Conscientious Objection in Yugoslavia - the cases of Igor Seke and Goran Miladinovic
Conscription and Conscientious Objection Documentation Centre
War Resisters' International, 5 Caledonian Road, London N1 9DX, Britain
Tel.: +44-20-7278 4040, Fax: +44-20-7278 0444, email: email@example.com
Update of report from 7 September 2002
Date: 13 September 2002
Our Ref.: YU10813-YU12368
In September 2002, War Resisters' International sent a delegation to Yugoslavia, to support two conscientious objectors who have been called up for military service, and to highlight the fact that the right to conscientious objection, as guaranteed by resolutions 1998/77, 2000/34, and 2002/45 of the UN Commission on Human Rights, resolution 337 (1967) and recommendations 1518 (2001), R (87) 8, and 816 (1977) of the Council of Europe, as well as Art 137 of the Yugoslav Constitution, is still denied in Yugoslavia. The cases of Igor Seke and Goran Miladinovic are the latest examples how the right to conscientious objection is denied.
Igor Seke applied for conscientious objection - and civilian service - on 24 July 2002. In his application he wrote: "My application for civilian service is first of all based on moral and ethical reasons of conscience. Under no conditions would I ever kill another human being or consider him an enemy only because due to his country's law he is forced to carry uniform and/or perform military service. I strongly believe in nonviolence, dialogue and mutual assistance and I am determined not to use or support any violent actions within conflict resolution in any way either directly or indirectly. My conscience (...) demands of me to oppose violence in every circumstance and to be in favour of positive solutions that would not provoke human casualties or material damage. I'm deeply convinced that peace and war is inevitable, because sooner or later every war ends with a peace agreement. Therefore, taking part in any military unit (combat as well as non-combat) would be in direct opposition to my consciousness, and one has to admit that consciousness is what makes us human beings."
Igor Seke is well known to War Resisters' International, and is one of the main organisers of conscientious objectors in Yugoslavia. He is also the representative of the European Bureau for Conscientious Objection (EBCO) in Yugoslavia.
Igor Seke's application was rejected on the grounds that it should have been submitted in 1993, at the time of his first drafting, at the age of 17. This is even stranger as the present Yugoslav Army Law came into force only on 6 November 1993, after his first drafting, and only then the option of a civilian service was introduced into the Army Law, although it was introduced into the constitution in 1992 (see War Resisters' International: Refusing to bear arms. A world survey on conscription and conscientious objection to military service, London, 1998).
The rejection letter, signed by Colonel Savo Mrdja of the military department of Sremska Mitrovica, further states "that the statement of the applicant that he could not under any circumstances kill another human being is not clear; why is he stating that in his letter since it is generally and historically well known fact that during military service in the Yugoslav Army no one has to kill anyone. (...) It is also known that the Yugoslav Army does not train its soldiers to attack anyone nor did it have that kind of intention at any time in the course of its history. On the contrary, Yugoslav Army recruits are trained to protect their own lives, the lives of their families, of their population as well as to protect their own territory."
It also states that there are no civilian institutions in health-care, general rescuing organisations, or similar institutions and organisations, which would be willing to accept conscientious objectors.
Igor Seke was then called up for military service in Pljevlja in Montenegro, to serve in the mountain infantry. This unit has an especially bad reputation, according to information from Amnesty International. The fact that Igor Seke was sent there must be seen as a form of punishment for being outspoken as conscientious objector, and for his formal application for civilian service.
On 4 September Igor Seke reported to the barracks in Pljevlja, accompanied by Andreas Speck, representative of War Resisters' International, and three activists from Women in Black. Igor Seke again declared his conscientious objection, and said that he refuses to wear a uniform, and to bear arms. At the same time War Resisters' International and Women in Black demanded to talk to the Commander of the barracks. Igor Seke was taken into the barracks, and was ordered to accept the uniform, which he refused. This order was repeated several times.
