Peace Tax as a Human Right in International Fora


This workshop will look at how peace tax is treated in three international institutions: the European Community, the Council of Europe, and the United Nations.

As well as looking at the theoretical and technical framework of these international institutions, the workshop should provide an opportunity to look at practical steps which might be taken, either prepared during the meeting itself or as follow-up activities.

The European Community

At present the European Community has not considered the issue of peace tax in any great detail.

EC developments on tax harmonisation are extremely complicated. For the workshop a background paper will be prepared on EC fiscal policy in relation to peace tax. This document will be prepared by a Quaker who works in this area in the European Commission. 

In the European Parliament, the question of peace tax could be discussed in the general context of human rights. One Member of the European Parliament, Richard Balfe (Labour, UK), who would not himself be prepared to withhold military taxes, feels that the right to do so should be guaranteed, and in 1985 tabled a written declaration on conscientious objection to military taxation. A group will be visiting Richard Balfe on the Friday morning of the conference. 

The European Parliament has a series of committees covering all issues relevant to the EC. It would be worth considering if an approach could be made to some of these committees on the peace tax concern. In order to do this, sympathetic member of the committees would need to be identified who would be prepared to put it on the agenda. Appropriate committees might be Legal Affairs and Citizens' Rights and Civil Liberties and Internal Affairs. Any EC resident can also write to the Petitions Committee if they feel that their rights within EC law are being ignored or injured in any way.

Council of Europe

(Currently 27 countries; relevant to the peace tax is the European Convention on Human Rights, adherence to which is a prerequisite for membership of the Council of Europe.)

The Council of Europe has a Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg which can be petitioned by individuals after the case has been heard (and failed) at all instances in national legislation. The exception to this is the Netherlands, where the Convention has been incorporated into national legislation. Several unsuccessful attempts have been made to bring peace tax cases before the Court. Article 9 of the Convention on freedom of manifestation of religion also limits this freedom by allowing it to be subject to such limitations as are prescribed by law. It seems that if such a manifestation of religion were binding on all members this might lead to a different outcome. In a judgement on a Swedish case (where someone who was not a member of the Swedish Lutheran Church objected to paying church tax), the Council of Europe's Commission on Human Rights decided that this was admissible and could therefore be brought before the Court of Human Rights, thereby setting a precedent that tax could fall within the area of conscience. 

The viewpoint of officials within the Council of Europe is that no committee would consider something which is not part of the legislation of any one of the Member States. As far as the Convention on Human Rights is concerned, the Quaker Council for European Affairs (QCEA) is continuing its efforts to have an Additional Protocol on conscientious Objection to Military Service added to the Convention. This is an essential first step before lobbying for an Additional Protocol on Conscientious Objection to Military Taxation. 

Lobbying at the Council of Europe is done on several levels: the Parliamentary Assembly has a Committee on Legal Affairs, with a Sub-Committee on Human Rights. The members of this Sub-Committee (national MPs chosen by their own national parliaments to be part of the national delegation) can be approached to consider issues of conscience. The Forum of NGOs with an interest in Human Rights can also pass resolutions which then have to be considered by the Sub-Committee (this has been done on conscientious objection to military service.) At the same time individual members' of the Parliamentary Assembly can be approached to put forward a Motion for a Resolution, which would then be forwarded to the Council of Ministers.

Within the Council of Europe there are officials who are sympathetic to the peace tax concern, and QCEA has been invited to present a paper on this at a conference on The Right of Conscience in the Netherlands in November 1992.

United Nations 

The United Nations is committed in its Charter to saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war, yet the UN still does not recognise even conscientious objection to military service as a right. Members of the UN Commission of Human Rights have indicated that the peace tax concern would be unlikely to find much support at present but that positive developments in the European context might have a spin-off effect at the UN. 

A Canadian Quaker, Jerilynn Prior, recently applied to the UN Human Rights Committee (not the Commission), which, like the relevant Canadian authorities, denied her the right to withhold a certain percentage of her taxes on grounds of conscience. The Committee considered that the refusal to pay taxes on conscientious grounds falls outside the scope of the protection of the freedom of conscience and religion (Article 18 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights). The background and implications of this case will be considered in more detail during the workshop.