Open letter from conscientious objection organisations from Greece, Turkey and Cyprus

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Logos of the organisations signing the letter

Conscientious objection organisations from Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus jointly wrote an open letter addressing President Erdoğan of Turkey and Prime Minister Mitsotakis of Greece, advocating for regional peace, demilitarisation, and the full recognition of the right to conscientious objection.

Addressing Erdoğan and Mitsotakis before their crucial meeting in Athens, the letter emphasises the need for decisive steps towards sustainable peace-building, especially in times marked by conflict.

The letter, signed by the Association of Greek Conscientious Objectors in Greece, Conscientious Objection Watch in Turkey, and the Initiative for Conscientious Objection in Cyprus, can be read here, or below:

Open letter from conscientious objection organizations from Greece, Turkey and Cyprus in support of regional peace, demilitarization, and the right to conscientious objection

To:
– President of the Republic of Türkiye, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
– Prime Minister of the Hellenic Republic, Kyriakos Mitsotakis
– the High Level Cooperation Council of Greece and Turkey

Cc:
– President of the Republic of Cyprus, Nikos Christodoulides
– Leader of the Turkish Cypriot Community, Ersin Tatar

5 December 2023

Dear President, Prime Minister, and distinguished members of the Council,

We are writing to you ahead of your meeting in Athens as part of the High-Level Cooperation Council and the resumption of dialogue between Greece and Turkey. We believe that these talks should serve as a basis for specific, honest and solid peace-building steps that are long overdue and that will bring tangible benefits to our region as peoples of neighboring geographies, especially in these war-torn times.

As antimilitarist conscientious objection organizations from Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus, we advocate for the recognition of conscientious objection as a human right and for universal and non-discriminatory access to the option of alternative non-military service that promotes peace (services of public interest, such as in hospitals, social care services, or civil protection).

As commonly evident and as you have previously affirmed during this dialogue, the challenges that our societies are currently facing are common and span several fronts, including poverty, social inequality, inadequate migration policies, and the climate crisis.

While we believe that these and similar cooperation and peace-oriented efforts should increase, we need to underline a reality that cannot be overlooked: militarization. Greece and Turkey’s mutually antagonizing arms race, heavy military expenditures and insistence on aggressive behavior is a major factor complicating the issues of peace and cooperation. In the past five years, Greece and Turkey have been dedicating as much as 7.5% of their government spending to military expenditures, while both states are planning for increases in their 2024 budgets.

Perhaps the most glaring aspect of this is the continuation of mandatory military service. In our view, this practice deals two serious blows to our societies. On the one hand, it deprives our youth of significant time and economic opportunities. On the other hand, it instills in them a worldview that seeks enemies among us and undermines our chances for peaceful coexistence, honest collaboration, and mutual thriving that would come from tackling these socio-economic and environmental issues.

The steps we recommend are actually quite simple. For Turkey and the authorities in the northern part of Cyprus to recognize the right to conscientious objection as required by international human rights standards and jurisprudence, and to eliminate the rights violations experienced by conscientious objectors. For Greece and Cyprus similarly, to recognize conscientious objection as a human right and to ensure a fair and accessible alternative civilian service.

In more detail, we would like to draw your attention to the following pending issues as regards conscientious objection:

  • Greece: Even though the law provides for an alternative civilian service, problems still exist. We call for (a) equitable availability of information to pupils and conscripts about their ability to apply for alternative civilian service instead of military service; (b) the abolition of the interview assessment requirement that in practice leads to indiscriminate rejections of applicants (see 0% acceptance rate of applicants for ideological reasons in 2021); (c) full implementation of the Petromelidis v. Greece decision of the UN Human Rights Committee and of the accepted recommendations of the 3rd Universal Periodic Review to remove punitive conditions.
  • Turkey: Conscientious objection to military service in Turkey must be recognized as a constitutional right in line with international law and human rights standards. The judgments of the ECtHR in the Ülke Group of Cases should be implemented urgently. Legislation on conscientious objection to military service should be drafted in compliance with international human rights law as enshrined in the United Nations, the Council of Europe and the European Union human rights instruments. There should be a process for the development and implementation of alternative civil service with the participation of civil society organizations and independent actors. This process should be based on non-discrimination against conscientious objectors and compliance with international human rights law standards. Take measures in line with international human rights law to provide an alternative mechanism for conscientious objectors who declare themselves “total objectors”. Measures should be taken to provide alternative service for conscientious objectors who request it.
  • Cyprus: Similar to Greece, regarding the law for an alternative civilian service, there needs to be an equitable availability of information to pupils and conscripts about their ability to apply for alternative civilian service instead of military service; and the interview assessment requirement that in practice leads to indiscriminate rejections of applicants should be abolished.
  • Turkish-Cypriot community: Court case proceedings have started for a new case of a Turkish Cypriot conscientious objector in the northern part of Cyprus. In the past such court proceedings have ended with conscientious objectors being imprisoned since there are no law provisions for an alternative civilian service. Also, there are three pending cases of Turkey objectors at the European Court of Human Rights awaiting decision. These cases are against Turkey because of a previous ECtHR ruling stating that the authorities in the northern part of Cyprus are a subordinate local administration of Turkey. A constitutional court decision of the authorities in the northern part of Cyprus states that conscientious objection is a human right according to the constitution. However, the authorities have not proceeded to amend the relevant law to include provisions for alternative civilian service.

As signatories of this letter, we hereby make an appeal and a reminder to you: You need to recognize the benefits that a genuine peace and a reduction in military spending will bring to our region. Peacebuilding in the region requires joint and coordinated action by all sides.

In Cyprus, the tensions in the buffer zone have been a concern to us for some time now and we feel that this is heading towards armed conflict. Therefore, we call on all sides to de-escalate; after 50 years, we believe that demilitarization must now begin in Cyprus.

We maintain that agreement on the above points at this stage of the dialogue would be a solid step towards the Confidence Building Measures being negotiated, supported by existing mechanisms such as the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe and the Universal Periodic Review, which encourage cooperation of States in monitoring the protection of human rights. We believe this would be a desirable contribution to peace.

Sincerely,
Association of Greek Conscientious Objectors, Greece
Conscientious Objection Watch, Turkey
Initiative for Conscientious Objection in Cyprus

 

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