The right to conscientious objection under Ukrainian law

by Connection e.V.

(18.11.2017) Article 35.3 of Ukraine’s 1996 constitution confers the right to refuse military service: "If performance of military service is contrary to the religious beliefs of a citizen, the performance of this duty shall be replaced by alternative (non-military) duty".[1] This right is fleshed out in greater detail in Article 2 of the Ukrainian Act on Alternative Civilian Service, which states that this right may only be asserted by individuals who are members of religious organisations which conform to the legislation, and whose confessional beliefs do not allow them to use arms and serve in the military forces.[2] This list of religious organisations includes Adventists, Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Pentecostal movement. Applications must be submitted together with an official letter from the religious organisation in question.

Confining the rights of conscientious objectors further still, there is a rule stating that applications must be submitted within six months of receipt of call-up papers. Serving conscripts and reservists are not permitted to apply for exemption from conscription.[3]

In July 2013 the UN Human Rights Committee reviewed the Seventh Periodic Report of Ukraine on the International Pact on Civil and Political Rights. In its concluding observations, the committee expressed its concern that no measures appeared to have been taken to extend the right of conscientious objection against mandatory military service to persons who hold non-religious beliefs grounded in conscience, as well as beliefs grounded in all religions. The committee then reiterated its previous recommendation and stressed that alternative service arrangements should be accessible to all conscientious objectors without discrimination as to the nature of the beliefs.[4]

As a member state of the Council of Europe, Ukraine is also obliged to implement rulings of the European Court of Human Rights. On 7 July 2011, the Grand Chamber of the Court noted that “opposition to military service, where it is motivated by a serious and insurmountable conflict between the obligation to serve in the army and a person’s conscience or his deeply and genuinely held religious or other beliefs, constitutes a conviction or belief of sufficient cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance to attract the guarantees of Article 9".[5] That article of the European Convention on Human Rights guarantees the freedom of conscience and religion.

As far back as 1987, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe stated that a law “may also provide for the possibility of applying for and obtaining conscientious objector status in cases where the requisite conditions for conscientious objection appear during military service or periods of military training after initial service".[6]

The human right of conscientious objection is therefore not guaranteed in Ukraine since it is confined to members of a handful of religious organisations, not to mention the narrow time limit for applications


[1] Quaker Council for European Affairs: The Right to Conscientious Objection in Europe - Ukraine. 15 May 2005.

[2] European Bureau for Conscientious Objection: Report on conscientious objection to military service in Europe 2013, p 42.

[3] Quaker 2005, ibid.

[4] United Nations Human Rights Committee: Concluding observations on the seventh periodic report of Ukraine, adopted by the Committee at its 108th session, 8-26 July 2013, point 19.

[5] European Court for Human Rights, 7 July 2011. Bayatyan vs Armenia, 23459/03,

[6] Committee of Ministers to Member States: Recommendation No. R (87) 8 Regarding Conscientious Objection to Compulsory Military Service. 9 April 1987.

Source: Dossier to Ruslan Kotsaba, originally composed by Connection e.V. and DFG-VK, June 2016. Last updated by Connection e.V. November 18, 2017.

Keywords:    ⇒ Conscientious Objection   ⇒ Ukraine