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Greece: legal victory for conscientious objector

Surprisingly, another practice discriminating conscientious objectors in Greece has recently been overturned by the Greek Council of State. In the case of conscientious objector Evangelos Delis, who served in the Greek army in 1992 but who has since converted to being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Council of State ruled on 15 January 2010 that the Greek law on conscientious objection "must be read in such a way that a person has the right to change his religion even after having served in the military and has the right to claim conscientious objector status". Evangelos Delis had applied for conscientious objector status when he was called up for reserve duty. This request was denied by the authorities, who decided that a reservist did not have the right to make such a claim.

According to Article 59 paragraph 3(a) of Law 3421/2005, which also regulates conscientious objection, "those who have carried arms for whatever length of time in the Greek or foreign armed forces or in the security forces" cannot be considered as conscientious objectors. CO applications could thus not be made by serving conscripts or reservists. The ruling of the Council of State effectively renders this part of the law invalid.

In its judgment, the court cited article 5 (free development of personality) and article 13 (freedom of religion) of the Greek Constitution, and articles 9 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and Article 18 of the United Nations International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

The case was remanded to the Minister of National Defense and the State was ordered to pay Delis’s court costs. Delis was pleased with the decision and hopes that it will benefit other conscientious objectors in Greece and elsewhere.

Sources: Watchtower Society: Greece protects fundamental human right, 22 April 2010; War Resisters' International: Country Report: Greece, 23 October 2008; The Constitution of Greece.