Stories in this edition of this CO Update remind me of the importance of solidarity with conscientious objectors.
Having received many supportive messages on Prisoners for Peace day, CO Visa Savolainen wrote a blog on the experience of feeling supported by peace activists worldwide: "Although living as a peace prisoner feels unjust, very oppressive, and arbitrary, wide support and abetment makes it easier to cope...It is comforting to remember that peace activists are a big and diverse group. For example I got a message from 73-year-old activist from England who wrote about their background working for peace. I also got a message from a somewhat younger Swede who got sentenced for civil disobedience in 1996."
The Ukrainian CO Ruslan Kotsaba is being supported by activists in Germany during his ongoing trial for treason and obstructing the military, and the petition to end imprisonment for COs in South Korea was submitted in December with over 8000 signatures. We are in touch with a recently declared CO in Bolivia, who may need solidarity actions in time.
In South Korea, the hundreds of conscientious objectors in prison are often not named, but Jehovah's Witnesses have recently released more information about Jehovah's Witness COs in jail, which have enabled us to update our Prisoners for Peace list with hundreds more names.
At WRI we try to support COs by providing resources and sharing information. Recently, our book Conscientious Objection: A Practical Companion for Movements has been uploaded to our website for free. Find it here, and share it widely! We are now exploring interactive and visual ways to share information on conscientious objection and conscription around the world. You can find out how to help us in this here.
Many CO movements utilise regional and international mechanisms to struggle against their governments. The UN Human Rights Committee have published new concluding observations on Austria and the Republic of Korea, whilst the European Court of Human Rights have launched a factsheet covering CO case law.
In Colombia, FARC have released a child soldier from their ranks, and committed to stop recruiting under-18s. However the impact of war on children's lives in Syria is increasing: both through recruitment (to many different forces), and in the violence and trauma they experience as victims of violence.
In the Eastern Mediterranean, the government in Cyprus is threatening to extend the length of service of those who they do not deem "mentally fit" for the military in a bid to prevent 'draft dodging'. Previously, they have been discharged. In neighbouring Turkey, CO Yannis Vasilis Yaylali was sentenced to seven months in jail for "alienating people from military service". He will be imprisoned depending on the result of his appeal. In Greece, the Association of Greek Conscientious Objectors have co-signed a powerful rejection of the idea of women's conscription - No to Equality in Militarism! - with a feminist collective. Greece, Turkey and Cyprus both feature in the European Bureau for Conscientious Objection's report on conscientious objection in Europe in 2015, which can be found here.