War resisters and peacemakers are still harassed, WCC study shows

By agency reporter
14 May 2009

In spite of a global trend towards better recognition of the right to conscientious objection (which is marked with an International Day on 15 May 2009),the first results of a study being conducted by the World Council of Churches (WCC) shows many countries subject those who exercise that right and those who refuse military service, to discrimination, persecutution, repeated punishment or imprisonment. .

Aimed at providing input to the forthcoming meeting of the WCC Central Committee (its governing body) in late August, the WCC study looks at the serious problems faced by conscientious objectors around the world, as well as actions taken by churches and church-related organizations to support them. Korea, Israel and the United States are examples of countries where conscientious objection may put people through a tough time.

The Republic of South Korea has the largest number of imprisoned conscientious objectors in the world – about 700 each year, according to War Resisters' International, a global network for the promotion of nonviolent action against the causes of war. Most of them are Jehovah's Witnesses who do not get any support from most local churches, for whom relating to Jehovah's Witnesses is a challenge.

In 2007, the new government stopped plans for an alternative civilian service. But political discussions have helped to raise public awareness of conscientious objection and the number of objectors other than Jehovah's Witnesses increased.

A few church related organizations, such as the Korea Anabaptist Center (http://en.kac.or.kr/home), visit conscientious objectors in prison and introduce their case to churches and the public.

In Israel, the army not only recruits young men, but also women at the age of 17. It takes much courage to refuse, and those who do so often face a first prison term when they are still teenagers.

In recent years the "refusenik" movement of conscientious objectors has been growing. Many of those who refuse are not against the army in general, but against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. They also condemn the recent war in Gaza.

Israeli conscientious objectors are supported by Pax Christi International, a Catholic peace organization and networking partner of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) as well as by the Quakers.

In Canada, churches provide a sanctuary for war resisters from the United States. Most of these are soldiers who joined the army as volunteers, but now refuse to serve the armed forces as a consequence of their experiences in Iraq which have led them to believe the war was morally wrong.

Since selective objection to a certain war is not legally recognized in the United States, the war resisters flee to Canada with their families and ask for refugee status. Nevertheless, they are often faced with the threat of deportation and subsequent imprisonment in the US. Imprisonment gives rise to the risk of their children being sent to a children's home.

The International Day of Conscientious Objection to military service is observed on 15 May each year. Since 2001, War Resisters' International has coordinated activities around this day, as "an opportunity for conscientious objection activists to share their experience and learn from each other's struggles and campaigns".

More about the International Day of Conscientious Objection: http://www.wri-irg.org/node/5206

UN report on "Civil and political rights, including the question of conscientious objection to military service" [*.PDF document]: http://oikoumene.org/fileadmin/dov/files/shared_resources/G0611188.pdf
(Analytical report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on best practices in relation to conscientious objection to military service), February 2006

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