Whats the problem?

Military recruitment: unethical

UK armed forces recruitment practices are largely unethical

  • The armed forces target recruitment campaigns on disadvantaged young people, failing to properly inform them of the difficulties and obligations of a military career.
  • The UK is the only EU country to recruit 16-year-olds into the armed forces.
  • Recruits under 18 commit themselves to up to 6 year's service before they are adults.
  • Adult recruits commit themselves for up to 4 year's service with a long notice period, and must join the reserves afterwards.
  • Whilst some people join the armed forces for positive reasons, others sign up as a last resort because they can’t find another job.
  • Recruits are not normally informed about their rights to express moral objections to military operations.
  • Armed forces personnel face significant risks during service, including psychological harm, and many struggle to resettle into civilian life.

Unethical military recruitment practices

Recruiting child soldiers

Children as young as 15 years, 7 months can apply for the Army. 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 UN and the UK Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights have requested that the UK reconsider its policy of recruitment of children into the military, that ethnic minorities and children of low-income families are not targeted, that parents are included in the process from the outset and that the limited discharge rights for child soldiers are reviewed.

Targeting the young & vulnerable

Non-officer recruitment draws mostly on young people from 16 years of age living in disadvantaged communities, with many recruits joining as a last resort. Increasingly, very young children are being targeted as potential recruits in schools and through the media, games and advertising. Research, and general observation, indicates that children are introduced to the potential benefits of a forces career but not to its risks, and that warfare is glamorised and sanitised

How the military interests and recruits young people

Many recruitment tools capitalise on the impressionability of young people by presenting a glamorous view of armed forces life without the risks, legal obligations  and ethical issues involved.

These include:

  • internet and TV campaigns such as ‘Start Thinking Soldier’
  • recruitment offices and ‘army showrooms’
  • bespoke computer games and access to military hardware in schools and local communities
  • ‘career advisors’, school presentation and youth teams and other free resources offered to schools, youth and community groups
  • the Camouflage Club and Altitude - information websites aimed at under 18s
  • the Cadet forces
  • MoD-sponsored toys and dressing-up clothes aimed at children as young as five. 

Read on recruitment

October 2014

A nationwide poll conducted in July 2014 by Ipsos MORI on behalf of the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Ltd found that 78 per cent of respondents who expressed a view thought the minimum enlistment age for the Army should be 18 or above. Just 14 per cent of respondents thought the minimum age should be 16 (as it currently is) or less.

An identically worded poll conducted in April 2013 by ICM found 70 per cent of respondents who expressed a view thought the minimum enlistment age should be 18 or above, with 20 per cent supporting 16 or younger.

read more >>
recruitment age
12 September 2014
12/09/2014

This paper, published by ForcesWatch and Child Soldiers International, shows that the taxpayer would save approximately £50 million per annum if the minimum age of recruitment were raised to 18; it would also result in the army needing to find about 211 fewer new recruits annually, based on current numbers joining the trained strength.

The paper concludes that the case to cease recruiting from age 16 is now overwhelming and urges a full, independent review of the policy, with a view to phasing out the recruitment of minors as an unnecessary, cost-ineffective, and fundamentally unethical practice.

read more >>
March 2014

ForcesWatch's submission to the Defence Select Committee inquiry on Military Casualties draws on our research published in The Last Ambush and concludes that:

  • The continued targeted recruitment of minors from disadvantaged backgrounds deserves to be re-appraised from the perspective of long-term mental health risks that this group faces. 
  • Where possible, we hope that the development of military health research will better specify personnel who face higher and lower risks.
  • Future research could also better account for personnel who show some symptoms of mental ill-health but are not counted as full ‘cases’ of a specific ‘disorder’. 
  • A large number of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are likely to need mental health support services for years to come.  It falls to the state to take prime responsibility for ensuring that the long-term welfare needs of injured veterans are met.  That is an expensive undertaking, which it behoves any government to appreciate and accept before deciding whether to send young men and women to war
read more >>
November 2013
05/11/2013

A ForcesWatch poster showing policy, cultural and other recent developments affecting the extent of military influence in young people's lives.

 

 


read more >>
28 October 2013

This report from ForcesWatch, shows that young soldiers recruited from disadvantaged backgrounds are substantially more likely than other troops to return from war experiencing problems with their mental health. It calls for the policy of recruiting from age 16 to be reviewed so that the greatest burden of risk is not left to the youngest, most vulnerable recruits to shoulder.

