Conscientious objection under pressure

War and conflict are part of everyday life in a growing number of countries. The situation for conscientious objectors is challenging in many parts of the world. Today, we mark Conscientious Objectors' Day.

Cemal Karakuş is from Türkiye. He declared his conscientious objection to military service in 2004. Since there is no mechanism to apply to be recognized as a conscientious objector he is treated as a deserter. As a result, he has been systematically fined and registered in the criminal register. On one occasion he was arrested and had his bank accounts blocked. There are currently seven criminal cases pending against him in the Turkish courts. It takes a very long time for these cases to be concluded.

“The most challenging thing is the uncertainty because you don’t know what to expect next,” says Cemal, who rejects violence and murder as a matter of principle.

Despite Türkiye’s obligations under international human rights laws, the right to conscientious objection to military service is not recognized. The non-recognition of this right constitutes a violation of the right to freedom of religion or belief. This has been established in several judgments of the European Court of Human Rights and in one opinion by the UN Human Rights Committee, but it has not yet been addressed. Conscientious objectors in the country continue to be punished with fines and repeated trials, sometimes leading to imprisonment. This policy also violates several human rights, such as the right to education, freedom of movement, the right to work, and the right to participate in elections.

15th of May is the Conscientious Objectors’ Day. It is a day to remember all those who have refused to bear arms and participate in war throughout history and today. It is a human right to refrain from violence and warfare for reasons of conscience. No one should be subjected to prosecution and reprisals for following their convictions.

For further details on conscientious objection in Türkiye, read this report on the right to freedom of religion or belief in Türkiye.

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Mine Yildirim

Head of the Freedom of Belief Project Email: [email protected]Twitter: @yldrmine
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Dag A. Fedøy

Director of CommunicationsEmail: [email protected]Phone: +47 920 54 309Twitter: @dagfedoy
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