Ukraine blatantly violates the human rights of peace activists and conscientious objectors

Organisations logos of EBCO, WRI,IFOR and Connection e.V.

The European Bureau for Conscientious Objection (EBCO), War Resisters’ International (WRI), the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR), and Connection e.V. (Germany) express their deep disappointment and grave concerns about the continuing harassment of peace activists and conscientious objectors, including arbitrary prosecutions and unfair judgments, as well as the inappropriate provisions of the new mobilization bill No 10378 of 25.12.2023 proposed by the Ukrainian army. All charges against peace activists and conscientious objectors should be dropped, and those in prison should be released immediately and unconditionally, given that they are clearly prisoners of conscience. Moreover, the new bill about conscription should include provisions for the full recognition of the right to conscientious objection to military service.

The four organisations urge the European Union (EU) to ensure that recognition of the right to conscientious objection, as a vital safeguard of democratic values and principles in time of national emergency caused by Russian aggression, be considered a necessary condition of Ukraine's accession to the EU during forthcoming negotiations. The right to conscientious objection is recognised, amongst others, in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (Article 10 - Freedom of thought, conscience and religion).

The following five cases show that Ukraine has no compunction in prosecuting and sentencing even the most obvious conscientious objectors to draconian terms of imprisonment:

  • Seventh-day Adventist conscientious objector Dmytro Zelinsky is currently serving his 3-year prison sentence. The 45-year-old was acquitted in June 2023, but the Prosecutor appealed. On August 28th 2023, Ternopil Appeal Court overturned the acquittal. It acceded to the request by Prosecutor Roman Harmatiuk and handed Zelinsky a 3-year prison sentence to come into force immediately. Zelinsky is preparing a further appeal to the Supreme Court in Kyiv.[1]
  • Christian conscientious objector Andrii Vyshnevetsky is still serving in a frontline unit of the Armed Forces of Ukraine despite his declared conscientious objection and request for discharge. He submitted a lawsuit asking the Supreme Court to order President Zelensky to establish the procedure of discharge from military service on the grounds of conscience. On September 25th 2023, the Supreme Court rejected this lawsuit. The Ukrainian Pacifist Movement filed an appeal to the Grand Chamber of the Supreme Court and the announcement of the final judgment is expected on 25 January 2024.
  • In a retrial ordered by the Supreme Court on December 13th 2023, the Ivano-Frankivsk City Court of Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast convicted Protestant Christian conscientious objector Vitaly Alekseyenko to 3-year prison sentence (suspended on condition of 1 year 6 months of probation), replacing the original sentence of one year's imprisonment of which he had served three months between his initial conviction and the Supreme Court's decision in May 2023.[2] Several international requests for a webcast of the trial were ignored. Vitaly will appeal, seeking acquittal.
  • Christian pacifist Mykhailo Yavorsky was sentenced to one-year imprisonment on 6 April 2023 by the Ivano-Frankivsk city court for refusing mobilisation call-up to the Ivano-Frankivsk military recruitment station on 25 July 2022 on religious conscientious grounds. [3] He filed an appeal to the Ivano-Frankivsk Court of Appeal, which on 2 October changed the verdict from one-year imprisonment to three-year suspended sentence with one-year probation. Despite the courts of first and appellate instances finding that Yavorsky held deep and sincere religious beliefs incompatible with military service, which under Article 35 of the Constitution of Ukraine should have conferred exemption from military service, this was considered only a mitigating circumstance. Yavorsky is now preparing a cassation complaint to the Supreme Court.
  • Executive Secretary of the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement Yurii Sheliazhenko, was placed under criminal investigation, on suspicion of justifying Russian aggression; an offence punishable by up to 5 years in prison with the possibility of confiscation of property. Ironically, this is based on a statement "Peace Agenda for Ukraine and the World" adopted by the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement on 21 September 2022, which statement explicitly endorses the UN General Assembly's condemnation of the Russian invasion. [4] Sheliazhenko's apartment was searched on 3rd August 2023 and his computer and smartphone seized; these have not been returned despite an order issued by the Solomiansky District Court of Kyiv; on 15th August he was placed under night house arrest with subsequent prolongations until 31st December; a further extension until 3rd February 2024 is currently being sought. Recent documents disclosed by the investigation suggest that Sheliazhenko could be charged in obstruction of “legal” activities of Armed Forces of Ukraine on the grounds that he advocates the human right of conscientious objection to military service. Such allegations could entail harsher restrictions and more severe punishment, namely imprisonment from 5 to 8 years. It should be noted that Ukraine co-sponsored Human Rights Council Resolution 51/6 of 2nd October 2022, on conscientious objection to military service, which inter alia calls on States to safeguard the freedom of expression of those advocating conscientious objection".

