5.5 Remuneration and other terms of service

The Commission on Human Rights... reiterates that States, in their law and practice, must not discriminate against conscientious objectors in relation to their terms or conditions of service

(OP6 of Resolution 1998/77)

5.5.1 General

Some States set the remuneration for alternative service equal to that of military service, although this is most common where the distinction between the two is not very clearly established; Brazil, Sweden and (formerly) the Republika Srpska. By contrast, in the regulations in the USA the remuneration for alternative service is completely unlinked to that for military service; the organisation providing the employment is urged, but not required, to pay the going rate.[1]

The 20% differential in Uzbekistan between the pay of those performing military service, who also receive free food and clothing, and those performing alternative service, has already been mentioned (page115). As announced in a statement by the Chairman of the State Religious Affairs Committee, on 31st May 2003, these differences were explicitly meant to be punitive and deterrent.[2]

Conscripts undertaking alternative service in Croatia receive no salary from the State, but, in parallel with those performing military service, qualify for an exhaustive list of social benefits - health care, health insurance and rights in case of accidents, illness or deterioration of illness... social care, employment, pension and disability insurance and other rights that military servants have. They also are provided as necessary with protective clothing, and, if employed more than 80 km from their home, free accommodation. Elsewhere, the scanty information available often hints that issues such as health insurance are overlooked for conscripts undertaking alternative service. Health care is for example not among the social safeguards and facilities listed in article 24 of Moldova's Law on Alternative Service, (633/1991).

One feature which is sometimes assumed to distinguish the conditions associated with military service from alternative service is that those performing military service are required to live in barracks, while those performing alternative service can work, like civilians, from their usual home. Certainly in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia-Montenegro this was favoured as keeping down the costs of alternative service. However the distinction does not always hold in individual cases; some alternative service placements are by their nature residential, and in some countries, Greece and the Russian Federation in particular, alternative service is as a rule performed away from the conscript's home area. 

...and not of a punitive nature.

(Commission on Human Rights Resolution 1988/77, OP4)

In Greece, Article 19 of Law 2510/1997 states that alternative service cannot be performed in Athens or Thessaloniki and gives the Minister of Defence authority to extend this list by decree. According to the National Commission for Human Rights,[3] four other large urban areas have thus been added to the list so that the areas in which it is not permissible to perform alternative service include more than half of the national population. This exclusion has not been adequately explained and is widely seen as punitive. In the words of the NCHR it would not be unfair to emphasise that (this) wide exclusion rather tends to render the everyday life of an objector as difficult as possible (without access to many facilities), whereas big military units are still around several big cities of Greece. Conscientious objectors performing alternative service are reportedly often posted to remote islands and not allowed to leave during the period of alternative service, meaning that (unlike the situation in other countries) the restrictions on their freedom of movement are certainly no less severe than those which apply to conscripts performing compulsory military service. Jehovah's Witnesses, and presumably others belonging to religious minorities often find that they are assigned to parts of the country where they are remote from worshipping communities of their faith.[4]

In Armenia, Jehovah's Witnesses found that they were prevented from leaving the workplace after working hours in order to participate in worship. Moreover, they were forced to wear military style uniforms and name badges marked ‘Armed Forces of the Republic of Armenia’, were regularly visited by military police and given degrading work where they were treated as soldiers. Even the food was provided by the military.[5]

The Taiwan Alternative Service Law, by contrast, expressly excludes wearing of uniform.[6]

As in Greece, alternative service placements in the Russian Federation are as a rule distant from the conscript's home, and often in remote parts of the country. In its response to the OHCHR's 2003 questionnaire, the Russian Federation carefully listed the benefits, guarantees and compensation in connexion with special nature of work; it counts towards their employment record, and as appropriate towards employment in their career speciality, compensation for time spent in the far north, hazardous employment benefits and compensation leave according to labour code, increased in proportion to the travel distance of the posting from the conscript's home. Meanwhile at home they do not lose position on the waiting lists for accommodation, or improvements; for three months after the end of the alternative service the conscript has the right to reclaim from his former employer his job or an equivalent position, or to continue his studies. Health care is assured, there is free transport to and from the location of the placement, and for holidays. Free, hostel-style accommodation is to be provided by the employing organisation. Even those performing unarmed military service are not housed in military accommodation. However, they have no right to refuse a contract, to hold a managerial post, strike, undertake other employment, leave the locality without the employer's consent, terminate or abandon their posting.

