Country report and updates: Greece
- Greece maintains conscription. However, the implementation of the right to conscientious objection for conscripts does not conform to international standards.
- Greece does not recognise the right to conscientious objection for professional soldiers.
Conscription is enshrined in Article 4 paragraph 6 of the Greek constitution, which reads: “Every Greek capable of bearing arms is obliged to contribute to the defence of the Fatherland as provided by law”1. In one of the amendments of the Constitution, in 2001, an explanatory statement was added in order to ensure that the legislation for conscientious objectors is compatible with the Constitution: “The provision of paragraph 6 does not preclude that the law provides for an obligatory offering of other services, within or outside the armed forced (alternative service), for those who have a proven conscientious objection to perform armed or military service in general.” The relevant law about conscription is Law 3421/20052 as amended the following years. According to this law, all Greek males are obliged to serve in the Armed Forces, from 1st January of their 19th year until the 31stDecember of their 45th year3.
The duration of military service for those required to perform full service is twelve months for all branches of the armed forces (Army, Navy, Air Force).
As an exception, the duration of the full military service is 9 instead of 12 months if conscripts, after the initial training, serve the entire remaining time in certain areas of the eastern borders, in Cyprus or in certain military units.
Any man of Greek descent who comes to live in Greece is liable to perform military service whether he has previously performed military service elsewhere or not. Those who have served more than 6 months in another country which is not an allied state or an EU state are required to perform a reduced military service of 6 months. Men of Greek descent who have permanent residence in Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Albania and Turkey, and who come to Greece directly or via another country and then remain , may serve for only three months if they enlist within 5 years following their registration. Those who have served in the army of an allied or EU state can have that period of time recognised, and deducted from the period required to serve in the Greek armed forces. If they have served at least 3 months in such a country but don’t complete the necessary time of military service in Greece, they can buy out the rest. Greece is not a party to the Council of Europe's Conventions on Nationality (ETS43 and ETS166) under which, since 1963, dual nationals are not subject to military service obligations in more than one state.4
Categories of persons exempted:
Those considered by the competent health committees of the Armed Forces as unfit for conscription on health grounds
Those irrevocably sentenced by any criminal court to more than 5 years imprisonment, or to a sentence that would entail discharge and if it was not followed by amnesty, pardon or prescription of the penalty with lifting of the consequences of the sentencing.
The father of 3 or more living children.
The only or elder son of deceased parents, which has at least one unmarried and under-age or unmarried and incapable for any work brother or sister.
The widower father of at least one living under-age or incapable for any work unmarried child.
The father of at least one living under-age or incapable for any work unmarried child who has a spouse incapable for any work.
Monks in a Monastery of the Holy Mountain [Mount Athos] or in the Monastery of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
Those naturalised Greeks with an honorary naturalization according to article 13 of the Code of Greek Nationality (law 3284/2004, Government’s Gazette vol. A 217/2004).
Men of Greek descent interrupting their permanent residence in Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Albania and Turkey, coming to Greece directly or via another country and ever since they reside permanently in it, provided on the 1st of January 2017 they had completed 35 years of age (year of birth 1973 until 1982).
Although the Greek Armed Forces still rely heavily on conscripts, the Greek military also aims to attract an increasing number of voluntary professional soldiers. According to reports, about 50% of the Greek army is made up of professional soldiers5.
The Greek military promotes a career in the Armed Forces through recruitment adverts on TV, but also through its presence during so-called “professional orientation” lessons during the last year of high school. It is believed that the Greek Armed Forces mostly achieve their recruitment targets for professional soldiers6.
2 Conscientious objection
Conscientious objection for conscripts
The right to conscientious objection was first recognised in 1997 with Law 2510/1997. This law came into effect on 1 January 1998. Presently, this right is mainly regulated by Law 3421/2005 (articles 59-65) as amended by the law 3883/2010 (articles 78-80), the law 4361/2016 (article 12) and law 4609/2019 (articles 22-23). Both religious and non-religious grounds for conscientious objection are legally recognised.
Duration of full civilian service is 15 months according to the decision by the Deputy Ministers of National Defence and Finance published in October 2019, which annulled a decision for 12 months published in June 2019 and reinstated the duration established in 20117. There are different categories of reduced alternative civilian service for reasons of family status:
- The first category of reduced alternative service is 12 months, instead of 9 months of military service.
- The second category of reduced alternative service is 9 months, instead of 6 months of military service.
- The third category of reduced alternative service is 5 months, instead of 3 months of military service.
There is a strict time limit for submitting CO applications. Applications can only be made before starting military service, from the date somebody is called up (or the date his period of postponement has ended or interrupted) up until, at the latest, the date he is due to enlist into the armed forces.According to Article 59, paragraph 1, of the Law 3421/2005, CO status may be granted to "those who invoke their religious or ideological convictions in order not to fulfil their draft obligations for reasons of conscience". Article 59, paragraph 2, stipulates that the reasons of conscience "are considered to be related to a general perception of life, based on conscientious religious, philosophical or moral convictions, which are inviolably applied by the person and are expressed by a corresponding behaviour".