The organisations call on Ukraine to immediately reverse the suspension of the human right to conscientious objection, release prisoner of conscience Dmytro Zelinsky, honourably discharge Andrii Vyshnevetsky, acquit Vitaly Alekseenko and Mykhailo Yavorsky, and drop charges against Yurii Sheliazhenko. They also call Ukraine to lift the prohibition on all men in age from 18 to 60 from leaving the country and other conscription enforcement practices incompatible with human rights obligations of Ukraine, including arbitrary detentions of conscripts and imposition of military registration as prerequisite of legality of any civil relations such as education, employment, marriage, social security, registration of the place of residence, etc. The organisations express grave concern regarding the mobilization bill No 10378 of 25.12.2023 which imposes severe punishments on "draft evaders" without any exceptions for conscientious objectors, and welcome the announced scrutiny by the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights into constitutionality of the said bill.

The organisations call on Russia to immediately and unconditionally release all those hundreds of soldiers and mobilised civilians who object to engage in the war and are illegally detained in a number of centres in Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine. Russian authorities are reportedly using threats, psychological abuse and torture to force those detained to return to the front.

The organisations call both Russia and Ukraine to safeguard the right to conscientious objection to military service, including in wartime, fully complying with the European and international standards, amongst others the standards set by the European Court of Human Rights. The right to conscientious objection to military service is inherent in the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, guaranteed under Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which is non-derogable even in a time of public emergency, as stated in Article 4(2) of ICCPR.

The organisations strongly condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and call on all soldiers not to participate in hostilities and on all recruits to refuse military service. They denounce all the cases of forced and even violent recruitment to the armies of both sides, as well as all the cases of persecution of conscientious objectors, deserters and non-violent anti-war protestors. They urge EU to work for peace, invest in diplomacy and negotiations, call for human rights protection and grant asylum and visas to those who object the war.

MORE INFORMATION:

Violations of human right to conscientious objection to military service in Ukraine: from 24 February 2022 to November 2023: https://www.ebco-beoc.org/node/607

Website of the #ObjectWarCampaign: https://objectwarcampaign.org/en/

EBCO’s Press Release and Annual Report on Conscientious Objection to Military Service in Europe 2022/23, covering the region of Council of Europe (CoE) as well as Russia (former CoE member state) and Belarus (candidate CoE member state): https://ebco-beoc.org/node/565

FOR THE FOUR SIGNATORY ORGANISATIONS please contact:

FOR COMMENT ON CONDITIONS IN UKRAINE please contact:

 Support the #ObjectWarCampaign: Russia, Belarus, Ukraine: Protection and asylum for deserters and conscientious objectors to military service


[1] Ukraine: Three years' jail for Adventist conscientious objector to mobilisation, 1 November 2023, available at: https://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2871

[2] Supreme Court of Ukraine releases a prisoner of conscience: conscientious objector Vitaly Alekseenko, 26 May 2023, available at: https://www.ebco-beoc.org/node/572

[3] Ukraine: EBCO meets with the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement and calls for the immediate and unconditional end of the persecution of all conscientious objectors, 19 April 2023, available at: https://ebco-beoc.org/node/561

[4] Ukraine: Release peace activist Yurii Sheliazhenko and drop all charges against him, 17 August 2023, available at: https://www.ebco-beoc.org/node/589

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