opposition to military service because of religious training or belief. Men marking the latter option received a detailed form in which they had to explain the basis for their objection.
Civilian Public Service (CPS) provided conscientious objectors in the United States an alternative to military service during World War II. From 1941 to 1947 nearly 12,000 draftees, unwilling to do any type of military service, performed work of national importance in 152 CPS camps throughout the United States and Puerto Rico.
Alternatives to war bonds and war savings stamps were provided for those who would not fund the war for conscientious reasons. National Service Board for Religious Objectors offered civilian bonds and Mennonite Central Committee offered Civilian Public Service stamps and War Sufferers' Relief stamps.
Civilian Public Service was disbanded in 1947. By the early 1950s a replacement program, 1-W service, was in place for conscientious objectors classified as 1-W by Selective Service. The new program eliminated the base camps of CPS and provided wages for the men.
1-W service was divided into several categories. The Earning Service involved working in institutions such as hospitals for fairly good wages. Voluntary Service was nonpaying work done in similar institutions, mostly within North America. Pax Service was a nonpaying alternative with assignments overseas. 1-W Mission Supporting Service was like the Earning Service but the wages were used for the support of mission, relief or service projects of the draftees choice. The nonpaying services were promoted by church agencies as a sacrifice to enhance the peace witness of conscientious objectors.
Today, the two main criteria for classification as a conscientious objector are that the objector must be opposed to war in any form, and the objection must be sincere. A 1971 United States Supreme Court decision, Gillette v. United States, broadened U.S. rules beyond religious belief but denied the inclusion of objections to specific wars as grounds for conscientious objection.
Being a “Conscientious Objector” and Medal of Honor holder
When attempting to establish his status as a non-combatant, Desmond T. Doss was told there was no such thing. But, to get round the problem, he was informed he could register as a Conscientious Objector. Doss made clear he was not an Objector - because he would willingly serve his country, wear a uniform, salute the flag and help with the war effort. He only became a ‘Conscientious Objector’ to join the army.
On May 5, 1945, Desmond Doss received the Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman. This medal is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force. By helping to support and maintain the war, Desmond was the first 'noncombatant' to receive the Medal of Honor.
Other conscientious objectors who have been awarded the Medal of Honor are Thomas W. Bennett and Joseph G. LaPointe, both medics who served during the war in Vietnam. Alvin York, the most decorated American soldier during WWI, also applied to be a conscientious objector, but was denied multiple times before finally serving in the Argonne Forrest in France.
As of 2005, conscientious objectors in several countries may serve as field paramedics in the army (although some do not consider this a genuine alternative, as they feel it merely helps to make war more humane instead of preventing it). Alternatively, they may serve without arms, although this, too, has its problems. In certain European countries such as Austria, Germany, Greece and Switzerland, there is the option of performing Civilian Service, subject to the review of a written application or after a hearing about the state of conscience (see below). In Greece, Civilian Service is twice as long as the corresponding military service and in Switzerland, the Civilian Service is one and one-half times longer. In 2005, the Swiss parliament considered whether willingness to serve one and a half times longer than an army recruit was sufficient proof of sincerity, citing that the cost of judging the state of conscience of a few thousand men per year was too great.
Conscientious objection in Professional forces
Only four European Union countries – Germany, Norway, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom – recognize the right to conscientious objection for contract and professional military personnel,
In the United States, military personnel who come to a conviction of conscientious objection during their tour of duty must appear in front of a panel of experts, which consists of psychiatrists, military chaplains and officers. In Switzerland, the panel consists entirely of civilians, and military personnel have no authority whatsoever. In Germany, objections to military service are filed in writing, and an oral hearing is scheduled only if the written testimonials have been unconvincing; in practice, due to the heavy workload—about half of all draftees in a given year file as conscientious objectors—the competent authority reviews written applications only summarily, and it denies the alternative of a civilian service only in cases of grave shortcomings or inconsistencies in the written testimonials. Commonly, once an objector is summoned to a hearing, he has to explain what experiences drove him to recognize a conflict concerning his conscience.
|Generality||How and when did you decide against the military service?|
|Why can't you arrange military service with your conscience?|
|What prohibits you from serving in the military?|
|Military service||Do you fear having to fight, or to use force?|
|Do you want to abolish the army?|
|What do you think about the phrase "We have the army to defend us, not to kill others"?|
|Use of force||What would you do if you were attacked?|
|What do you feel when you see that others are attacked?|
|What is violence, exactly?|
|Would you rather experience losses than having to use force?|
|Belief||What do your beliefs say?|
|Would you describe yourself as a pacifist?|
|What basic values, besides objecting to violence, do you have?|
|What entity gives you the certainty that your thinking and your feelings are right?|
|Implementation of your beliefs||Why didn't you choose to go into prison if your conscience is that strong?|
|Why didn't you use medical reasons to avoid military service?|
|What do you actually do to further peace, or is your attitude the only peaceful thing about you?|
|Personality||Who is in charge of defending your children in case of an armed conflict?|
|Do you live your ethical principles inside your family?|
|What books do you read?|
|What do you demand from yourself?|
|Are you merely a leader, a follower or a loner?|
These are common questions from Swiss hearings. By and large, these are asked in many other countries. They help to determine if the objector is politically motivated or if he is just too lazy to serve the country; or if he truly has a conflict stemming from his conscience. Arguments like "The army is senseless," "It is not just to wage wars," or opposition to involvement in a specific war (World War II, the Vietnam War, the Iraq War; a hypothetical war of West Germany against fellow Germans from the GDR during the Cold War) will hardly ever be accepted. He has only, and convincingly, to show that his conscience does not allow participation in an organization which is intended to use violence.