Initially, the law stipulated that "those who have served in arms for whatever length of time in the Greek or foreign armed forces or in the security forces" could not be considered as conscientious objectors.8
Law 3883/2010, article 78γ amended Article 59 paragraph 3(a) of Law 3421/2005, to refer to “those who have served in arms for whatever length of time in the Greek or foreign armed forces or in the security forces after adopting the beliefs that prevent them from performing military service for reasons of conscience”. This has in practice granted the possibility for recognition particularly to a number of persons who became Jehovah's Witnesses after returning to Greece, having done military service elsewhere, but also to others who became conscientious objectors between performing their military service and first being called up for reserve service.9Explicit provisions for exemption of reservists who have become conscientious objectors in the meantime have been also provided.10
CO applications must be made to the Ministry of Defence. According to the Article 59, paragraph 3 someone cannot be recognised as a conscientious objector if,
a) he has been in armed service for whatever length of time in the Greek or foreign armed forces or in the security forces after adopting the beliefs that prevent him from performing military service for reasons of conscience;
b) he has been condemned or he is prosecuted for a crime related to arms, ammunitions or illegal use of violence;
c) he has ever held or petitioned for a firearms licence, or participates in individual or collective activities of shooting sports, hunting or similar activities directly related to the use of guns.
Consequently, among the documents required to be submitted together with the CO application, are:
- documents from the Police and the Forest Authority certifying that he has not petitioned for a firearm licence;
- a solemn statement that he has never been in armed service for any length of time in the Greek or foreign armed forces or in the security forces, and he does not participate in individual or collective activities of shooting sports, hunting or similar activities directly related to the use of guns, after adopting the beliefs that prevent him from performing military service for reasons of conscience;
- a solemn statement that he has not been prosecuted for a crime related to arms, ammunitions or illegal use of violence.
Article 62, paragraph 1, of Law No. 3421/2005 (as amended by Law 4609/2019, art. 23, amendments 2 and 3) stipulates that a Special Committee, consisting of a member of the State’s Legal Council, three university professors who are specialists in philosophy or psychology or social-political sciences or law, and one senior military officer of the Joint Legal Corps of the Armed Forces appointed by the Ministers of Defence, Education and Finance will examine the applications.
According to the legislation11 the Special Committee has a quorum when the members in attendance are more than the absent ones, which means when there are 3 members present, no matter which ones.
Decisions of the Committee need approval from the Ministry of Defence who may disagree and take a different decision.12
Applicants may be ordered for a personal interview with the committee, during which they need to prove their "general perception of life, based on conscious religious, philosophical or moral convictions, implemented infrangibly by the person and expressed by holding a respective attitude", as laid down in Article 59 paragraph 2 of Law 3421/2005.
From 1998 up until 2019 there were 2 military officers in the 5-membered committee which provided a possibility of majority of military officers in case of absence of 2 civilian members. Out of 19 of the applicants known to have been called to interview by the Committee between the beginning of the year 2013 and 23rd October of the same year, only two were interviewed by the full five-person committee with a majority of civilians. Seven were examined by four persons, with an equal number of civilians and military officers. Ten were examined by a Committee comprising a majority of military officers.13 In 2016 the European Court of Human Rights found a violation of article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights in the case of a CO whose application had been rejected by the Minister of National Defence after recommendation of the committee in a session with a majority of military officers.
While a distinction is not made in the legislation, in practice, baptised Jehovah’s Witnesses who can provide the relevant documentation from their church are not called for interview, but recognised automatically. All other objectors, whether they are described as “religious” or “ideological” (i.e. basing their objection on “philosophical or moral convictions”) are called for interview.14
According to the figures from the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR), this trend continued in 2013. Whereas most “religious” objectors continued to be accepted without interview, of the nineteen interviews our local partners monitored – fourteen of “ideological”and five of “religious” objectors - only four of the “ideological” objectors were recommended for acceptance.15
If the applications are rejected:
- the person is called for military service at the next enlistment, or
- the person can appeal- directly to the Minister of National Defence within 30 days or to the Council of State within 60 days. In case of appeal to the Minister of National Defence, a postponement of enlistment is automatically granted.
conscientious objection for professional soldiers
Greece does not recognise the right to conscientious objection for professional soldiers.
The regulations for leaving the Armed Forces prematurely are presently not known.
3 Draft evasion and desertion
According to Articles 51 to 54 of Law No. 3421/2005, those who evade compulsory military service are declared “insubordinates”. They are charged with insubordination, punished with an additional fine, and face multiple other administrative consequences.
According to the article 32 of the Military Penal Code, in peace time, insubordination is punishable by a sentence of up to 2 years imprisonment. (Note: the sentence can be suspended depending on someone’s criminal record and/or can be converted to a financial penalty – which is different from the fine).
In times of war, insubordination is punishable by a life sentence (but if it is deemed not to cause substantial harm to the military efforts of the country, it is punishable by a sentence of at least 2 years imprisonment).
