Armenia: Imprisonment of conscientious objector violated Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights
(07.07.2011) In today’s Grand Chamber judgment in the case Bayatyan v. Armenia (application no. 23459/03), which is final, the European Court of Human Rights held, by a majority, that there had been aviolation of Article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The case concerned the conviction in 2003 of a conscientious objector - a Jehovah’s Witness - for his refusal to perform military service. He was imprisoned despite Armenia’s undertaking, when joining the Council of Europe on 25 January 2001, to introduce civilian service as an alternative to compulsory military service within three years and to pardon all conscientious objectors sentenced to imprisonment.
(15.05.2011) In all wars individuals - sometimes only a few, sometimes thousands - try to evade military service, to object military actions or desert from the military. They face prosecution and persecution. Furthermore objectors have to realize that in many countries their conscience and convictions are not accepted. They face repression, prosecution or new recruitment as well. This is why all of them seek protection abroad in other countries. But over and over again such applications for asylum are rejected. Generally, prosecution and persecution of conscientious objectors or deserters is not regarded as a valid reason for asylum.
Some international resolutions and recommendations have been adopted in recent years. I would like to give a summary of these, highlighting different opinions and the existing possibilities for conscientious objectors and deserters to be accepted as refugees. Additionally, I will outline the limits of such possibilities.
International Standards on Conscientious Objection to Military Service
(02.05.2011) Conscientious objection to military service is not explicitly recognised in the international human rights standards. This has led some States to argue that it is not protected by them. However, this is not the case. The Human Rights Committee, the expert body which supervises the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is clear that conscientious objection to military service is protected under the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and has stated so in Views (decisions) on individual communications, in its General Comments and in Concluding Observations. In addition, the (former) UN Commission on Human Rights adopted a series of resolutions on conscientious objection to military service, and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief of the UN Human Rights Council have also addressed the issue.