Chile: New military service law, but no right to conscientious objection

In August 2005 the Chilean parliament passed a new recruitment law, after almost five years of discussion. However, the parliament failed to include any regulation for the right to conscientious objection in this new law.

The new law, which will come into force in 2007, introduces several changes. According to the law, registration for military service will be automatical. In January, the Civil Registry will pass on the data of all men who completed their 18th year to the military. If by the end of the year recruitment of volunteers is not sufficient, draws will determine who will be called up for military service. However, the expection is that there will be enough volunteers. Consequently, the new law includes more incentives for volunteers.

The new law does not change the position of conscientious objectors. There is no right to conscientious objection. Although there are no conscientious objectors in prison in Chile, they are in a "legal limbo", unsure whether they will be called up and possibly punished for refusal, or not.

In a separate development, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights rejected a petition of three Chilean conscientious objectors in March 2005. In its detailed decision, the Inter-American Comission follows a very conservative reading of international standards regarding the right to conscientious objection, and comes to the conclusion that "in summary (...) international human rights jurisprudence recognizes the status of conscientious objectors in countries that provide for such status in their national laws.  In countries that do not provide for conscientious objector status, the international human rights bodies find that there has been no violation of the right to freedom of thought, conscience or religion."

And: "The Commission is of the view that the failure of the Chilean State to recognize “conscientious objector” status in its domestic law, and the failure to recognize  Cristian Daniel Sahli Vera, Claudio Salvador Fabrizzio Basso Miranda and Javier Andres Garate Neidhardt as “conscientious objectors” to compulsory military service, does not constitute an interference with their right to freedom of conscience.  The Commission is of the view that the American Convention does not prohibit obligatory military service and that Article 6(3)(b) of the Convention specifically contemplates military service in countries in which conscientious objectors are not recognized.  Consequently, the Commission finds no violation by the Chilean State of Article 12 of the American Convention to the detriment of the petitioners in this case."

The outcome of the two Korean cases filed with the Human Rights Committee, and of the case of Osman Murat Ülke at the European Court of Human Rights, will therefore be important for Chile too.

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