The Council of Europe urges Turkey to recognise conscientious objection

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The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has urged Turkey to stop prosecuting conscientious objectors (COs) and take the necessary measures to address the judgements of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Since 2006, the ECHR has ruled against Turkey multiple times regarding the treatment and status of COs. 

In its decision on 4th June on the cases of nine COs (Ülke group v. Turkey), the Committee of Ministers addressed the COs’ repeated prosecutions and convictions, saying that they amounted to ‘civil death’, and criticised the lack of a procedure recognising them as conscientious objectors.  

War Resisters’ International was among the six organisations who made a joint submission to the Committee regarding the issue in April 2020. You can read our report by Conscientious Objection Association Turkey, Connection e.V., European Bureau for Conscientious Objection, Freedom of Belief Initiative in Turkey, and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, as well as WRI, here.  

The Committee of Ministers’s decision stated that they regret the lack of progress with legislative amendments in Turkey, despite the government’s commitment to do so. Turkey has been monitored by the Committee since 2007 following the Ülke v Turkey judgement of the ECHR in 2006, which described conscientious objector Osman Murat Ulke as living under a state of “civil death” and found a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights. With further judgments since 2011, which were included in the Committee of Ministers’ recent decision, the ECHR also found a violation of Article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion) of the Convention and obliged Turkey to amend its law to recognise the right to conscientious objection to military service.  

Reminding Turkey of the lack of any progress in law, in its recent decision, the Committee of Ministers asked Turkey to submit an action plan with concrete steps addressing the ECHR findings before 21st June  2021. 

Also, the Committee asked Turkey “to provide statistical information on the number of conscientious objectors in Turkey and on administrative fines, prosecutions and convictions delivered in this connection since the Ülke judgment became final in 2006.” 

Read the full text of the Committee of Ministers’ decision here

Lifetime persecution for COs in Turkey

In Turkey, military service is compulsory and the right to conscientious objection is not recognised. Every healthy citizen assigned as male at birth is called up to the military when they reach the age of 20. Anyone who refuses to perform military service continues to be called up repeatedly and faces multiple prosecutions. COs also find it extremely difficult to find jobs due to directives from the Ministry of Defense directives, which hold employers responsible for their employees’ military status. COs are usually employed informally without social security and pensions payments, and with lower salaries. Their persecution can last a lifetime leading to clandestine lives described as ‘civil death’ by the ECHR.  =

The Committee of Ministers’ decision is another reminder of the steps the Turkish government needs to take, to stop the violation of conscientious objectors’ human rights. WRI will continue to monitor the situation of COs in Turkey. 

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