Country report and updates: Cyprus
- Cyprus still maintains conscription. The recognition of the right to conscientious objection does not meet international standards, including, but not limited to, the following:
- There is military participation in the Special Committee examining applications for conscientious objector (CO) status.
- The decision for granting CO status is taken by the Minister of Defence.
- There are strict time limits (20 days from the call-up) for application for CO status. This virtually prevents serving conscripts from applying for CO status.
- The right to conscientious objection is not recognised for professional soldiers.
- In times of mobilisation because of war or other emergencies, provisions for the alternative civilian service may be suspended by the decision of the Ministry of Defence. COs would then be forced to perform alternative (unarmed) military service.
Conscription is enshrined in Article 129 of the 1960 Constitution, according to which "(1) The Republic shall have an army of two thousand men of whom sixty per cent shall be Greeks and forty per cent shall be Turks. (2) Compulsory military service shall not be instituted except by common agreement of the President and the Vice President of the Republic".
However, a new force has been created in 1964 named National Guard.
Conscription is currently regulated by the National Guard Law of 2011 as amended.
According to the law, the full military service in National Guard is 24 months (Article 20, para. 3). However, the Council of Ministers may reduce the length of the military service after the recommendation of the Minister of Defence.
Presently, the conscription service lasts for 14 months.
According to the law, all (male) citizens of the Republic of Cyprus, as well those persons having one of two parents being of Cypriot origin but not being citizens, have military duties (including military service and reserve duties) from the first of January of the year they complete 18 years of age until the 31st of December of the year they complete 50 years of age. (See art. 18, para. 1, of the National Guard Law.) This means that persons under 18 might be conscripted. The duty of military service is ended upon completion of 45 years of age. (See art. 20, para.1).
Those who belong to the Maronite, Armenian and Latin Communities were in the past exempted from their service in the National Guard, unless they declared that they wished to enlist in the National Guard (Voluntary Enlistment). However, an amendment to the National Guard Law abolished this exemption, and from 1 January 2008 on members of those communities are also being conscripted.
Categories of persons exempted (see art. 23, para. 1 of the National Guard Law):
- a) Those declared by the relevant health committees as unfit for military service for health reasons.
- b) Those irrevocably convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment, or to a sentence of more than 5 years imprisonment, (which entails deposition for career officers).
- c) Prisoners of war or hostages of the Turkish invasion of 1974 who hold relevant certificate of the International Red Cross.
- d) Those having status of permanent residents in another country - which entails being at least 10 years abroad (See art 2, para. 2)
- e) Fathers of 3 or more living underage children, as well widowed fathers of 2 living underage children, if they wish so.
- f) The sole or first-born son or brother of a person disappeared or killed or disabled because of injuries or hardships during military service or during and because of turbulence directly related with the defence or security of the Republic, if he wishes so.
- g) The sons having both parents deceased, unless they disclaim in writing such right.
- h) Those who as permanent residents in a foreign country, of which they also have the nationality, have served at least 6 months of military service in the armed forces of that country, without having bought out the service.
- i) Those having both Cypriot and Greek nationality and have stayed for at least 6 continuous years in Greece and during that period have served their military service in Greece, without having bought out the service.
- j) Those who are not of Cypriot origin and have served a military service, without having bought it out, in their country of origin before becoming citizens of the Republic of Cyprus.
- k) Ministers, Members of the Parliament, Members of the European Parliament, the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General of the Republic.
- l) The children of parents who reside continuously and permanently in the occupied by the Turkish forces areas of the Republic, unless they disclaim in writing such right.
Those in paragraphs (h), (i) and (j) are not exempted from reserve duties.
The Council of Ministers may authorize the Minister of Defence, in consultation with the Chief of the National Guard, to hire under contract:
- a) as officers or non-commissioned officers, persons with special education, skills or experience.
- b) as soldiers, persons who have completed military service or have been legally exempted in the cases of exemption from (e) to (j) and (l) (see above part about exemption) or have been discharged by the Ministers for special family or economic reasons.
Insofar military service is not compulsory for women, there is no requirement for completion of military service in their case. (See art. 6, paras. 3 and 4)
The National Guard has an active force of 15,000 (including conscripts).
Conscientious objection for conscripts
Although Cyprus joined the Council of Europe in 1961, it did not introduce legal provisions for conscientious objection for several decades. The Cypriot government
has always defended its repressive position towards conscientious objectors by referring to the Turkish occupation of the northern part of the island.
