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Conscientious Objection to military service: it is your right, and you should know it

AEGEE-Europe was invited to the presentation of the Annual Report prepared by the European Bureau for Conscientious Objection (EBCO) that took place on Wednesday, 26th September. We support the right EBCO is fighting for: conscientious objection to military service, a right included in the European Convention on Human Rights, and part of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. The meeting was hosted by the Member of the European Parliament, Nikos Chrysogelos.

 

MEP N. Chrysogelos, EBCO Chair F. Schneider, and EBCO researcher D. Brett

At the roundtable, relevant members of EBCO were present, including the main researcher of this year’s Report. During te presentation we learned that in spite of improvements in those countries where conscription still exist, there are still too many occasions where people who refuse to join the compulsory military service get severe sentences, and are sometimes even judged at military courts. Furthermore, sometimes at the end of their time in jail, they are conscripted, again and in case of refusal to join the army, they are put to trial again. Yes, this happens inside the European Union. If the candidates for membership of the EU are required to comply with the laws containing the right of Conscientious Objection, how is it possible that some countries can violate them repeatedly with impunity?

Other organizations like Amnesty International, the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, and the War Resisters’ International Right to Refuse to Kill Programme, offered their point of view on the problem. Thanks to them, we now know that even in countries where conscription is abolished (or suspended), militarisation of society is far from disappearing. They may not conscript people anymore, but they conscript our money. Defense chapters in European budgets have surprisingly survived the austerity measures much better than education, health, or science. 25 out of 27 Member States participate in military operations in Afghanistan and last year some member states participated in missions in Lybia and Somalia.

Even more worrying is the continuous attempt to militarise youth. By being present at music festivals, campaigning in educational centers, and lobbying through social media, not ot mention the special privileges offered to the military in access to education, they try to recruit young members of our society. In times of crisis and high youth unemployment, those campaigns take advantage of the situation, trying to become attractive for young people with less resources.

 

Luis intervening at the presentation of EBCO Annual Report

The intervention of Luis Alvarado Martínez, our president, stressed the fact that the conscription arrives at a crucial moment of students’ life, breaking up the storyline of their life. We have seen that our members, after years of working actively in AEGEE for values like democracy, peace and stability, and tolerance, got severely stressed when facing the moment of conscription. We consider that there are different and better ways to contribute to society than joining the military, and volunteering is on of them.

The right for Conscientious Objection exists on paper, so now we just need to make European youth aware of it, and stay alert to make sure that it is respected by their countries. This is the main aim of EBCO, and we will help them.