Call for Greece, Cyprus and Turkey to recognise international standards on the right to conscientious objection

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Greek Section of Amnesty International

Association of Greek Conscientious Objectors

Initiative for Conscientious Objection in Cyprus (north)

European Bureau for Conscientious Objection

War Resisters' International

To the

Embassy of Turkish Republic, Athens

Embassy of the Republic of Cyprus, Athens

Prime Minister of Greece, Athens

Athens, 11 April 2008

Greece, Cyprus and Turkey to recognise international standards on the right to conscientious objection

Representatives of conscientious objection and human rights organisations from several European countries, meeting in Athens over the weekend, call for Greece, Cyprus and Turkey to recognise the right to conscientious objection according to European and international standards.

The representatives remind the governments of Greece, Cyprus and Turkey that the right to conscientious objection has been recognised by several international institutions, among others the United Nations[1] and the Council of Europe[2]. More specifically, in a decision on two individual complaints from South Korea, the United Nations Human Rights Committee ruled in 2007 that not to provide for the right to conscientious objection is a violation of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion[3].

In detail:

  • Although Greece provides in its law 3421/2005 for the right to conscientious objection, the law itself and its implementation do not meet international standards. The Ministry of Defence and not a civilian authority decides on applications for conscientious objection, an application is only possible within strict time limits, and thus not for serving soldiers or reservists, and the alternative service of conscientious objectors is almost twice the length of military service, which is punitive. In addition, in recent years the majority of non-religious conscientious objectors have been rejected by the Ministry of Defence, and several conscientious objectors still face prosecution.
  • The situation regarding the right to conscientious objection is very different in the two parts of Cyprus. While the Republic of Cyprus recognises the right to conscientious objection for conscripts, an application has to be made to the Ministry of Defence, and not to a civilian authority. The right is also not available to serving conscripts or professional soldiers.

    In the northern part of Cyprus the right to conscientious objection is not recognised at all. All military matters are directly controlled by the Turkish military.
  • Turkey too does not recognise the right to conscientious objection. Conscientious objectors face a life in illegality and/or repeated imprisonment. Conscientious objector Halil Savda has been arrested again on 27 March 2008, after having been released on 28 July 2007, following the completion of a sentence of six months of imprisonment on charges of continued disobedience. He now has to serve an outstanding prison sentence of 15.5 months on charges of desertion, and will also face a new trial on new charges of desertion.

    The repeated punishment of conscientious objectors in Turkey violates Article 14 paragraph 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: "No one shall be liable to be tried or punished again for an offence for which he has already been finally convicted or acquitted in accordance with the law and penal procedure of each country"[4]. Furthermore, the European Court of Human Rights decided in January 2006 in the case of CO Osman Murat Ülke that the Turkish practice of repeated imprisonment amounts to a "civil death"and a violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights[5].

Although the details differ from country to country, all three countries are "united" in their violation of the right to conscientious objection, and in their refusal to accept the freedom of conscience according to European and international standards. We, representatives from conscientious objection and human rights organisations from European countries, including Greece, Cyprus, and Turkey, therefore call on these governments to finally comply with those human rights treaties all three countries are part of, and to finally recognise the right to conscientious objection according to those standards, without any "buts"and restrictions.

Signatories:

Greek Section of Amnesty International, Association of Greek Conscientious Objectors, Initiative for Conscientious Objection in Cyprus (north), European Bureau for Conscientious Objection, War Resisters' International.

Notes

[1] United Nations Commission on Human Rights (1998), Resolution 1998/77: Conscientious Objection to Military Service and subsequent resolutions in 2000, 2002 and 2004

[2] Council of Europe (1987), Recommendation No. R (87) 8 of the Committee of Ministers

[3] Human Rights Committee, CCPR/C/88/D/1321-1322/2004, 23 January 2007

[4] Working Group on Arbitrary Detention: Opinion No 36/1999 (TURKEY), Opinion No 24/2003 (ISRAEL). See also Human Rights Committee: General Comment No 32, CCPR/C/GC/32, 23 August 2007

[5] AFFAIRE ÜLKE v. TURQUIE, Requête no 39437/98, 24 January 2006

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Related peace activist(s): Halil Savda
Related peace activist(s): Halil Savda