Our CO-Update this month is a reminder that, as we work together as an international movement against war, the repercussions of resistance to militarism is often felt by individuals refusing to fight. Our Finnish friends have written of the history of the movement in Finland where resistance to conscription began, in some form, in 1901.
A judge in South Korea has unexpectedly found three conscientious objectors not guilty of draft evasion. The three CO's – all Jehovah's Witnesses – were acquitted by Senior Judge Choi, Chang-seok in Gwangju District Court. There are only two other reported cases – in 2004 and 2007 - of a judge finding conscientious objectors in South Korea not guilty of draft evasion, and in both cases the ruling was appealed by the prosecution and ultimately over turned. The prosecution in this case is appealing against the decision.
Often (far too often) I think about what other people make of our stories, our Eritrean stories. Not the dramatic stories but the typical ordinary ones, the experiences which are familiar to all Eritreans. I am sure our stories of unimaginable pain inflicted unnecessarily by the very people who claim to have liberated us, come across as far too strange to belong to an ordinary life.
Two women in Lithuania have created a series of photos, exploring the issue of conscription in Lithuania. Tiskevic-Hasanova and Neringa Rekasiute created the photo series after conscription was reintroduced in March 2015. The first call-up took place May 11th, when 2/3 of the 3,000 spaces to be filled were met by volunteers.
In Greece, conscientious objector Dimitris K. Sotiropoulos has been found guilty again of insubordination by a military court, and given a ten month suspended sentence. The nature of the trial was heavily criticised by those in attendance.
In April, Syrian Kurds who refused “compulsory military service” were arrested by the Kurdish security forces and taken to detention facilities before being transferred to the 'fighting fronts'. Dozens of young men were arrested at checkpoints in the city of Sere Kaniye, in Hasakah province. The controversial conscription law was introduced in mid-2014, and obliges citizens aged between 18 and 30 to join the People's Defence Service (YPG) for six months.
On the 20th of May 2015, Egypt’s minister of defense, Sedki Sobhi, issued an executive order to exempt the two Egyptian conscientious Objectors, Mark Nabil Sanad and Mostafa Ahmed El-Saied, permanently from the military service. Both conscientious objectors have been living in a legal limbo for over a year, struggling for recognition as conscientious objectors. The decision of the minister of defense didn’t recognize them as conscientious objectors, but decided to exempt them from the service permanently.
In April, The Czech government announced plans to create a register of citizens who would be willing to volunteer for military service. The Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said that the move was in response to threats from Islamic State and insecruity in Ukraine, but did not amount to conscription, which was abolished in 2005. The legislation still needs approving by both houses of parliament, where the ruling party has a majority, and signed by the president.
Belarus has for the first time adopted an Alternative Service Law, to take effect from 1 July 2016. The law will allow some - but not all young men - who are conscientious objectors to perform a civilian alternative service, instead of compulsory military service. However only young men with a religious objection will be eligible to apply, not those with non-religious pacifist convictions. It is also unclear whether even all young men with religious objections to military service will be allowed to do civilian alternative service.
Antimilitarists in Spain have spoken out in solidarity with young Ukrainian's studying in the country, who have been recalled to fight by the Ukrainian government. Alternativa Antimilitarista.MOC Madrid has called on the Spanish government to protect six young Ukrainian on a study trip in Spain, after two young people recieved letters from the Ukrainian government in February, calling them up to military service. The students currently have to return to Ukraine every year to renew their permit. The organising group - Asociación de Asistencia a la Infancia de Aragón – has been organising such trips since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, and is looking for ways to extend the young people's stay in Spain for several years.
In Finland, conscription is among the most glorified institutions of the state among the people. For most of last decade polls have shown about 70 % support for keeping conscription, and none of the major political parties want to abolish it. In the beginning of 2015 the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces made a decision to cut the reserve by about a third, to 230,000 people, opening for the first time the chance to look for alternatives to mandatory conscription. The state faces broad international criticism for not respecting the rights of conscientious objectors.