Today in many countries, conscription still plays a fundamental role in providing human resources for war and normalising the role of the military in public life. This is well reflected in the resistance of some governments to recognising the right of conscientious objection, and/or ensuring fair civilian alternatives for their citizens refusing to hold arms. It can also be observed in some other cases where conscription, once suspended, has now been reintroduced in the name of meeting a target number of soldiers in their armies.
Kuwait has been the most recent example of the latter, where conscription has now been re-introduced after its suspension 16 years ago in 2001. Starting from last May, young Kuwaiti men are now obliged to serve 12 months in the military.
Meanwhile in Bolivia, where military service is compulsory for men, the government has announced a new military service law sanctioning the 'voluntary' recruitment of 17 year olds, as well as extending the 'voluntary' conscription to women. In Turkey, where “civil death” is still a relevant term to define the status of conscientious objectors, a controversial new decree law, issued under the ongoing state of emergency, has allowed a practice of immediate conscription of political dissidents. The new law affects thousands of men including conscientious objectors in the country.
In Israel, we keep getting stories of conscientious objectors imprisoned for their refusal to serve in the IDF. These include not only political refusers but also those who refuse to be conscripted on religious grounds.
In Switzerland, there are now reports that government will introduce a new practice obliging young women to attend a military “information day”, which has so far been compulsory only for men. The new proposal raised concerns whether this would be the first step towards making military service compulsory for women too.
During the last couple of months, we have also got updates from Russia of a human rights crisis, which directly affects many conscientious objectors in the country. The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation has banned Jehovah's Witnesses, declaring the pacifist sect as an 'extremist' organisation. We are now receiving news of Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors whose applications for alternative civilian service have been rejected on grounds that they are members of an 'extremist' organisation. Meanwhile, the Russian military's unlawful conscription continues in occupied Crimea, creating further human rights violations, as recently covered in a report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
More examples of the rights violations in relation to conscription from across the world can be read in another OHCHR report on conscientious objection released in June 2017.
These are revealing examples of why we need to keep campaigning for conscientious objection and strengthen our movements. Recent updates from South Korea stand as a good reminder that as long as we keep campaigning, we get results! In response to ongoing pressure from human rights groups, South Korean government officials have announced that they are now working on a revision of the military service law criminalising conscientious objectors. It's a very positive step considering the fact that there are more people imprisoned for refusing military service in South Korea than the rest of the world put together.
In this issue, you'll also read an inspiring story from Georgia, where a political party has formed a religious organisation in order to help men avoid military service. The party took advantage of a loophole in Georgia's human rights law, according to which a priest serving a religious organisation are exempt from compulsory military service.
Other good news has come from Bermuda, where the newly elected Government announced their plans to abolish military conscription.
In this CO-Update, we are also sharing stories of two refugees from Syria who refused to hold arms and could escape from war. Other stories include updates from Haiti which recently re-established its military, and a WRI report on Colombia, which has recently been updated.
And before we finish, a final reminder of an ongoing action to support two young conscientious objectors in Israel. Hadas Tal and Noa Gur Golan have been imprisoned again for their refusal to serve in the IDF. You can use our CO alert to send your protest emails and support the resistance of these two young women via helping them get their message to the authorities.