This is the second issue of War Resisters' International's CO Update e-newsletter, with reports and updates on conscientious objection. September was a very busy month for WRI, as you can see in this newsletter. WRI participated in an important regional conference in Sarajevo, and received the Friedrich Siegmund-Schultze award for its work on conscientious objection only a few days later.
The Greek law on conscientious objection has been amended so that now conscientious objectors serving in substitute service can finish their service after serving twice the time of military service minus 1 month - this would amount to 23 months of substitute service. Practically this is a reduction from 30 months to 23 months. However, substitute service is still considerably longer than military service, and has still to be considered as punitive in length.
While the shortening of substitute service is somehow good news, WRI also received bad news from Greece.
On 1 January 2004, the repressive Russian law on conscientious objection came into force. As a result, the first ever conscientious objectors required to perform substitute service started their service in July.
Finland: War Resisters' International releases report on imprisonment of conscientious objectors in Finland
In preparation for Prisoners for Peace Day on 1 December, and for the autumn session of the UN Human Rights Committee, War Resisters' International released a new report on imprisonment of conscientious objectors in Finland. The Executive Summary of this report sums up the situation:
The right to conscientious objection is only recognised in peacetime.
On 17 September, Amnesty International released an urgent action on conscientious objector Abdullah William Webster, a sergeant of the US army who was sentenced by a court-martial to 14 months imprisonment for refusing to participate in the war in Iraq on the basis of his religious beliefs. Abdullah Webster is a US citizen who has served in the US army since 1985. He had been based in Bamberg, Germany since 2001 from where he was requested to deploy to Iraq between March and April 2003.
Little is presently known about the fate of conscientious objectors in Eritrea, especially those who don't belong to well-organised religious groups such as the Jehovah's Witnesses. Recently, the Jehovah's Witnesses released information that at least 17 of their members are imprisoned for their conscientious objection, some of them since September 1994, without being charged, but often subjected to torture and ill-treatment. Paulos Eyassu, Negede Teklemariam, and Isaac Mogos have all been imprisoned on 24 September 1994 for refusing to join the military and take up arms.
War Resisters' International and many of its European affiliates are preparing for the European Social Forum, which will take place in London from 15-17 October 2004. You can find out more about WRI's presence at the ESF on WRI's website.
Prisoners for Peace Day 2004
1 December is Prisoners for Peace Day. The focus for this years is conscientious objection in Finland.