In hearings about one's personal conflicts of conscience, certain subtleties may arise. One example from interrogations in Germany is about a plank of wood floating on the sea, and you, shipwrecked, need cling to it in order to save your life. Another person swims nearby and he also is in need of this plank. If you deny him the plank, you are, according to the interrogators ready to accept the death of a fellow human being, and therefore able to serve in the military. Otherwise, if you are willing to allow the other person use of the plank you are willing to die and therefore not credible.
In other examples, the interviewers would ask if one was ready to kill in self-defense or in the defense of a friend or family member or why one had not revoked their driver's license, for driving carries a risk of accidentally killing someone.
In Britain during World War I, there was an argument put forth by a conscientious objector who asked the people who were part of the tribunal if they were Christian. When they all replied in the positive he then remarked, "Could you imagine Christ in khaki running out into no-mans land?" None of the panelists could, and the man was given total exemption due to 'religious beliefs'.
In various places, questions about such hypothetical situations have come into disuse because they do not explore the present-day state of the objector's conflict of conscience, but rather, possible future actions which, with a great probability, will never take place.
Similar hearings and questions about hypothetical situations were in use in Finland for most of the history of Finnish conscientious objection, from its introduction in the 1930s to the 1980s, when they were abolished. Today, draftees have to specify whether they are objecting for religious or ethical reasons by marking the appropriate checkbox on a form, but hearings are no longer held. If conscripts turn into conscientious objectors during their service, the Defense Force will inquire of their reasons for internal research purposes, but the objectors are not required to answer unless they wish to do so. Usually, a conscientious objector will be released from the military within a few hours of making the claim.
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- This is taking into account, however, that objectors were generally expected to give some reasons, e. g. slightly altered copies from internet sources, that got them accepted, and not necessarily (mildly said) the real reasons. Going beyond the Basic Law (as ruled in the minority vote in the 1985 decision), only he who could not do any military service at all was allowed to object. Who simply preferred the Zivildienst was (correctly) not; nor was who instead of objection to any war merely objected to a war among co-nationals, or who preferred the Communist cause (constitutionality of these latter cases and suchlike was contested).
- The objection is only feasible as a general judgment. The appeal to the Constitution, however, which was sometimes heard in its place, was not a valid argument, since the Constitution, while enacting equality of sexes in one article, enacted male-only obligation to serve in another, and hence lex specialis was to be applied.
- From the Torato Omanuto entry: "from 800 men in 1968 to 41,450 in 2005 compared to 7 million for the entire population of Israel. In percentage terms, 2.4% of the soldiers enlisting to the army in 1974 were benefiting from Torato Omanuto compared to 9.2% in 1999, when it was projected that the number would reach 15% by the year 2012."
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- Vicdani ret' karara bağlanıyor
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- Krahn, Cornelius, Gingerich, Melvin & Harms, Orlando (Eds.) (1955). The Mennonite Encyclopedia, Volume I, pp. 76–78. Mennoniite Publishing House.
- Matthews, Mark (2006). Smoke Jumping on the Western Fire Line: Conscientious Objectors during World War II, University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 978-0806137667
- Mock, Melanie Springer (2003). Writing Peace: The Unheard Voices of Great War Mennonite Objectors, Cascadia Publishing House. ISBN 1-931038-09-0
- Moorehead, Caroline (1987). Troublesome People: Enemies of War, 1916–86, Hamish Hamilton Ltd, ISBN 0-241-12105-1
- Pannabecker, Samuel Floyd (1975), Open Doors: A History of the General Conference Mennonite Church, Faith and Life Press. ISBN 0-87303-636-0
- Quakers in Britain — Conscientious Objectors.
- Smith, C. Henry (1981). Smith's Story of the Mennonites. Revised and expanded by Cornelius Krahn. Newton, Kansas: Faith and Life Press. pp. 299–300, 311. ISBN 0-87303-069-9.
- Spartacus Education Pacifism page.
- Rick Tejada-Flores, Judith Ehrlich (2000), "The good war and those who refused to fight it" [videorecording]; Paradigm Productions in association with the Independent Television Service, aired on PBS.
- McNair, Donald (2008) A Pacifist at War: Military Memoirs of a Conscientious Objector in Palestine 1917–1918 Anastasia Press, Much Hadham ISBN 978-0-9536396-1-8
- Alternative Service in the Second World War: Conscientious Objectors in Canada 1939–1945
- Conscientious objectors in a volunteer army (Chicago Tribune article by Anthony DeBartolo)
- The National Registry for Conscientious Objection
- International Conscientious Objectors' Day (War Resisters' International)
- of Human Rights factsheet on case law on conscientious objection
- "Making a Choice: Conscientious Objection or Refusing to Register" (Resisters.info)
- The European Bureau for Conscientious Objection
- Mennonite Central Committee's listing of resources for conscientious objection (US and Canada)
- Refusing to Kill: conscientious objection and human rights in World War One. Peace Pledge Union, 2006.
- Watch His Conscience: A Short History Of The Conscientious Objector. By Michael D. Peabody
- Catholic Peace Fellowship
- The Right to Refuse to Bear Arms – the most authoritative recent world survey on provisions for conscientious objection to military service, by War Resisters' International
- A Conscientious Objector's Guide to the UN Human Rights System
- You have no enemies. A Call for Conscientious Objection. By Dieter Duhm