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Resisting war in situations of war

1. December 1999: Prisoners for Peace Day

By Andreas Speck

Since the 1920 War Resisters' International asks peace activists to send greeting cards to prisoners, since 1956 1 December is celebrated as Prisoners for Peace Day. This year, War Resisters' International especially wants to highlight the situation war resisters in countries at war: From Algeria, Angola and Congo in Africa to Kosov@ and Yugoslavia in Europa - the year 1999 was a year of wars. While we are preparing for Prisoners for Peace Day, wars are still going on in Chechnia in Europe, in Angola in Africa, in Turkey in Asia, in Columbia in Latin America - to mention just a few.

But whereever there is war, there is resistance: Young men deserting from armed forces (regular armies or irregular armed forces) or avoiding their call-up, activists trying to promote peaceful solutions and denouncing military means, support to deserters and draft evaders, initiatives for dialogue between fighting parties. While most wars are waged and commanded by men - although women form an increasing part of the armed forces in many countries - of women are on the forefront of resistance, the International Network of Women in Black is only one striking example.

Resisting war in situations of war is different from what European and US-American antimilitarists are used to: while we are very often struggling against apathie and face little repression within our Western democracies - and I say this although I'm one of the more than 20 peace activists in Germany accused for calling on German soldiers for desertion - war resisters in war situations have to deal with something entirely different. In Angola forced recruitment to all armed forces - the Government and the guerilla forces - is in itself a war against the young population, with those refusing to „join" facing death. The up to 30,000 draft evaders in Yugoslavia still today - after the war is over - face up to 20 years imprisonment under laws that have been introduced under the „state of war".

Resisting war then often means leaving your country, your friends and your family, and if you are lucky you might end up in an asylum camp in Europe or the United States, only to be deported again, because conscientious objection doesn't give you the right to asylum. Resisting war might mean going into hiding within your own country, always fearing being arrested by the military or police and thrown into prison.

Often pacifist prisoners are at the heart of anti-militarist struggle. At the same time they find themselves at the heart of a violent institution - the day to day grind and isolation of prison life is a form of state violence that should neither be forgotten nor underestimated. Therefore prisoners for peace need our special attention and support.

War Resisters' International calls on everybody to send letters or cards to individual Prisoners for Peace to show support and solidarity.

War Resisters' International calls on peace groups and organisations to set up information stalls and to inform the public about the situation of prisoners for peace in countries at war.

War Resisters' International calls for the release of all Prisoners for Peace and for asylum for deserters, draft evaders and peace activists being threatened in their own countries.

Resistance to war is one important step in building a lasting peace.

War Resisters' International, 5 Caledonian Road, London N1 9DX, Britain
tel.: +44-171-2784040, fax: 2780444, email info@wri-irg.org