War Resisters' International reports to the United Nations

When the UN Human Rights Committee announced their plans to examine human rights abuses in Greece, WRI saw an opportunity to get CO issues on the international agenda and significantly raise the profile of the Greek struggle against militarism. WRI produced a comprehensive report on conscientious objection to military service in Greece detailing numerous human rights shortfalls. The report describes the legal situation in Greece vis-à-vis conscription and CO before outlining the problems and discriminatory practices that the current law causes. It focuses on violations of internationally recognised standards, in particular UN resolutions and uses article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights (ICCPR) as its benchmark.

Some of the main concerns raised by the report include the punitive length of the substitute service, the exclusion of professional soldiers from applying for CO status and the loss of civil and personal rights suffered by CO's in Greece. Importantly, the report highlights the fact that it is standard procedure in Greece for CO's to be repeatedly tried and imprisoned for the same offence of draft evasion - a practice which violates international law. With the use of case studies, the report is able to illustrate the harsh treatment of CO's by the Greek authorities thus adding a human dimension to a complex topic.

The report was presented to the UN Human Rights Committee on the opening day of their 83rd session at the UN office in New York. WRI staff member Kat Barton addressed the Committee: speaking about the problems facing Greek CO's and urging the Committee to consider the issues when looking at human rights standards in Greece. This consultation with NGO's is an important and necessary part of the work of the Committee, and certainly a worthwhile exercise for WRI in terms of influencing Greek policy on CO.

Having examined the human rights situation in Greece, the Committee distributed a press release outlining their main concerns and Greece's subsequent response. It was clear from this document that CO issues feature quite highly in the minds of some of the Committee members, who criticised the Greek government saying that "the right of conscientious objectors had not been complied with nor had it conformed to the norms of article 18 of the Covenant (ICCPR)". We hope that given this, Greece will now move forward and identify specific changes it intents to implement with regards to CO. Indeed, already on 1st April, the Military Court in Athens ruled that Jehovah's Witness and former Russian army conscript Sergey Gutarov would be allowed to apply for the substitute civilian service despite having previously served in the armed forces.

Kat Barton

"Conscientious Objection To Military Service in Greece: Human Rights Shortfalls" is available online at wri-irg.org/ news/2005/greece05a-en.htm or can be requested from the office.