War Resisters' International and War Tax Resistance

In September 2001, shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the WRI Council issued its "Say No!" statement, urging "all those who pay tax: demand that your taxes are used for peace, withhold the proportion of tax used for war, Say No!" Back from the meeting the then WRI staff decided to practice what WRI was calling for, and asked the WRI Executive (as employers) to withhold the proportion of their income tax used to fund war. This was implemented from January 2002 on and continues until today.

In a letter to the Inland Revenue WRI's staff explained why they had to take this action: "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."

This was -- unfortunately -- basically the end of the debate with the Inland Revenue. Taken to court in 2003 and again in 2004, the courts too did not really enter into the debate on the legality and legitimacy of WRI's tax refusal -- a sign that the debate of tax resistance as a human right similar to conscientious objection is still at a very early stage (see Derek Brett's article).

WRI continues to withhold a part of its taxes -- and sees this as an important part to act according to its own declaration -- not to support any kind of war.
Andreas Speck is WRI's office coordinator.