CO strategies: CO as a human right or as antimilitarist action

Antimilitarist strategies focusing on conscientious objection differ widely from individualist approaches concerned with the individual right of the human being to refuse military service to collective actions of civil disobedience against conscription. What are the results of this different strategies in various circumstances? Are they contradicting each other or can they be combined?

Alberto Estefania from KEM-MOC de Bilbao reports:

Conscientious objection (CO) is a term that is widely used in the peace movement. The great diversity of this social movement has led to a wide range of meanings being attributed to it, and so we find some groups that consider CO as a human right and others that see it as an anti-militarist action. We shall try to clarify both these positions below and see which one the IRG has traditionally taken.

CO is recognised as a human right in Art. 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (freedom of conscience). In this case, CO is understood from an individual point of view, as a striving towards the attainment of freedom of conscience by overcoming the repression of the State (vertical axis in the diagram). Amnesty International, for example, basically treats CO in this way.

If we understand CO as an anti-militarist action, we consider it as a collective tool in the struggle against social militarisation on behalf of historical progress towards a demilitarised and peaceful world (horizontal axis in the diagram). Thus, CO is a collective strategy which - obviously taking into account freedom of conscience - works for the abolition of armies and any kind of hierarchical impositions through civil disobedience, education for peace and disobedience and non-violence. It therefore confronts the social militarisation upheld by States.

These two positions are clearly not mutually exclusive; in fact, they complement each other. Moreover, it is important to recognise the efforts exerted over the course of history so that CO could be recognised as a right. However, in the WRI there is a strong tradition of anti-militarist struggle which places us within the groups which struggle against militarism and the causes of wars. In other words, along the horizontal axis, whilst also being fully aware of freedom of conscience. In fact, we have taken the diagram above from the report of the thematic group on conscription and CO strategies in the Triennial in Brazil.