The right to conscientious objection is, in fact, enshrined in the Constitution. According to Article 10: "No person shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour" but this shall not include "any service of a military character if imposed or, in case of conscientious objectors, subject to their recognition by a law, service exacted instead of compulsory military service".
In 1992, provisions for conscientious objection were included in Section 5 of the National Guard Law (Law 2/1992). There is no separate law on conscientious
Currently, conscientious objection is regulated by the National Guard Law of 2011 as amended, and the Decision of the Minister of Defence No 13 of 24 June 2011.
According to this law, those who, for reasons of conscience, refuse to fulfil the duty of military service in the National Guard, claiming religious or ideological convictions, may be recognised as conscientious objectors (Art. 47, para. 1).
The reasons of conscience raised must be derived from a general perception of life, based on conscientious religious, philosophical or moral convictions, which are inviolably implemented by the person and are expressed by holding a respective attitude. (Art. 47, para. 2)
A person cannot be recognised as a conscientious objector if:
- a) he holds a firearms licence or licence for hunting or has petitioned for such licence and the petition is pending, or participates in individual or collective activities of shooting sports, hunting or similar activities directly related to the use of guns.
- b) he has been condemned or he is prosecuted for a crime related to arms, ammunitions or illegal use of violence;
- c) he has been in armed service for whatever length of time in the Army or the National Guard or foreign armed forces or in the security forces after adopting the beliefs that prevent him from performing military service for reasons of conscience. (Art 47, para. 3).
The application for conscientious objection, together with the required supporting documents, is submitted to the competent Recruitment Office, (art. 50, para 2).
There are strict time limits, (within 20 days from the publication of the ministerial decision calling up conscripts), for application for CO status. (Decision of the Minister of Defence No 13, 24 June 2011, part. 4, (a) 1). This contravenes relevant international human rights standards.
In conjunction with the fact that the ministerial decision calling up conscripts is usually issued 3 months before the date of enlistment (April – July), this virtually means that serving conscripts cannot apply for CO status.
The decision is taken by the Minister of Defence, following a procedure outlined in the law (art. 51).
This includes a Special Committee appointed by the Minister of Defence, which consists of 5 members – two “high officers of the Force”, a law officer of the Law Office of the Republic of Cyprus, and two university professors in philosophy, social or political sciences, or psychology. The Special Committee has a quorum when there are 3 members present including the Chair or the person acting as Chair. This means that the Special Committee may hold a session even with a majority of military officers.
The Special Committee might call the applicant for interview, but can also decide without an interview. The Special Committee submits a recommendation to the Minister of Defence. The Minister of Defence may take a decision contrary to the recommendation of the Special Committee, but such a decision needs to be justified. (art. 53)
Conscientious objectors may opt for alternative military service in the National Guard or alternative civilian service.
Alternative military service
Alternative military service is performed in the National Guard without duties or specialties entailing use or training in use of arms.
Currently, by decision of the Council of Ministers, the increased duration of the alternative military service in the National Guard, compared to the military service, is as follows:
- Four (4) months longer, if the conscientious objector was supposed to serve a full military service.
- Three (3) months longer, if he was supposed to serve 6 months of military service and a reduced military service compared to the full one.
- Two (2) months longer, if he was supposed to serve a military service of less than 6 months. 
Alternative civilian service
Alternative civilian service is performed in posts of the public domain, determined by decision of the Minister of Defence, and consists of serving in services of public utilities or undertaking duties serving the public, prioritising the field of social care and environmental protection.
Currently, by decision of the Council of Ministers the increased duration of the alternative civilian service, compared to the military service, is as follows:
- Five (5) months longer, if the conscientious objector was supposed to serve a full military service. (This means that the full alternative civilian service is currently 19 months instead of 14 months of military service)
- Four (4) months longer, if he was supposed to serve 6 months of military service and a reduced military service compared to the full one.
- Three (3) months longer, if he was supposed to serve a military service of less than 6 months.