In Greece, too, persons performing alternative service are not allowed to strike or participate in any way in trade union activities. By contrast, Norway has, and when relevant the Netherlands had, trades unions representing the interests not just of those performing alternative service, but of military conscripts as well.

Leave allowances vary, and information is not readily available on how they compare with those granted to military conscripts. In Serbia-Montenegro, and Croatia, on top of the standard leave there is the possibility of a rewarding leave of 30 days for special devotion to performance of jobs that are assigned to him; there is also a right to special leave (7 days in Serbia-Montenegro, 5 in Croatia) in the event of marriage, child birth, the death of a member of the immediate family, or examinations. (In Serbia-Montenegro a vague category of private business is added to this list.)[7] Austria allows 14 days holiday after the seventh month. In Greece the allowance is two days per completed month of work; in Taiwan the reference is only to all public holidays, and time off if the conscript needs medical assistance (which would not usually be considered leave).[8] 

5.5.2 Disciplinary proceedings

A special case of the conditions of service are the disciplinary proceedings in respect of specific wrongdoing or inadequate performance. It is often claimed, particularly when States are trying to justify differential durations, that one of the respects in which military service is a harder option than alternative service is the requirement of unquestioning obedience to orders and the subjection to military disciplinary procedures. As with other generalisations, this needs careful scrutiny to see to what extent it holds up in any particular case. Sometimes, as has been described above with regard to Sweden, conscripts who are performing alternative service are subjected to a quasi-military disciplinary regime.

There are, however, certain respects in which conscripts performing alternative service may face sanctions which have no equivalent in military service. They may be stripped of their status, and allocated to military service. Or they may have their period of service lengthened on the grounds of inadequate performance. However badly a military conscript performs his duties, and whatever punishments he has to endure, there is no ultimate sanction because with rare exceptions he knows that he will walk free at the end of the statutory time. 

In Serbia-Montenegro, unarmed or civilian service can be suspended for activity which contradicts the reasons for which he has been sent into this service (fight, use of cold or fire arms, violent behaviour etc) also in the case of not fulfilling his work duties.[9] In Croatia, unauthorised absence of more than thirty days can be punished by the loss of the right of civilian service. Those who self-willedly and unjustifiably absent themselves for a continuous period of between ten and thirty days have the service suspended. In the Russian Federation, those who strike or leave the locality where they are posted can be stripped of conscientious objector status.[10] In Poland,[11] the Minister of Labour considers appeals against the decisions of the Voivodship Draft Boards concerning lifting substitute service and issues administrative decisions on the suspension of substitute service.

Wherever it is stipulated, moreover, the ultimate responsibility for the decision about this form of disciplinary action is taken by the authority responsible for the initial allocations. Where that body is a military one (as in. Serbia-Montenegro) it is even more unsatisfactory that it should perform this role of adjudicating in disciplinary matters.

It is however in Greece that the punitive use of the withdrawal of the status has been most controversial. Paragraph 686 of Greece's first Report under the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights[12] states that One may no longer enjoy the various rights attached to alternative service

  1. if one ceases to fulfill the prerequisites of article 18 for the acknowledgement of the right to alternative civilian social service;
  2. if one is declared insubordinate;
  3. if one commits a disciplinary offence or a crime which may result to interruption or termination of the employment contract;
  4. if one exercises trade unionist activities or participates in a strike during the alternative civilian social service;
  5. if one is punished for violating the provisions regarding the issuing of leaves of absence, as these provisions are in force for the employees of the respective public sector.

