Recommendation 2: detention of conscientious objectors


Report of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

91. The Working Group notes that conscientious objection - which has its theoretical basis in the freedom of conscience and thus of opinion - gives rise, particularly in countries that have not yet recognized conscientious objector status, to repeated criminal prosecutions followed by sentences of deprivation of liberty which are renewed again and again.

92. The question before the Working Group was whether, after an initial conviction, each subsequent refusal to obey a summons to perform military service does or does not constitute a new offence capable of giving rise to a fresh conviction. If it does, deprivation of liberty, when applied to a conscientious objector, is not arbitrary, provided that the rules governing the right to a fair trial are respected. If it does not, detention must be considered arbitrary as being in breach of the principle of non bis in idem, a fundamental principle in a country where the rule of law prevails, as borne out by article 14, paragraph 7, of the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights, which states that no one shall be liable to be tried or punished again for an offence for which he has already been finally convicted or punished. This principle is the corollary of the principle of res judicata.

93. Notwithstanding the above, repeated incarceration in cases of conscientious objectors is directed towards changing their conviction and opinion, under threat of penalty. The Working Group considers that this is incompatible with article 18, paragraph 2, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, under which no one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or adopt a belief of his choice.

94. Accordingly, the Working Group recommends that all States that have not yet done so adopt appropriate legislative or other measures to ensure that conscientious objector status is recognized and attributed, in accordance with an established procedure, and that, pending the adoption of such measures, when de facto objectors are prosecuted, such prosecutions should not give rise to more than one conviction, so as to prevent the judicial system from being used to force conscientious objectors to change their convictions.

20 December 2000


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