Insubordination is considered to be an ongoing offence which continues until the person reports to the military authorities, is arrested, or reaches the age of 45. This means that for the purpose of the rules governing the power of arrest, it can be treated as a “recent” offence, (for which arrest is in all cases permitted until the end of the day following the commission of the offence). This practically means that an insubordinate can be arrested at any time.
Trials for insubordination take place in military courts, despite the civilian status of the defendants.16
Moreover, conviction and sentencing for insubordination does not discharge the requirement to perform military service.
Although the offence of insubordination comes to an end, along with the liability to perform military service, on the 31st December following the 45th birthday, prosecutions may still be brought for up to five years afterwards. And if the “offender” has been summoned to appear in court within that five years, the law extends the period for another three years. In such circumstances it is technically possible to be tried on charges of insubordination up to the age of 53. 17
The additional fine has been set to 6,000 euros, for each period of insubordination.
Insubordinates also face several additional administrative consequences, including the following:
- They cannot receive a military certificate showing that they served in the army, which is a prerequisite for obtaining certain jobs;
- Those irrevocably convicted cannot vote or be elected;
- Those irrevocably convicted who pursue a professional career that requires a licence (such as medicine, law, etc.), they cannot get this licence; if they already possess such a licence, it is revoked;
- They cannot be employed as civil servants;
- They cannot leave the country or work on a ship that sails outside Greek waters;
- They cannot obtain a passport; if they already have one, it cannot be extended (unless they are officially recognised as insubordinates living abroad);
Once they complete their military service, or they are legally exempted or reach the age of 45, the previously mentioned administrative consequences are void, provided that they have also served their sentence 18.
According to art. 33 of the new Military Penal Code desertion inside the country, by a private is punishable:
- in peacetime by at least six months and up to 5 years’ imprisonment. But should be punished by at least one year’s imprisonment if he has taken an arm or a mean of transportation of the army, if he was on duty, or if he has been a deserter in the past.
- in wartime by life imprisonment (but the court, depending on the circumstances, can impose a sentence of at least 5 years imprisonment);
Desertion inside the country of an officer is punishable:
- in peacetime by at least one year’s and up to 5 years’ imprisonment
- in wartime by life imprisonment
- in periods of partial or prolonged general mobilisation, by at least 5 years’ imprisonment (but the court depending on the circumstances can impose a sentence of at least 2 years’ imprisonment)
According to art. 35, collective desertion after prior agreement of at least 3 persons is punishable in peacetime by a sentence of at least 2 years’ and up to 10 years’ imprisonment. But the person with the highest rank should be punished by at least 3 years’ and up to 15 years’ imprisonment.
According to art. 36, desertion and fleeing abroad is punishable:
in peacetime by 2 to 10 years' imprisonment
in wartime by life imprisonment.
International Conscientious Objection Day (CO Day), 15th May, was celebrated with actions and events by activists from around the world in solidarity with those who have and those who continue to resist war. This year we had a particular focus on Turkey.
In March 2021, War Resisters’ International has submitted a report in the context of the 3rd Cycle of the Universal Periodic Review of Greece by the UN Human Rights Council.
The report details numerous violations of human rights of conscientious objectors in Greece, including:
In Greece, first time in decades, the duration of the full military service in the Army has been increased from 9 to 12 months.
The conscientious objector K.K., whose 2003 application for CO status and to perform an extremely punitive alternative civilian service of 30 months (instead of 12 months of military service) had been rejected by the Minister of National Defence, as well as his appeal by the highest administrative court, and who was facing trial by military court at the age of 45 for insubordination, was finally acquitted.
A 45-year-old conscientious objector who, 17 years ago, had applied and was denied to perform an alternative civilian service of 30 months (instead of 12 months of military service), is summoned to trial by a military court on October 26th, 2020.
K.K. had applied for CO status for ideological reasons and to perform the then extremely punitive alternative civilian service, back in 2003. His application was rejected in 2004 by the Greek Minister of National Defence, after recommendation of a 5-membered special committee which by that time included 2 military officers.
This year has been perhaps the most crucial year for conscientious objectors in Greece since the establishment of alternative civilian service in 1997-1998. After years of efforts, there was an opportunity for significant changes. Certain improvements in the legislative framework were achieved but the most important one, the reduction of the length of alternative civilian service was quickly annulled after the summer general elections by the new right-wing Greek government.
The Greek Government has announced a draft bill proposing minor changes that affects conscientious objectors. Despite the proposed minor improvements, the draft bill fails to offer much-awaited changes for conscientious objectors that ensure a non-punitive and non-discriminatory legislation and practice. Conscientious objectors in Greece reported to WRI that if the draft bill passes in parliament in its current version, it would be a missed opportunity, and it's a crucial time to pressure the Greek government to ensure a legislation that meets international standards for conscientious objectors.
On 29th May 2018, War Resisters' International and the European Bureau for Conscientious Objection signed a statement in support of conscientious objectors in Greece, supporting their boycott of the 'Conscience Examination Committee'. It reads: