Greece: Draft bill on conscientious objection and call for support

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A military parade in Thessaloniki, Greece in 2015. Photo from Flickr
A military parade in Thessaloniki, Greece in 2015. Photo from Flickr

The Greek Government has announced a draft bill proposing minor changes that affects conscientious objectors. Despite the proposed minor improvements, the draft bill fails to offer much-awaited changes for conscientious objectors that ensure a non-punitive and non-discriminatory legislation and practice. Read our detailed report on the draft bill below.

Conscientious objectors in Greece reported to WRI that if the draft bill passes in parliament in its current version, it would be a missed opportunity, and it's a crucial time to pressure the Greek government to ensure a legislation that meets international standards for conscientious objectors.

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To support conscientious objectors in Greece, please send this letter (via email) to the Greek embassy of your country. See a list of Greek embassies with their contact information here. Write to the Greek Embassy in your country to support conscientious objectors in Greece. See the template letter here.

The draft bill on conscientious objection

On 8th March, the Ministry of National Defence uploaded a draft bill including changes for conscientious objectors on its website. A public consultation process has recently been completed and the bill will be soon in parliament; first to be discussed by a parliamentary committee and later to be voted on at the plenary.

The draft bill, as reported by conscientious objectors in Greece, fails to improve the conditions for conscientious objectors on various grounds.

Punitive and discriminatory length of alternative civilian service

First, the punitive and discriminatory length of alternative civilian service hasn't been changed. In Greece, the length of alternative civilian service is, in principle, twice the length of military service, but it can be reduced by the decision of the Ministry of National Defence. In practice, the alternative civilian service is performed 15 months, compared to 9 months of military service for the vast majority of conscripts. It means that its practice is 66.7% longer than military service generally, which is punitive and discriminatory.

The draft bill maintains the provision that the length of alternative civilian service is, in principle, double compared to that of the military service. Such ratio in law is punitive and discriminatory according to all international standards, and this provision should be eliminated from the legislation.

The bill has a provision which can potentially lead to a reduction of the punitive and discriminatory length of alternative civilian service. However, the decision to reduce the length of alternative civilian service is left to the discretion of the Ministry of Defence. In other words, it fails to guarantee the necessary reduction of the length of alternative civilian service, recommended by the Human Rights Committee and the former Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.

Additionally, the draft bill states that the minimum length of civilian service must be equal to the maximum length of military service, which is 12 months (in the Navy and Air Force). However, the vast majority of conscripts perform only 9 months of military service in the Army.

Application procedures for conscientious objection

Apart from its failure to reduce the punitive length of alternative civilian service, the draft bill doesn't propose any significant improvement in the application procedures for conscientious objection either. The draft bill fails to implement the recommendation of the Human Rights Committee to Greece to place the assessment of applications for conscientious objector status under the full control of civilian authorities.

The operation of the procedures remains under the Ministry of National Defence, with the Minister taking the final decision. The only change is in the composition of the 5-membered committee which examines the applications and submits recommendations to the Minister. The draft bill proposes to include only one military officer instead of two, as it is specified in the current provision.

Repeated punishment of conscientious objectors

The draft bill totally fails to implement the recommendation of the Human Rights Committee to “avoid repetitive punishment in violation of the ne bis in idem principle”, a legal concept meaning no legal action should be taken twice for the same thing. The current legislation allows repetitive punishment of conscientious objectors or conscripts in these cases, which needs to be addressed in the new legislation. This is particularly relevant to total objectors who refuse to perform alternative civilian service, as well as the military service. It's also relevant to those who cannot cope with the punitive conditions of alternative service and do not complete the service, or to those whose conscientious objection status is revoked due to a disciplinary offence, as well as to those who are unfairly not recognised as conscientious objectors because of the problematic procedure of examination.

Limited improvements

The draft bill proposes to abolish the capability of the Minister of National Defence to suspend the provisions about conscientious objectors during wartime. It means that the military will not be allowed to conscript conscientious objectors in times of war.

Also, in case an applicant appeals to the Ministry about the rejection of his application for conscientious objector status, he will be automatically granted with suspension of the call to serve in the armed forces, until his appeal is examined.

Furthermore, the bill extends some of the provisions already valid for conscripts serving in the armed forces to conscientious objectors. These include, inter alia, covering certain travel expenses of conscripts, and guaranteeing the return to the previous working position after their service is completed.

Unresolved issues

These limited improvements will be positive in order to address at least some part of the discrimination faced by conscientious objectors. A lot of other issues, however, remain unresolved, including:

  • Right to conscientious objection after enlistment (during military service).

  • Right to conscientious objection for volunteers/professional soldiers.

  • End violations of the right to fair trial (trials of conscientious objectors by military courts, trials in absentia without having been informed)

  • Discrimination faced by conscientious objectors of greater age as of the amount of money required in order to buy off the service, in comparison to conscripts.

  • Abolish the revocation of conscientious objector status in case of a disciplinary offence during alternative civilian service.

  • Cease all pending prosecutions and quash all penal and administrative sanctions already imposed in violation of international human rights law and standards. 

  • Conditions of automatic disqualification from conscientious objector status (see also relevant submission of Amnesty International to the OHCHR).

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