4.4 Information about conscientious objection provisions

The Commission on Human Rights... affirms the importance of the availability of information about the right to conscientious objection to military service, and the means of acquiring conscientious objector status, to all persons affected by military service

(Resolution 1998/77, OP 8)

Whatever the legislation or regulations covering the recognition of conscientious objector status, an individual conscientious objector will be able to take advantage of these only if he knows about the possibility.

Some States have interpreted this need more restrictively than others, quoting the publication of the relevant legislation in the official gazette; or its availability on the internet (Belarus) and/or in published sources (the Russian Federation) as instances of how they comply with this standard. In the Russian Federation, the Jehovah's Witnesses point out that in practice the amount of media coverage of the Alternative Service Law when it was being drafted and discussed was probably the major influence in getting it widely known.[1]

Other cases where there is no indication that any information is volunteered to potential conscripts include Brazil, Uzbekistan and Bulgaria. In the last named there has been considerable criticism of the lack of information provided by the authorities, to the extent that a survey made by the European Bureau of Conscientious Objection fourteen years after constitutional recognition of conscientious objection, and six years after an alternative service system was in place, revealed that only 31% of the age group concerned was aware of the possibility - and this (see Table 9) in the context of one of the tightest time limits for submitting applications.[2] 

Others (Austria, the USA) make a point of sending information about the possibility of being registered as a conscientious objector with the initial call-up papers. Indeed, Hungary included information about the conscript's rights and obligations with the initial documents for military registration, and the form supplied included a question about the possibility of performing civilian service - without, the Jehovah's Witnesses point out, specifically referring to conscientious objection.[3] 

Sometimes the information that is provided can be of questionable utility. In the case of Greece, the National Human Rights Commission reports that the information sent to potential recruits states merely, without any explanation, Applications under Law 2510/1997 are available. Neither this, nor the stipulation in Article 22 (1) of that Law that all implementing details stipulated by decision of the Ministry of Defence will be published in the National Gazette, adequately provides to conscripts information about their right to conscientious objection to military service, and the means of acquiring conscientious objector status.

It is also essential that where it is possible for a serving member of the armed forces, whether a conscript or a volunteer, to be released on grounds of conscientious objection, that this information is readily available to them. Particularly when the provisions are in military regulations, this is often not the case. In both the UK and the USA access for the ordinary member of the military to the relevant regulations is not easy.

  • [1] General Counsel of Jehovah's Witnesses, evidence submitted to the OHCHR, February 2005
  • [2] Conscientious objection in Bulgaria - a survey in CO Update Number 12, War Resisters International, London, August 2005.
  • [3] General Counsel of the Jehovah's Witnesses, Reply to OHCHR questionnaire, August 2003.