Alternative service for reservists
In both cases (alternative military service and alternative civilian service) reservist obligations equal to the ones for conscripts (art. 48, para. 2)
During times of mobilisation because of war or other emergency, provisions for the alternative civilian service may be suspended by decision of the Ministry of Defence (National Guard Law,). COs would then be incorporated into the alternative (unarmed) military service within the armed forces. (art. 59)
Conscientious objection for professional soldiers
The Republic of Cyprus does not recognise the right to conscientious objection for professional soldiers who joined the National
The regulations for leaving the National Guard prematurely are presently not known.
Draft evasion and desertion
Draft evasion (“insubordination”) is punished with a sentence of up to 3 years or with a financial penalty not exceeding 6,000 euros or both. (art. 67 of the National Guard Law)
According to the Military Penal Code, desertion of soldiers within the borders is punished:
- in peacetime, with a sentence of up to 3 years of imprisonment. The sentence may not be less than 1 year if the deserter has taken arms, ammunition or any transportation mean of the army, or if he was on duty or if he has repeated the offence.
- in war time, or during armed insurrection, emergency situation or mobilisation, with a sentence of up to 10 years of imprisonment.
As for officers, desertion within the borders is punished:
- in peace time, with a sentence of up to 5 years of imprisonment. If the sentence is more than 2 years it entails also discharge.
- in war time, or during armed insurrection, emergency situation or mobilisation, with a life sentence. (Art. 29 of the Military Penal Code)
Those convicted for “insubordination” (including conscientious objectors who failed to report for alternative civilian service) and those convicted for desertion are not permitted to vote or to be elected in the presidential, parliamentary, European parliamentary and municipality elections. (art. 69, para. 1, b). They are not granted professional licence for private security, and if they had been granted in the past, it is considered invalid once the conviction becomes irrevocable. (art. 69, para. 1, c of the National Guard Law).
Turkish Occupied Territories
Since the Turkish army invaded the northern part of Cyprus in 1974, the northern part of Cyprus is ruled by a Turkish Cypriot administration. In 1983, it proclaimed 'The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus' (TRNC). The entity has not been recognised by any country except Turkey.
TRNC has its own armed forces and conscription system. Conscription is included in Article 74 of the Constitution, which states: "National service in the armed forces shall be the right and sacred duty of every citizen". It is further regulated by the 2000 Military Service Law (59/2000).
All men between the ages of 19 and 30 are liable for military service. The length of military service is 15 months.
The right to conscientious objection is not legally recognised. In 1993, there was one known case of a conscientious objector. He was sentenced to 39 months' imprisonment, but he was released early.
The following three cases are pending against Turkey at the ECtHR, concerning COs from the northern, Turkish-occupied, part of Cyprus (the self-styled “Turkish Republic of North Cyprus”):
The case of Halil Karapasaoglu v. Turkey (case number 40627/19) was accepted by the ECtHR on 10/01/2020. On 05/07/2019 Halil Karapasaoglu submitted an application to the ECtHR against Turkey for violations of articles 5, 6 and 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights: (Art. 5) Right to liberty and security, (Art. 6) Right to a fair trial, (Art. 9) Freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
Haluk Selam Tufanli v. Turkey (case number 29367/15). The application concerns the refusal of the applicant, a conscientious objector, to attend reservist service for military mobilisation training in 2011. On 02/06/2015 Haluk Selam Tufanli submitted an application to the ECtHR against Turkey for violations of articles 5 §§ 1, 4 and 5, 9 and 13 of the European Convention of Human Rights: (Art. 5) Right to liberty and security, (Art. 9) Freedom of thought, conscience and religion, (Art. 13) Right to an effective remedy.
Murat Kanatli v. Turkey (case number 18382/15). The application concerns the refusal of the applicant, who is a conscientious objector and an activist, to attend reservist service when called to attend training for military mobilisation in 2009. On 06/04/2015 Murat Kanatli submitted an application to the ECtHR against Turkey for violations of articles 5 §§ 1, 4 and 5, 6, 9, 13 and 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights: (Art. 5) Right to liberty and security, (Art. 6) Right to a fair trial, (Art. 9) Freedom of thought, conscience and religion, (Art. 13) Right to an effective remedy, (Art. 14) Prohibition of discrimination.