After several hours, a meeting with Commander Velimir Kevac was granted. It finally took place at about 3pm, with three other officers present, the representatives of War Resisters' International and Women in Black, and Igor Seke. The discussion lasted for more than one hour, but didn't lead to any solution. Commander Velimir Kevac explained that his unit was not a unit for unarmed military service. He then first said that Igor Seke should again apply for civilian service, and that he would keep him for the time of the procedure - which would take about 60 days - without arms and without uniform. He later changed that and said that Igor Seke could serve in his unit for 13 months, without arms and uniform, and would be some sort of observer within his unit. He then claimed that as Igor Seke was without uniform, his service was civilian, and as he was in the army, his service was military service - hence civilian military service. He also stated that according to the Yugoslav Army Law there was no right to civilian service. Asked what they would do if Igor Seke would stick to his principles, he answered that he would be charged with disobeying orders. Igor Seke staid in the barracks over night, and was again asked to accept the uniform. He was verbally insulted several times, but officials gave him protection from physical abuse.
One day later Commander Velimir Kevac gave order to Igor Seke to report to his recruitment center in Ruma, after Igor Seke again applied for conscientious objector status. Igor Seke then returned to Belgrade, accompanied by local activists. On Friday, 6 September 2002 - at about 3:45pm - the recruitment office of the district Sremska Mitrovica (of which Ruma is a part) contacted Igor Seke and they asked him whether he wants to do military service or unarmed service in a military economic institution.
On 9 September, Igor Seke had a long conversation with the military department of the district of Sremska Mitrovica, where they again explained that the option of a civilian service doesn't exist any longer. As one of the reason why it was abolished they told him that it were mostly members of religious groups who performed civilian service, and that these persons tried to convert patients in hospitals where they served to their religion. Igor Seke got order to report to the military barracks in Batajnica, close to Belgrade, by 8pm on 10 September. Igor Seke reported to the barracks, and again refused to wear uniform and to bear arms. He was sent to a psychologist of the military for examination. On 12 September he was informed that he would be released from the military for one year.
Goran Miladinovic from Leskovac also applied for conscientious objection and civilian service in summer 2002, although he too should have submitted it in 1993, if we use the same criteria that were used by the recruitment center in Ruma.
However, Goran Miladinovic was accepted for unarmed military service, which he is supposed to serve in a military economic institution in Ni. After he refused to accept this decision, because he explicitly stated in his application that he wishes to perform civilian service, and not unarmed military service, it was recommended to him to visit a civilian psychiatrist, in order to receive a paper which would order his examination in the military medical institution in Ni, which would then determine whether he is capable of performing military service. After deciding to go and to do all necessary examinations in Ni, the local military department in Leskovac didn't give him all papers necessary for his medical examinations so that Goran Miladinovic was forced to travel to Ni several times before the medical examination could take place. He was then declared fit for unarmed military service.
Goran Miladinovic then reported to the military economic institution in Ni on 5 September 2002, accompanied by Torsten Froese as representative of War Resisters' International and a local activist from Women in Black. He too explained that he is a conscientious objector, and that he would refuse to wear a uniform. As the Commander was not present, he was told to stay in the institution over night, and that a meeting with the Commander could take place the next morning.
On the next day the meeting happened, and again it was said that there was no right to civilian service. The Commander also referred to a letter from 27 March 2002, which stated that no civilian institution is prepared to accept conscientious objectors who would need to do a civilian service. He then gave order to Goran Miladinovic to go home to Leskovac over the weekend, and to come back on Monday, 9 September 2002, by which date he should have decided in which way he wants to perform his military service. The Commander also made clear that Goran Miladinovic would be arrested and charged with disobeying orders, if he would continue to refuse to wear a uniform.
Goran Miladinovic went back on 8 September in the evening, and stayed the night in the military economic institution. On the next morning, he again faced the alternatives of serving unarmed service in the military economic unit, or imprisonment. As far as we know so far, he decided to accept unarmed military service, as there is no legal provision for a genuine civilian service.
Conscientious objection as a human right is derived from article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights  , and the European Convention on Human Rights. It is seen as a legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
This was stressed again and again by several resolutions. Commission on Human Rights Resolution 1998/77 says, that the Commission on Human Rights "(...) Draws attention to the right of everyone to have conscientious objections to military service as a legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as laid down in article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights" and "calls upon States that do not have such a system to establish independent and impartial decision-making bodies with the task of determining whether a conscientious objection is genuinely held in a specific case, taking account of the requirement not to discriminate between conscientious objectors on the basis of the nature of their particular beliefs;
4. Reminds States with a system of compulsory military service, where such provision has not already been made, of its recommendation that they provide for conscientious objectors various forms of alternative service which are compatible with the reasons for conscientious objection, of a non-combatant or civilian character, in the public interest and not of a punitive nature".
