Conscientious Objection and Peace

International Seminar in Macedonia, June 2004


War Resisters' International, the international network of pacifist organisations founded in 1921, and its Macedonian affiliate Peace Action are planning an international seminar on conscientious objection and peace in Ohrid, Macedonia in June 2004. The seminar will bring together 80-100 peace and conscientious objection activists from the Balkans and other parts of the world, to discuss issues of conscientious objection to military service and its relevance in the context of a peace movement.

Peace Action joined War Resisters' International in 2000, under its then name Group for Antimilitarist Action (GAMA). Since then, WRI and Peace Action cooperated on several projects, among others a nonviolence training in Macedonia in April 2002. In Macedonia, Peace Action is one of the groups campaigning for the right to conscientious objection (which was achieved in 2002), and campaigning for peace in general. Peace Action is part of the Balkan CO network, which involves groups from other Balkan states such as Bosnia-Hercegovina, Croatia, Greece, Serbia, and Bulgaria. Some of these groups are also affiliated to War Resisters' International.

The project is linked to War Resisters' International's The Right to Refuse to Kill project, which aims to support conscientious objection world-wide.


The past years saw the recognition of the right to conscientious objection in most Balkan states, with the exception of Serbia and Montenegro, which is now in the process of adopting a law on conscientious objection, and Albania, where there is no progress. In most Balkan countries, groups of conscientious objectors work to promote the right to conscientious objection.

These new and recent developments require a new exchange of experiences, and new strategies: how do movements for conscientious objection act and re-act when the right to conscientious objection is in principle recognised? What strategies do exist to improve the legal framework for conscientious objection and substitute service? What are experiences with substitute service in other parts of the world – regarding the situation of those doing substitute service, and regarding the relationship between substitute service and the long-term aim of abolishing conscription? What is the relationship between a legally recognised conscientious objection and the peace movement, especially on the Balkans?

These are questions CO groups ask themselves presently on the Balkans, and these questions are crucial for a response to a changed situation.


The project's objectives are on three different levels:

  • In Macedonia: to strengthen the visibility of conscientious objection in Macedonia, and its relevance to the Macedonian peace movement;
  • On the Balkans: to strengthen the Balkan CO network, and to establish links between CO groups from the Balkan and War Resisters' International, but also with CO groups in other parts of the world (Latin America, East Asia, Eastern and Western Europe);
  • International: to strengthen networking among CO groups, and to deepen discussion around issues of conscientious objection, alternative service, and nonviolence.

On all three levels, the issue of conscientious objection will be looked at not only as an issue of human rights, but in a broader perspective of peace and nonviolence.

The Project

The centre piece of the project is an international seminar in Ohrid, Macedonia, from 20-23 June 2003. A rough programme outline is given below:

Sunday evening:

Opening plenary: Conscientious Objection and Peace
Speakers from Peace Action, War Resisters' International, and others

Monday: Conscientious objection & militarism

Morning plenary: CO in the Balkans

Workshops on:

  • CO & professional armies (impact of abolishment of conscription on CO movement strategies, experiences from Spain, France, the Netherlands, Belgium
  • COs impact on militarism in society
  • experience of living under peace keeping operations (including trafficing in women)
  • experience of working across dividing lines in a conflict (Balkan)
  • nationalism, militarism, patriarchy
  • approaches to civilian service: pro & contra
  • Solidarity campaigning
  • use of international law and international institutions (UN, Council of Europe, EU, OSCE)

Evening plenary: World order after war on Iraq
Speakers from USA, Balkans/Eastern Europe, Colombia, Iraq/Middle East

Tuesday: Nonviolence

Morning plenary: Examples of nonviolent campaigns

Workshops on:

  • nonviolence training
  • nonviolent action
  • nonviolent strategy
  • peace education
  • nonviolent intervention/defence

Evening “plenary”: Training exercises

Wednesday: Dealing with a past of war and violence

Morning plenary: Experiences of dealing with the past
Speakers from the Balkans, Chile, and from War Resisters' International

Workshops related to dealing with the past

Afternoon: Closing Session & Evaluation

Evening: Concert + Party

Thursday morning: press conference??

Expected outcome

The expected outcome reflects the objectives formulated above:

  • a deeper understanding of conscientious objection and the issues around conscientious objection;
  • new, renewed, and strengthened contacts among COs on the Balkans and between COs from the Balkans and COs from other parts of the world;
  • a deeper understanding of the links between conscientious objection and nonviolence, and of methods of nonviolence.

A documentation of the seminar (in Macedonian, Serbo-Croatian, English, Spanish, French, and German) is part of the project.