On 7/1/2019, the Council of Ministers submitted to the Parliament of the northern, Turkish-occupied, part of Cyprus (the self-styled “Turkish Republic of North Cyprus”) a Draft Amendment to the Military Service Act which included provision for conscientious objection. The Parliamentary Committee of Law, Political Affairs and Foreign Relations started to discuss the draft law and held a number of meetings which involved the Initiative for Conscientious Objection in Cyprus, the Human Rights Foundation, the Military, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the State Prosecutor, and others, including an international Jehovah’s Witnesses association, and a retired military officer. Unfortunately, after the change of government, the draft Amendment proposal was withdrawn in autumn 2019 and there has been no further discussion on the matter.
 International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), The Military Balance 2020, p. 95.
 International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), The Military Balance 2020, p. 96.
 War Resisters' International: Refusing to bear arms - A world survey on conscription and conscientious objection to military service, 1998.
 EBCO annual report 2019, pp. 13. Available at: https://ebco-beoc.org/sites/ebco-beoc.org/files/attachments/2020-02-14-EBCO%20_Annual_Report_2019.pdf
Another young man in the self-proclaimed state of Northern Cyprus faces a prison sentence due to his refusal to perform compulsory military service.
The webinar series Campaigning for Conscientious Objection to Military Service continue with a new event on 30th March (4pm BST, 5pm CEST, 6pm Cyprus and Israel). On this webinar, we will be focusing on public awareness with activists from Cyprus, Israel and Finland presenting their campaigns on conscientious objection.
In March, the Administrative Court of the Republic of Cyprus has ruled in favour of a conscientious objector whose application had been rejected. Despite not touching upon crucial issues, the Court's decision in favour of the applicant CO illustrated the arbitrary way the applications for CO status are handled in Cyprus.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has accepted a Turkish Cypriot conscientious objector's application against Turkey. Conscientious objector Halil Karapasaoglu, based in North Cyprus - a self-declared state recognised only by Turkey, was sentenced to 20 days in prison in January 2019. His sentence was cut short to 3 days after his successful appeal. In July 2019, Karapasaoglu submitted an application to the ECtHR for violations of articles 5, 6 and 9 of the ECHR - referring to deprivation of liberty, the right to a fair trial and the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion respectively.
In January, there were significant developments for conscientious objectors in Northern Cyprus: Conscientious objector Halil Karapasaoglu, who has repeatedly declared his refusal to perform reserve service, was put on trial and sentenced to a fine - which Halil refused to pay and was imprisoned. Meanwhile, Initiative for Conscientious Objection in Cyprus mobilised hundreds of people to support Halil - both on the streets and on social media. Halil was released following his appeal. In parallel to the public discussions on Halil's case, the government of the North Cyprus, a self-declared state recognised only by Turkey, announced a draft law recognising the right to conscientious objection.
Conscientious objector groups from the eastern Mediterranean region have recently issued a statement on the ongoing military crisis in their region. Declaring their solidarity with refugees escaping from war and repression, they made a call to the international community to pursue peaceful solutions, rather than militarised ones, for the ongoing violence in the region. “The world's reaction to the current regional violence,” the statement declares, “should be building societies, assisting refugees, and mediating between fighting parties, not selling arms, bombings and providing military assistance.”
We are conscientious objectors from all around the eastern Mediterranean region. Our region has suffered for so long from oppression, injustice, militarisation, military occupations and wars, as well as poverty, illiteracy, hunger and lack of social infrastructure. In this difficult period, when our region seems to fall even more into the chaos of war, we raise a common voice for peace and against militarisation.
We refuse to allow this cycle of violence, initiated by oppressive states and economic interests, to continue; we refuse to be a part of it; we refuse to be enemies with people who just happen to be of a different nationality or religion; we will not be dragged into their wars and armies leading to death and destruction in the region.
Conscientious objector Haluk Selam Tufanlı has been imprisoned in northern Cyprus for refusing to undertake reserve military service. International actions were held on Tuesday 9th December 2014, in Athens, Istanbul, Nicossia and London.
You can also protest in writing to the authorities in Northern Cyprus. Find all the details here (including an email alert): NORTHERN CYPRUS: Haluk Selam Tufanlı imprisoned
Following a meeting in Cyprus of conscientious objector and war refuser movements in the Eastern Mediterranean region at the end of January, when CO in Cyprus Murat Kanatlı (and co-organiser of the meeting in Nicosia) was imprisoned for ten days in February, solidarity actions took place in Turkey, Greece and Israel (by Druze Palestinian objectors). In Athens, activists were temporarily detained for their protest at the Turkish embassy. Watch a video of activists in Istanbul here.