It is reported that the Ombudsman has criticised these provisions on the grounds that they do indeed have the practical effect that a recognised conscientious objector can have that status revoked as a punishment for shortcomings in the fulfilment of alternative service, and can be required notwithstanding his conscientious objection to perform military service.[13] The rather vague wording of stipulation (b) (insubordination) and the very nature of stipulation (d) (banning trade union activities) raise questions in themselves. It may also be noted that no details are given here of any due process for consideration of these various disciplinary decisions. The Jehovah's Witnesses quote the case of Ioannis Pantoulias, who was in 2000 summarily dismissed from his placement in the post office on the island of Kos, and stripped of conscientious objector status, which meant that even as he was challenging his dismissal in the courts he was liable to report for military service and in danger of being charged with the military offence of insubordination for failure to present himself.[14]

The question of withdrawing the option of alternative service because of misdemeanours in the conduct of that service, and of transfer to the military service betrays a fundamental misconception about the nature of the exercise. Underlying such a possibility is the idea that permission for the performance of alternative service is a privilege which may be withdrawn if it is abused, rather than a requirement equivalent to that of military service, which has been placed upon those who have been recognised as having an objection of conscience to the latter. It is conceivable that there might be conduct during the performance of alternative service which could throw doubt upon the sincerity of the claimed conscientious objection. Even in such a situation, a summary verdict not based on due investigation would not be appropriate. But such an unusual circumstance apart, nothing in the performance of alternative service can have any bearing on the initial finding that there was a conscientious objection to military service and this having once been accepted, to transfer a conscript to such service is to commit a major violation of his freedom of religion and belief.

5.5.3 Reserve Obligations

Although the continuing liability for reserve service of those who have been conscripted into the armed forces is often quoted as a reason for any longer duration alternative service, it should not be assumed that those who perform alternative service are exempt from reserve duties. Often those who have performed alternative service are subsequently allocated to the reserves, sometimes, as in Serbia-Montenegro, to the military reserves, but in an unarmed capacity; sometimes, as in Macedonia and the Bosnian Federation to civilian protection or civil defence. 

In Moldova those who have performed alternative service are liable for reserve duties in liquidating the consequences of exceptional situations. In Austria those who have completed alternative service join a special natural disaster reserve until the age of 50. Unlike the military reserve, there is no restriction on the posting of such reservists overseas.[15] Stolwijk however reports that these reserve duties have never been called upon in practice. Indeed there is often little detail about to what, if any, extent active performance of reservist duties will be called upon. Croatia is an exception: it is stipulated that at most two months a year may be spent in civilian reservist duties.

  • [1] Center on Conscience and War, Conscientious Objectors and the Draft, Washington, DC. (General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church), 2002 edition, page 39.
  • [2] Uzbekistan introduces alternative military service Radio Free Europe - Radio Liberty newsline, 2nd June 2003 (www.rferl.org/newsline/2003/06/2-TCA/tca-020603.asp)
  • [3] Response by the Greek National Commission for Human Rights to OHCHR questionnaire, 2003.
  • [4] General Counsel of Jehovah's Witnesses, response to OHCHR questionnaire 2003
  • [5] War Resisters International, Armenia: continued persecution of conscientious objectors, CO Alert issued 19th May 2005.
  • [6] General Counsel of Jehovah's Witnesses, response to OHCHR questionnaire 2003
  • [7] Prigovor za Mir (Regional Network Objection for Peace) Comparative study on the existing models of civilian service in the region - future models of civilian service for the countries of the region Working Materials for Regional Conference To Europe through conscientious objection and civilian service, Sarajevo 20-22 September, 2004.
  • [8] General Counsel of Jehovah's Witnesses, response to OHCHR questionnaire 2003. The same source reports that conscripts performing alternative service work a forty-hour week and receive a monthly pay of about $200; there is however no indication of who pays.
  • [9] Article 27b of the 2003 Military Service Act, quoted in Prigovor za Mir (Regional Network Objection for Peace) Comparative study on the existing models of civilian service in the region - future models of civilian service for the countries of the region, page 20 and page 22 Working Materials for Regional Conference To Europe through conscientious objection and civilian service, Sarajevo 20-22 September, 2004.
  • [10] Article 21.2 of the 2003 Law on Alternative Civilian Service.
  • [11] Fifth periodic report of Poland under the International Covenant for Civil and Political rights, UN Document reference CCPR/C/POL/2004/5, paragraph 329.
  • [12] UN Document reference CCPR/C/GRE/2004/1.
  • [13] Response by the Greek National Commission for Human Rights to the OHCHR questionnaire, 2003.
  • [14] General Counsel of the Jehovah's Witnesses, Evidence submitted to the UN Human Rights Committee regarding the State Report of Greece, 1st March 2005
  • [15] Response of Austria to OHCHR Questionnaire, 2003.