Cyprus: Report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, December 2012
Human Rights Council, Twenty-second session, Agenda item 3
Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development
Report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt: Addendum - Mission to Cyprus
Find the full report on the website of the Office of the High Commission of Human Rights here.
Conscientious objection to military service
67. In the southern part, the Special Rapporteur had the impression that the topic of conscientious objection to military service does not receive much public attention and that the few existing cases have not led to larger public discussion. Those who refuse military service for reasons of conscience are given the option of doing either unarmed military service (special service) or alternative civilian service. Unarmed military service is carried out in the National Guard and conscientious objectors neither carry weapons nor participate in any activities relating to weapons. Unarmed military service is between three and five months longer than the period of time the individual would have to serve in the military service. The alternative civilian service is carried out in the public sector within areas relating to the protection of the environment or in the social sector. Alternative military service is between seven and nine months longer than the period of time for military service. Since 2008, approximately 10 to 12 conscientious objectors each year have reportedly served at various public offices in the southern part.
68. In the northern part, there seem to be no provisions dealing with this issue, which means that conscientious objectors face the risk of punitive measures. The Special Rapporteur did not succeed in receiving any details about the numbers of conscientious objectors in the northern part and the consequences they may confront for refusing to serve in the military. However he received information regarding one person who declared his conscientious objection in 2009 and has refused to participate in the annual reservist service in the northern part. In December 2011, his case was transferred from a “military court” to the “constitutional court” in the northern part and is currently pending. Five further individuals have reportedly submitted written refusals to take part in military training in the north.
69. The Special Rapporteur would like to reiterate17 that a right to conscientious objection can be derived from article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, inasmuch as the obligation to use lethal force may seriously conflict with the freedom of conscience and the right to manifest one’s religion or belief. Conscientious objectors should be exempted from combat but may be required to perform comparable alternative service of various kinds, which should be compatible with their reasons for conscientious objection. They may also be asked to perform alternative service useful to the public interest, which may be aimed at social improvement, development or promotion of international peace and understanding. The decision concerning their status should be made, where possible, by an impartial tribunal set up for that purpose or by a regular civilian court, with the application of all the legal safeguards provided for in international human rights instruments. There should always be a right to appeal to an independent civilian judicial body. The decision-making body should be entirely separate from the military authorities and the conscientious objector should be granted a hearing, entitled to legal representation and able to call relevant witnesses. With regard to time limits for applying for conscientious objector status, the Special Rapporteur would like to emphasize that conscientious objection may develop over time, even after a person has already participated in military training or activities, and thus strict deadlines should be avoided.
C. Recommendations to the de facto authorities in the northern part of the island
87. The right to conscientious objection to military service should be recognized. Conscientious objectors should have the option to perform alternative civilian service which should be compatible with their reasons for conscientious objection and have no punitive effects.
17. See Human Rights Committee general comment no. 22 (1993) on the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, para. 11; E/CN.4/1992/52, para.185; A/HRC/6/5, para. 22.↩