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Exchange of letters with Inland Revenue

Inland Revenue Accounts Office
Victoria Street
Shipley
West Yorkshire
BD98 8AA

London, 26 July 2002

Withholding of taxes used to fund war
Your reference: 846 PM 185689 -- 19 July 2002


Dear xxxxxxxxx,

Thank you for your letter dated 19 July. We appreciate that you actually refer to our arguments, and are happy to start a discussion about the issue.

The interpretation of human rights is constantly changing, and nowadays there are no doubts any more that conscientious objection to military service is a human right, derived from Art. 9 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. We are convinced that the same is the case for conscientious objection to military taxation, although we understand from your letter that you are of a different opinion.

The case you refer to in your letter --10295/82 v. United Kingdom --was decided almost 20 years ago. As the understanding of human rights develops, it can at least be doubted that the decision would be the same today.

But the legal argument is only one part. More important to us are ethical issues: We stand in the tradition of War Resisters' International’s founding statement: "War is a crime against humanity. I am therefore determined not to support any kind of war, and to strive for the removal of all causes of war."

Paying the proportion of tax which is used to fund war would effectively constitute a support to war, and contradicts our ethical convictions.

We -- the staff of War Resisters' International -- come from different parts of the world: Chile, Germany, and Belgium. We come from different traditions of nonviolent resistance to war and human rights violations, and refusing to pay the portion of tax used to fund war is an important aspect of putting our ethical convictions into practice. In doing so, we follow the tradition of important nonviolent theoreticians and activists: Etienne de la Boetie, Henry David Thoreau, Tolstoi, Bart de Ligt, Mohandas K. Gandhi.

Henry D Thoreau wrote in his famous essay Civil Disobedience: "If the injustice … is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn." In this tradition, WRI issued a statement in response to the "war on terrorism":
"…War Resisters' International urges

  • all soldiers - in whichever forces they are supposed to fight: follow your conscience and refuse to take part: apply for conscientious objector status, refuse orders, desert, Say No!
  • all those involved in preparations for war, in administration or in arms factories: refuse to do so, Say No!
  • journalists and the media asked to promote war: refuse to do so, insist on writing and broadcasting the uncensored truth, Say No!
  • all those who pay tax: demand that your taxes are used for peace, withhold the proportion of tax used for war, Say No!
  • >its members and everyone: support those refusing to participate in war and preparations for war, get involved in direct nonviolent resistance against war!"
As staff of War Resisters' International, we wanted to act in accordance with what we call on others to do, and requested from our Executive Committee to withhold the portion of tax used to fund war. The Executive -- as employers -- decided in their meeting from 7-9 December 2001, to do so on our behalf. We do so with the hope that our action -- together with many other similar actions by other people and organisations -- will contribute to the development of human rights and peace.

We again want to stress that it is not our intention to avoid paying this portion of due taxes, but merely to ensure that our human right to freedom of conscience, as enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act, is upheld by receiving a guarantee that our taxes are not used to further the suffering and destruction brought about by war.

We would be grateful to receive notice that the withheld portion of tax can be paid directly to a non-military budget, preferably one which will contribute directly to the improvement of global security by non-military means.

Failing this, one of your representatives is welcome to come to the office to collect the money, as it is not in our donors’ interests for us to enter into lengthy and expensive legal proceedings.

Again we want to stress -- as we did in our letter to the Inland Revenue Recovery Office, dated 24 June 2002 -- that we would very much appreciate discussing this matter with one of your representatives, preferably outside court -- and maybe in a public discussion? We very much appreciate your letter and value it as the beginning of a dialogue.

Kind regards,

(Andreas Speck) -- (Roberta Bacic) -- (Daniel Garay)
office coordinator -- programme worker -- finance and admin worker

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Inland Revenue
Accounts Office (Shipley)

Date: 19 July 2002
Our reference: 846 PM 185689
Your reference:

Dear Sir or Madam

I refer to your letter of 12th July 2002 concerning the interaction of the Human Rights Act 1998 with the views of conscientious objectors and taxation for military purposes. In the past this matter has been looked into carefully and all of the arguments put forward have been taken into consideration. Your payment has been accepted without prejudice and the conditions attached to the payment are formally rejected.
The introduction of the Human Rights Act 1998 does not alter our view that the obligation to pay taxes is a general one, which has no specific conscientious implication in itself. Tax receipts go into a common Exchequer 'pool' - the consolidated fund - and no part of an individual's taxes can be identified as either funding, or not funding, particular items of expenditure.

This view was, in fact, supported by the European Commission of Human Rights who, in considering an individual's right to divert a proportion of tax to a peace building fund, stated that no taxpayer can influence or determine the purpose for which his or her contributions are applied once they are collected.

Our legislation has been examined by the Inland Revenue lawyers and found to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights and are not in breach of human rights. If you are unhappy with this view then please let me know, giving details of which Article(s) of the European Convention you believe the legislation breaches.

Yours faithfully
- signed -

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