Comments on the presentation of the EBCO Annual Report to the Committee on Civil Liberties of the European Parliament


Andreas Speck,
War Resisters' International


want to thank Nikos Chrysogelos MEP and EBCO for giving me the chance to comment on EBCO's annual report to the Committee on Civil
of the European Parliament. This gives me the chance to
highlight some aspects of the recent developments which the report
could not develop sufficiently, but which I think are important, even
though they might be peripheral to the central focus on the right to
conscientious objection.

I think it does not do justice to conscientious objection to military
service to look at it just from a human rights perspective, without
reflecting what such an objection is about – refusal to bear arms,
and to take part in war, or the preparation of war. Thus,
conscientious objection to military service is closely linked to the
struggle against war and militarism, and I want to comment on EBCO's
report from this perspective.

The end of conscription

EBCO report points out that conscription is on its way out in the
European Union. While War Resisters' International welcomes the
suspension or abolishment of conscription, as we believe that
conscription itself constitutes a violation of basic human rights,
and do not agree with the rights of states to conscript, we also see
some problems arising:

Conscientious objection for members of the Armed Forces

  • In
    most countries of the European Union which suspended or abolished
    conscription recently, the end of conscription goes hand in hand
    with the end of the right to conscientious objection. As EBCO's
    report points out, only Germany and the Netherlands have in law
    regulated the right to conscientious objection for professional
    soldiers, and the UK has some internal military regulations allowing
    for compassionate leave on grounds of conscientious objection. The
    case of Michael Lyons, which has been highlighted in EBCO's report,
    shows how inadequate these regulations are.

  • In
    some EU countries that suspended conscription the laws on
    conscientious objection continue to exist, should conscription be
    enforced again. Neither EBCO nor WRI have been able to establish a
    clear picture here, and this is work which might need to be done in
    the future.

  • In
    Germany, in 2011 alone, 406 soldiers – most of them on fixed-term
    contracts, applied for conscientious objection1
    – which shows that there is a need for such a right, even if the
    initial recruitment has been voluntary. If it does not exist, some
    soldiers might find other ways out – or they see no other option
    than going AWOL or deserting, thus at some stage facing a criminal
    prosecution and possibly imprisonment. We have no idea how many
    soldiers from all EU countries might want to leave the Armed Forces
    for reasons of conscience, and find themselves trapped between a
    rock and a hard place, but the figures from Germany suggests that
    the numbers might easily go into the thousands. This is a hidden
    human rights problem, as most of the victims might also not be aware
    that they should have the right to conscientious objection.

Military operations

the end of conscription does not mean that the EU or its member
states are now less likely to get involved in wars of military
operations. Besides Cyprus and Malta, all EU member states contribute
troops to the so-called International Security Assistance Forces
(ISAF) of NATO in Afghanistan. It is ridiculous to call this
operation peacekeeping – it is war, with a huge number of civilian
Afghan victims, and also a high number of casualties from ISAF
troops. In practical terms this means: 25 of 27 EU members are
involved in a war!










































accessed 25/09/2012

If we
look at the casualties of members of EU Armed Forces in Afghanistan,
the majority – 433 – are from the UK. In total, casualties from
EU member states are at about 809 of in total 3188 casualties. The
great majority – 2123 deaths – are from the US.


Afghanistan is not the only war EU member states were involved in in
the past year. The NATO operation in support of Libya's opposition –
in fact again participation in a war – involved many EU member
states, namely: Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Greece, Italy,
the Netherlands, Romania, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom –
11 out of 27 EU countries.

Lisbon treaty from 1 December 2009 also brought with it a further
militarisation of the European Union itself. Today, the European
Union is involved in three military operations: in Bosnia, off the
coast of Somalia and in the Indian Ocean, and the training of
military forces for Somalia, which takes place in Uganda2.
There is no doubt that the European Union is now a military force,
engaged in war and so-called “robust peacekeeping”.

among its own Armed Forces are only one aspect of being involved in
war and military operations – in fact, they are only the tip of the
iceberg. Many more soldiers return home from the war in Afghanistan
or from military operations physically disabled, and even more with
post-traumatic stress disorder – PTSD. Both consequences of war
have a huge impact on not only the soldier itself, but also their
families and communities.

the US, Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) have launched Operation
Recovery to support members of the Armed Forces suffering from PTSD.
However, this is not just a health care service, it is based on the
understanding that members of the Armed Forces who experience PTSD,
TBI, MST, and combat stress have the right to exit the traumatic
situation and receive immediate support, and compensation, rather
than being re-deployed to war or military operations3.
I believe that similar demands are also appropriate for members of
the EU's Armed Forces.

