15 May 2005: International Conscientious Objectors' Day

Focus on conscientious objection in Greece

Since the 1980s, 15 May is celebrated as International Conscientious Objectors' Day[1]. Originally coordinated by the International Conscientious Objectors' Meeting (ICOM), War Resisters' International stepped in to coordinate and promote International Conscientious Objectors' Day since ICOM ceased to meet ever since ICOM 1995 in Chad. As part of WRI's programme on The Right to Refuse to Kill [2], Since 2002, War Resisters' International helped to established a tradition of international nonviolent direct action on 15 May in support of a certain CO struggle, accompanied by decentral activities all over the world. Focus countries or region of the last years were the Balkans in 2002[3], Israel in 2003[4], and Chile/Latin America in 2004[5].

Why Greece?

Among the member states of the European Union, Greece is one of the very few countries with serious problems regarding the right to conscientious objection. Although Greece passed a law on conscientious objection in 1997, which came into force in 1998, this law is far from meeting international standards, and creates a variety of problems for conscientious objectors[6]. In addition, some pre-1998 COs are still being persecuted (the cases of Lazaros Petromelidis[7] and Yannis Chrissoverghis), and conscientious objection for professional soldiers is not recognised (the case of Georgios Monastiriotis[8]).

However, the law on conscientious objection lead to a modest growth of the Greek CO movement (which is still very small), and the case of Georgios Monastiriotis, who refused to participate in Greek military support operations for the occupation of Iraq, lead to increased interest in conscientious objection in Greece. Combined with the review of Greece by the UN Human Rights Committee in spring 2005, this provides a good climate for increased international activities on conscientious objection in Greece.

Objectives

The activities aim at:

  • Strengthening the Association of Greek Conscientious Objectors through international support.
  • Raising international awareness for the treatment of COs in Greece, with repressive application procedures, a punitive substitute service, and ongoing repeated trials against several conscientious objectors.
  • Linking the issue of conscientious objection in Greece with nonviolent resistance and nonviolent direct action as a tool for social change movements.
  • Exchange of experience in nonviolent direct action among groups from Greece and abroad, especially on issues of conscientious objection.
  • Strengthening international networking of conscientious objectors through joint training and action.

The Campaign

The activities around 15 May 2005 do not stand alone. They can build on ongoing support of Greek conscientious objectors by War Resisters' International and other groups[9], and they will form part of an international campaign, culminating on 15 May 2005.

In this campaign, WRI will:

  • Provide background information on the situation of conscientious objectors in Greece, as well as updates on imprisonment of conscientious objectors via its co-alert system. This information can be used all over the world;
  • Submit a report on conscientious objection in Greece to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which will examine Greece in its session in spring 2005. Funding permitting, War Resisters' International will also send a delegate to the session of the Human Rights Committee in New York in March 2005, presenting the main concerns in person;
  • Produce a special issue of The Broken Rifle (published in English, Spanish, French, and German), for use as campaigning material (available through WRI's website and as paper copy);
  • Coordinate decentralised activities all over the world on 15 May 2005, in support of conscientious objectors in Greece;
  • Organise an international nonviolent training week from 9-15 May 2005, and an international nonviolent direct action in Thessaloniki in Greece on 15 May 2005, in cooperation with the Association of Greek Conscientious Objectors.

The Nonviolence Training and International Seminar (9-15 May)

The Association of Greek Conscientious Objectors and War Resisters' International jointly organise an international seminar on nonviolence, and an international training in nonviolent action, in Thessaloniki, as the centre piece of the activities for 15 May 2005.

The seminar, which will last for two days, will focus on nationalism, war, and the deconstruction of societies as a result, building on the experience from the Balkans and the Middle East. It will also look at the role of militarism in Greek society, and at neo-colonialism and the role NATO is playing. It will draw on the experience of international participants from different European countries, especially the Balkans, and on War Resisters' International's experience[10].

