For the right to refuse military conscription, For freedom from gender violence, For the extension of the right to asylum


A statement from War Resisters' International

Peace can only be based on the recognition of human rights, be they individual and personal rights, economic and cultural rights, and group and gender rights. War Resisters' International not only opposes all abuse of human rights as violence, but particularly aims to support those asserting their human rights to organise themselves and to take nonviolent action against oppression and those acting in conscience who refuse to be agents of oppression or to take part in violence.

The right of conscientious objection to military service

While forced labour is considered a violation of human rights, in practice compulsory military service is not seen as a form of forced labour, and it was only in 1987 that the UN Commission on Human Rights moved towards recognising any right of individuals to object to military service. This recognition remains limited: it refers to military service itself, without including the right of objection to auxiliary forms of service, and it recognises only absolute and universal objections towards military service, excluding those who object to certain military activities or institutions.

WRI repeats the call for recognition of the right of individuals to object to specific forms of military service:

  • to serving with particular kinds of weapons (such as weapons of mass destruction),
  • to fighting in particular military operations,
  • to being recruited to a particular army.

In line with Article 18 of the Human Rights Declaration which upholds the freedom to change one's beliefs, WRI calls for the explicit recognition of the right of serving soldiers and reservists to develop a conscientious objection.

WRI does not only claim that conscientious objection is a human right. We also see refusal to take part in war as a contribution towards making peace. The refusal to soldier -- whether by refusing conscription or by deserting -- is a common reason for people to leave their country and become refugees. WRI urges that this refusal should be recognised as a sufficient ground for being granted asylum. In particular, states should do all in their power to support and encourage those who refuse to fight in an unjust cause. As with soldiers conscripted to fight for apartheid, so now with Yugoslavia, the rest of the world has an obligation to offer sanctuary to those who refuse to fight for a war-making regime.

Violence against women

War Resisters' International sees an inextricable connection between militarism and violence against women. This is evident in the increased incidence of rape and other forms of violence against women during war, but WRI also sees violence against women -- beginning in the home and within the family -- as one of the most basic, and most taken for granted, components of a larger culture of violence. The acceptance, and sometimes encouragement, of violence against women is part of the process which makes ordinary men able to kill neighbours or strangers in cold blood.

Violence within the family or the home is not a private affair: it is based on an institutionalised inequality of power. This violence is not only a serious human rights issue in itself but serves to limit the lives of women, to maintain women's inferior position and to stop many women organising against their own oppression. WRI rejects the argument that certain forms of violence against women should be accepted as part of a society's "cultural traditions". The basic dignity of any human being and their right to live free from violence cannot be compromised in the name of "cultural traditions", especially as cultural traditions are so often defined from a male-centred viewpoint.

WRI calls for the the recognition of all forms of violence against women as fundamental violations of human rights: this includes wife-battering; rape and sexual assault; discrimination in education and employment; dowry killings; female infanticide; forced abortion, sterilisation and birth control; denial of access to abortion and birth control; clitoridectomy; violence against lesbians; forced veiling; and forced prostitution.

WRI supports the call for all human rights documents, particularly the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, to be interpreted in the light of the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and the draft Convention for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

WRI supports the calls for the UN and its agencies to appoint a high proportion of women to bodies investigating gender violence (unlike the all-male panel appointed to investigate the mass rapes in Bosnia-Hercegovina), and to appoint a Special Rapporteur on Women's Rights.

WRI notes that the Canadian government now recognises gender violence in its asylum policy, and we support the call for the revision of the Geneva Convention on Refugees to include 'gender-based violence and discrimination' as a ground for claiming asylum.

Programmes & Projects

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