Militarisation of Youth

EBCO report already hinted at the increased militarisation of youth,
and military presence in schools and other educational institutions.

results of a survey started by War Resisters' International suggest
that the military is present in schools in most EU countries so far
surveyed. Beyond that, the Armed Forces are involved in a range of
cultural activities in most countries, and uses social media such as
Facebook and Youtube to reach out to young people.

time to time excesses of the Armed Forces' engagement with young
people lead to some discussion in the media – such as the recent
debate in Germany about the co-operation of the German Bundeswehr
with the teen magazine Bravo to offer “adventure camps”
for teens organised and run by the military4.
But these are only the tip of the iceberg.

know from the UK and Germany that the Armed Forces strategically
engage with young people and schools, and we can assume that this is
similar in other EU member states. Figures from Germany from 2009
show that the so-called “youth officers” of the Bundeswehr
reached at least 160,000 pupils. In addition, the Bundeswehr's
“military service advisers” - or recruiters – were present at
12,600 events reaching more than 280,000 pupils5.
Then Defence
Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg (CSU) knows where to find the
young people: “the school is the right place to reach young

the UK, Ministry of Defence youth policy states: “The
MOD is engaged in curricular activities as a further way to reach out
to Youth in support of the overall MOD Youth Policy. In particular it
offers unique and
ways of enhancing understanding of the Armed Forces within wider
society, particularly of the values, culture, traditions and ethos
are essential to maintaining military effectiveness
More directly, it offers opportunities to raise public awareness and
empathy with the Armed Forces and finally, it is a further,
tool for facilitating recruitment

especially if the skills developed through curricular activities have
a direct bearing on military requirements.

February 2007, the head of army recruitment strategy, Colonel David
Allfrey, told The New Statesman: “Our new model is about raising
awareness, and that takes a ten-year span. It starts with
a seven-year-old boy seeing a parachutist at an air show and
thinking, ‘That looks great.’ From then on the army is trying to
build interest by drip, drip, drip.” If recruitment starts at 16,
then this ten-year span will start at age six.

EBCO report already points out that some EU countries still recruit
below the age of 18. But recruitment itself is only the end result of
a long process, as mentioned by Colonel Allfrey. All
member states of the European Union have signed the Optional Protocol
on Children in Armed Conflict8
to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Krappmann, a member of the Committee of the Rights of the Child,
which oversees the Convention and its Optional Protocols, explained
that “the
Committee is concerned at information that schools and students were
put under pressure to participate at recruitment campaigns. In this
regard the decision of students, parents and schools has to be fully

recruitment activities, cadet or similar forces do exist in schools
in several EU member states. In relation to a similar US equivalent,
the Committee on the Rights of the Child noted “the
extensive use of Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) in
high schools and notes with concern that children as young as 11 can
enrol in Middle School Cadet Corps training

militarisation of youth also has a class aspect. We know from
research in Germany and the UK – and this is likely to be similar
in other countries – that those from
a poor and disadvantaged background are especially targeted by the
military. For example, research in the UK by David Gee showed that
schools in disadvantaged neighbourhoods are more likely to be visited
by the Armed Forces11.
At Job Centres, there is a special category of Armed Forces jobs,
which those on jobseekers allowance are encouraged to consult.

Germany, the Bundeswehr is also often present in unemployment
offices, targeting those in need of employment. The result – among
the lower ranks of the Bundeswehr, almost three quarters come from
the Eastern part of Germany, where unemployment is higher. And in
some regions Bundeswehr and the unemployment office cooperate in the
recruitment of soldiers, or the unemployment office requires
participation in Bundeswehr promotional activities12.

are only at the beginning of a more in-depth exploration of these
issues, but it raises a range of human and child rights issues, which
require the attention of the European Parliament's Committee on Civil


the end of forced recruitment through conscription leads, in some
respects, to increased militarisation, as the military has to recruit
personnel and has to justify its present and future wars. The
militarisation of society – and especially of youth – is one
prerequisite for military recruitment and war.

leads to completely new issues in relation to human and child rights,
which will need further exploration in the future.

we welcome the end of conscription in most of the European Union, we
should be aware that this does not mean an end to militarism,
militarisation, and war. The struggle for peace and human rights
needs to continue, and take up the new challenges.


Bundestag: Antworten der Parlamentarischen Staatssekretäre Thomas
Kossendey und Hermann Kues vom 07.02.2012 auf Schriftliche Fragen
des Bundestagsabgeordneten Paul Schäfer, Drucksache
. In 2010, 370 soldiers applied for conscientious

Union: EU operations,,
accessed 25 September 2012

Veterans Against War: Service members have the right to heal, 1 July
accessed 25 September 2012

for example: Spiegel Online: Critics Slam German Military Ad Aimed
at Teens, 19 September 2012,,
accessed 25 September 2012

Uwe: Jugendpressekongress 2010 – Journalismus zum anfassen, in:,
12 December 2010, accessed on 13 January 2011

Simone: Guttenberg will Bundeswehr nicht mit dem Rasenmäher
verkleinern, in: Berliner Morgenpost, 29 October 2010

of Defence: Strategy for Delivery of MOD Youth Initiatives, A paper
by Directorate of Reserve Forces and Cadets, April 2005,,
accessed 25 September 2012

Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the
involvement of children in armed conflict, entry into force 12
February 2002,,
accessed 25 September 2012

accessed 25 September 2012

accessed 25 September 2012

Gee: Army recruiters visit London's poorest schools most often, 18
January 2010,,
accessed 25 September 2012

e.V.: Bundeswehr im Arbeitsamt,,
accessed 25 September 2012

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