resources: legislation & conventions

March 2013

The Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights has published a guide to applicable international standards and jurisprudence relating to conscientious objection to military service.

It is designed as a guide for 'State officials who are responsible for implementing laws, administrative decrees or regulations relating to conscientious objection to military service, as well as Members of Parliament and Government officials who may be involved in drafting laws or administrative decrees or regulations on this subject.'

Additionally, the publication (below) 'is intended to guide individuals who may be called to perform military service and are unsure of what their rights are in this regard, and how and when they can be exercised.'

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November 2011

Published by the Quaker United Nations Office in November 2011, this short booklet reflects recent changes in international law and practice that indicates that recognition of conscientious objection to military service as a human right is now stronger than ever. The publication in available in English, French or Spanish.

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July 2011

European Court of Human Rights catching up with UN Human Rights Committee

On 7 July 2011, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights finally recognised the right to conscientious objection as a right protected under article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In its judgement in the case of Bayatyan v. Armenia, the court has ruled that states have a duty to respect individuals’ right to conscientious objection to military service as part of their obligation to respect the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion set out in Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

This is the first time that the right of conscientious objection to military service has been explicitly recognised under the European Convention on Human Rights.

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June 2011

New legislation (from 22 July 2011) which grants under 18s the right to leave after a 'cooling off' period. Prior to this, discharge of 'unhappy minors' was at the discretion of the commanding officer.

This right is additional to an individual's Discharge As Of Right (DAOR) between the 2nd and 6th month of starting service.

Under 18s in all branches of the forces may now give 3 months' notice to leave (i.e. leave the regular service and join the Reserves) if they give notice in writing to their commanding officer any time before their 18th birthday. By mutual consent the 3 months' notice may be reduced. 

The recruit can change their mind about leaving if they do so within the notice period and they can still give notice later on.

Additionally, the legislation also allows adults the possibility of having their 12 month notice period reduced by up to 6 months as long as it is done within one month of notice being given. This is at the discretion of the commanding officer.

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January 2011

Manual of Service Law (MSL) Version 2.0 January 2011
This manual replaced, with effect from 31 October 2009, the Manual of Naval Law, the Manual of Military Law and the Manual of Air Force Law. It is a guide to the legislation and subordinate legislation which was introduced in the Armed Forces Act 2006.

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February 2010

The Council of Europe Recommendation on Human Rights of Members of the Armed Forces lists rights and freedoms that should be respected and implemented in the Armed Forces, including that, members of the armed forces have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; access to relevant information; the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others; and, enjoy the right to vote and to stand for election.

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October 2008

The UK remains the only EU country to recruit 16 year olds into the military and one of very few EU countries to recruit 17 year olds. The UK has signed the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict yet there is evidence that the UK continues to target children from vulnerable groups and that safeguards to protect under-18s are not effective (see Child Soldiers Global Report 2008: United Kingdom).

The report of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child: Concluding Observations on the UK (October 2008) asks that the UK “reconsider its active policy of recruitment of children into the armed forces and ensure that it does not occur in a manner which specifically targets ethnic minorities and children of low-income families”. It also recommends that the UK government review the limited discharge rights for child soldiers and “that parents are included from the outset and during the entire process of recruitment and enlistment.”

All these recommendations have been supported by the UK Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights in their report on Children's Rights in November 2009.