On March 2, 2021, the Administrative Court of the Republic of Cyprus has ruled in favour of a conscientious objector (CO) whose application had been rejected.
After being called up for military service, the CO had applied in 2017 for CO status and in order to perform alternative civilian service. In his application he had stated that he was born in a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses and that his religious convictions oblige him to refuse to perform armed or unarmed military service.
The Special Committee examining such applications (of which two out of five members are superior military officers) summoned the CO for an interview. He indeed came before the Special Committee and explained his positions. However the Special Committee recommended to the Minister of Defence to reject the application, mainly on the grounds that he did not provide a document certifying that he belongs to the religious community of Jehovah’s Witnesses (because he was not baptized yet according to his declaration). The Minister of Defence indeed rejected the application and subsequently the CO was called up for military service.
He appealed the Minister’s decision to the Administrative Court (Case No. 1117/2017).
His lawyer submitted various reasons for annulment of the decision, including that the CO was underage by that time and he was not informed of his right to be assisted by a lawyer. Other reasons the lawyer referred to included that the evidence the CO provided and the views he expressed during the interview were not reflected on the written record of the Committee, rendering impossible a judicial review of the decision which is vague and lacks rationale.
The court accepted one of the reasons, namely, that the written record of the interview has not been adequate. The court said despite the Special Committee's statement that they have taken into consideration what the applicant had declared, his declaration was not recorded and therefore a judicial review of the decision is impossible. Consequently, the court decided to annul the decision of rejection, and awarded the claimant €1,700 for legal expenses, while not considering necessary to examine some of the other reasons raised by his lawyer.
Conscription in the Republic of Cyprus
In the Republic of Cyprus, there is conscription and every Cypriot assigned as male at birth are called up to military service in the year when they turn 18 years of age, which means they can even be called up when still underage. The right to conscientious objection is recognised but its regulation and implementation do not meet international standards. The alternative service is longer than the military service and therefore could be considered punitive according to the standards of the European Parliament.
The decision-making process for CO status is not independent and impartial, meaning the military is involved. The Special Committee evaluating the applications for conscientious objection includes military personnel (two out of five members are from the military), and the final decision is made by the Ministry of Defence, as opposed to the recommendations by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Despite not touching upon crucial issues, such as the impartiality and independence of the decision making bodies or the issue of calling up underage persons and examine them without presence of lawyer, the current decision by the Administrative Court in favour of the applicant CO illustrates the arbitrary way the applications for CO status are handled under the current legislative framework.