The international training in nonviolent action will bring together 40-50 participants from Europe and Greece, who will jointly use the training to share practical tools for nonviolent action. The training will also prepare for a joint nonviolent action on 15 May -- International Conscientious Objectors' Day -- in Thessaloniki.

The Groups

War Resisters' International

War Resisters' International was founded in 1921 under the name "Paco". It was and is based on the WRI declaration:

"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"

War Resisters' International exists to promote nonviolent action against the causes of war, and to support and connect people around the world who refuse to take part in war or the preparation of war. On this basis, WRI works for a world without war.

Conscientious objection

Conscientious objection has always been at the very centre of WRI's policy. WRI's declaration not to support any kind of war is a call to refuse to serve in any military or armed forces, a call to conscientious objection.

War Resisters' International supports all conscientious objectors, whether they are willing to perform a substitute service (in countries where this option exists) or not. War Resisters' International does not judge a person's motives to refuse to kill, and values a person's individual decision not to take part in war and preparation for war as an important step to end wars.

No to war

WRI will never endorse any kind of war, whether it is waged by a state, by a "liberation army", or under the auspices of the United Nations, even if it is called a "humanitarian military intervention". Wars, however noble the rhetoric, are invariably used to serve some power-political or economic interest. We know where war leads -- to suffering and destruction, to rape and organised crime, to betrayal of values and to new structures of domination.

War Resisters' International's programme The Right to Refuse to Kill combines a wide range of activities to support conscientious objectors individually, as well as organised groups and movements for conscientious objection. http://wri-irg.org

Association of Greek Conscientious Objectors

In 1986 the Committees for Solidarity to the first COs, Thanasis Makris and Michalis Maragakis, developped into our Association. Makris and Maragakis were the first Greeks who, at enormous personal cost, declared publicly their devotion to non-violence and claimed the right not to join the army on ideological (non-religious) grounds.

Our Association:

  • Supports imprisoned and persecuted COs legally, financially and in any other way we can.
  • Campaigns for the cessation of all persecution against COs
  • Struggles for the decriminalisation of total Draft Refusal
  • Campaigns for the recognition of Draft Refusal and Conscientious Objection as human rights in Greece (they are NOT currently recognised as rights, in contravention of the UN declaration above).
  • Works for the establishment of a fair 'alternative / community service' devoid of the extremely punitive, deterrent character of the service COs now have to serve in Greece (in contravention to numerous international declarations & guidelines as well as those of the Greek Ombudsman).

http://www.omhroi.gr/SAS/indco-en.htm

Notes

[1] Rudi Friedrich: History of Conscientious Objectors' Day, Broken Rifle No 55, May 2002, page 8 (http://wri-irg.org/pubs/br55-en.htm#art5)
[2] http://wri-irg.org/co/rrk-en.htm
[3] http://wri-irg.org/news/2002/press15may02.htm
[4] http://wri-irg.org/pubs/br58-en.htm
[5] http://wri-irg.org/pubs/br61-en.htm
[6] http://wri-irg.org/co/osce-rep.htm#Heading13; the WRI report to the UN Committee on Human Rights is also available at http://wri-irg.org/news/2005/greece05a-en.htm.
[7] http://wri-irg.org/co/cases/petromelidis-en.htm
[8] http://wri-irg.org/news/htdocs/18012005d.html
[9] WRI included Greece in its July 2003 report to the OSCE (http://wri-irg.org/co/osce-rep.htm) and took part in an international delegation to the trial of Lazaros Petromelidis in February 2004 (http://wri-irg.org/news/2004/greece0204-en.htm). At present, the cases of Lazaros Petromelidis and Georgios Monastiriotis are being followed by WRI, Amnesty International, and the Eupropean Bureau for Conscientious Objection (EBCO).
[10] WRI is launching its new Nonviolence Programme in spring 2005, based on its experience in nonviolence and social empowerment and antimilitarism and globalisation: http://wri-irg.org/nv-home.htm