The Commission also "affirms the importance of the availability of information about the right to conscientious objection to military service, and the means of acquiring conscientious objector status, to all persons affected by military service".
The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, adopted in 1992, states in article 10 that the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia "shall recognise and guarantee the rights and freedoms of man and the citizen recognised under international law". Article 35 guarantees freedom of conscience, thought, and public expression of opinion, and article 43 guarantees freedom of religion.
Conscientious objection is explicitly mentioned in article 137, paragraph 2: "A citizen who is a conscientious objector for religious or other reasons and does not wish to fulfil his military obligation under arms shall be permitted to serve in the Army of Yugoslavia without bearing arms or in civilian service, in accordance with federal law".
It can be concluded that according to the present Yugoslav constitution, the right to conscientious objection is recognised. This right will also be part of the new constitution of Serbia and Montenegro, according to a draft published in Politika:
"Article 7: Rights and Freedoms mentioned in the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, with its protocols, are applied directly. (...) Article 15, paragraph 7: Recruits are guaranteed to have the right to conscientious objection."
However, federal law doesn't meet the standards set by international human rights law, the existing constitution of Yugoslavia, and the draft of a constitution for Serbia and Montenegro. The Yugoslav Army Law, which came into force on 7 November 1993, and was changed several times since, deals with the issue of conscientious objection in article 297: "Military term in civil service is performed in units and institutions of the army and of the Federal Ministry of Defence.
While performing military term in civil service the soldier has the same rights and responsibilities as the soldier performing military service in the army."
Federal law presently only gives the option of an unarmed service within the army, which is clearly in breach of the Yugoslav constitution, and of international human rights standards. This is also the opinion of the Council of Europe. In the "List of commitments to be fulfilled by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia after its accession to the Council of Europe", conscientious objection is explicitly mentioned in chapter iv. - as regards human rights: "e. to enforce legislation concerning conscientious objectors and, within three years, to enact legislation on an alternative type of service". Yugoslav president Kostunica publicly agreed to this list of commitments, and signed a letter to the Council of Europe, in which he, on behalf of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, agreed to these commitments. This means that Yugoslavia committed itself to enforce legislation concerning conscientious objectors - i.e. to guarantee the right to conscientious objection .
Although the right to conscientious objection is legally recognised according to the Yugoslav constitution, and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia committed itself to enforce this legislation, there are presently at least two conscientious objectors in Yugoslavia, whose right to conscientious objection is not recognised - Igor Seke and Goran Miladinovic. Igor Seke's service was postponed for one year, using psychological reasons. Goran Miladinoviü gave in and accepted to serve unarmed military service in a military economic institution, in order to avoid imprisonment.
War Resisters' International therefore demands that both, Igor Seke and Goran Miladinovic, are immediately released from military service, and accepted as conscientious objectors. As there are presently no regulations for a genuine civilian service, their service should either be postponed until this option is provided - in at maximum three years - or they should be exempted from serving altogether.
War Resisters' International requests from the Council of Europe and its member states to monitor the case of Igor Seke and Goran Miladinovic, and to use their diplomatic contacts with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to ensure that the human rights to conscientious objection is guaranteed to both - and not only in three years.
In addition, War Resisters' International requests that the issue of conscientious objection in Yugoslavia is taken seriously, and should be an important point in the discussion on Yugoslavia's membership of the Council of Europe, during the session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 24 September 2002 in Strasbourg.
War Resisters' International
London, 13 September 2002
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: Article 18:
1. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.
2. No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.
3. Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
4. The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.
Official Gazette of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, 44/99. Before 1999, paragraph 1 of article 297 stated: "Civilian service is performed in military-economic, health-care, general rescuing organisations, organisations for rehabilitation of disabled persons, and any other organisations and institutions of common interest."
see "Federal Republic of Yugoslavia's application for membership of the Council of Europe. Doc. 9533, 5 September 2002 (http://assembly.coe.int/Documents/WorkingDocs/Doc02/EDOC9533.htm), Appendix VI