Report by Mr Alvaro Gil-Robles, Commissioner for Human Rights, on his visit to the Hellenic Republic, 2-5 June 2002
C. Conscientious objectors
17. Another issue concerns conscientious objectors. The many improvements made for some time past are certainly to be welcomed, particularly the implementation of law 2510/1977 and the recognition, in the revised Constitution, of a right to conscientious objection (Interpretative Resolution of 6 April 2001 on Article 4.6 of the Constitution); this development cannot be unrelated to the Tsirlis and Kouloumpas judgments by the European Court of Human Rights. It is nevertheless appropriate to recall Recommendation (87) 8 of the Committee of Ministers on conscientious objection to compulsory military service. I understand that since the right to conscientious objection received constitutional recognition, the reservation entered by Greece concerning this Recommendation has become void and I recall that the Recommendation stipulates inter alia that alternative service shall not be of punitive nature and that its duration shall remain within reasonable limits by comparison with military service. I find, though, that an extra term of 18 months as currently prescribed in Greece constitutes a disproportionate measure in practice, especially in the light of my information that this alternative service is often performed in a hostile atmosphere. It would be advisable to reduce the duration of alternative service to an equitable term by comparison with military service and work along the lines of recommendations from the Greek Ombudsman in order to rectify the disproportionate character of the present legislation.
18. I was informed by the counsel for the accused of the case of seven Jehovah’ s Witnesses liable to receive prison sentences on account of administrative errors, which they allegedly were not allowed to remedy subsequently, in drawing up their conscientious objector’s papers. Likewise, I was informed of criminal proceedings pending against a conscientious objector liable to a prison sentence of several years for insubordination.
In general, a custodial sentence for technical defects seems disproportionate to me. In this connection, transfer of administrative responsibilities as regards granting conscientious objector status from the Ministry of Defence to an independent civilian department would doubtless be a step in the right direction.