Download the full report (PDF 1294kb)

Download the Executive Summary (PDF 268kb)

read more >>
August 2013

This paper, published by ForcesWatch and Child Soldiers International, indicates that the risk of fatality in Afghanistan for British Army recruits aged 16 and completed training has been twice as high as it has for those enlisting at 18 or above. This increased risk reflects the disproportionately high number of 16 year olds who join front-line Infantry roles. This is mainly the result of recruitment policies which drive the youngest recruits into the Army’s most dangerous roles.

read more >>
2013

David Gee

in Sowing Seeds: The Militarisation of Youth and How to Counter It, War Resisters International, 2013

Military recruitment is deeply embedded in the class and economic structures of society. Its methods, thriving on hyper-masculine fantasies of soldiering and, in consumer-capitalist societies in particular, a creeping estrangement from our most humane values, can be understood as a form of human alienation. Even so, despite the continuing success of military recruitment worldwide, it is still perhaps the Achilles heel of militarism. War depends on large numbers of people agreeing to participate in mass killing. If we can work well with young people, their parents, educators and the media, so that equally large numbers pause to reflect on what soldiers are expected to do and why, cracks might open in militarism from the bottom up.

read more >>
June 2013

ForcesWatch's submission to the Defence Committee's inquiry Future Army 2020, which recomments an evaluation of the case for an independent review of the minimum age of recruitment into the Army with a view to recruiting only adults (aged 18 and above) in the future, looking at five reasons why the time is right for this.

read more >>

Sign the petition to raise the age of recruitment in 2014

We call on the UK Government to stop its policy of allowing 15 year olds to apply and 16 and 17 year olds to be recruited into the Armed Forces.
sign petition   download paper version   
sign here if not in the UK

Thinking of joining up / already in the forces

Before You Sign Up is a vital resource for those with questions about the consequences of enlisting in the military. At Ease is a voluntary organisation providing advice and information to members of the Armed Forces. For more information on these independent sources of advice and for other things to look at, see our before you enlist page.

also see

29/06/2014 Herald Scotland

THERE are hook the duck stalls, fairground rides and countless ice-cream vans. But these are not the most popular attractions with the thousands of small children who descended on Stirling yesterday for Armed Forces Day. They seemed to prefer handling the high-velocity sniper rifle, getting to grips with an 81mm mortar or staring down the sights of a Starstreak II missile launcher, with its operator on hand to boast of its "multi-target capability" and 7km range.

27/06/2014 British Forces News

BFBS ForcesWatch film

Earlier this week the Government pledged £1 million to expanding cadet forces in state secondary schools. But that Is being challenged by a new film called Engage. It has been commissioned by Forces Watch, a group which challenges the ethics of military recruitment.

03/06/2014 Open Democracy

Child Soldiers International: We now face the prospect of 16 year old girls joining the army in combat roles.

29/05/2014 The Guardian

Scheme piloted in Telford and Stoke can raise awareness of army reserve and make people more employable, says officer

25/05/2014 The Independent

MoD finds itself in the company of countries such as North Korea over use of teenage soldiers

25/05/2014 Child Soldiers International press release

Amid ongoing controversy around the MoD’s struggling recruitment campaigns for the armed forces, figures published this week reveal that the Army has resorted to increasing numbers of 16-year-olds in an attempt to fix the recruitment shortfall.

08/05/2014 The Guardian

Defence secretary Philip Hammond has signalled that women will be eligible to serve in combat roles in the British army for the first time.

06/05/2014 Vron Ware on DiscoverSociety.org

You know the British Army is experiencing a crisis in recruitment when they start to make noises about ending the ban on women in combat roles...

06/03/2014 Child Soldiers International press release

The Defence Select Committee has increased the pressure on the MoD to stop enlisting minors, in a report published today.

26/02/2014 Guardian

Letter from Child Soldiers International and 2 others about the dangers of joining at 16.

23/01/2014 BBC Online

Falklands War veteran Simon Weston says the latest defence cuts make him think that joining the forces is "not worth the risk".

23/01/2014 British Forces News

Forcing the unemployed to consider the Reserves: everyone who has made an appointment to see someone at a Job Centre and is 'deemed suitable' is sent along to the Army Careers Office

Risks

Significant risks

The majority of recent deaths in Afghanistan have been among the infantry. Younger recruits from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to join the infantry so they face the greatest risk. In addition to the risk of death or serious injury, many suffer post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental problems on return and experience other difficulties once back in civilian life, including harmful drinking and addiction, relationship breakdown, homelessness and a greater risk of suicide.

Dissatisfaction

An inability to leave the forces legally before several years have elapsed almost certainly contributes to the number of personnel going absent without leave (AWOL). In the last 10 years, between 2000 and 3000 serving personnel have gone AWOL each year, mainly from the army.Those going AWOL risk a criminal conviction and punishment by detention.

Some resort to self harm, taking drugs to get caught and suicide attempts in order to find a way out.

The Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Survey reports that only about one third of armed forces personnel felt valued. About one fifth were dissatisfied with their job – that is many thousands of serving personnel who are likely to want to leave if they were able to.

read more on risks

ForcesWatch's submission to the Defence Select Committee inquiry on Military Casualties draws on our research published in The Last Ambush and concludes that:

  • The continued targeted recruitment of minors from disadvantaged backgrounds deserves to be re-appraised from the perspective of long-term mental health risks that this group faces. 
  • Where possible, we hope that the development of military health research will better specify personnel who face higher and lower risks.
  • Future research could also better account for personnel who show some symptoms of mental ill-health but are not counted as full ‘cases’ of a specific ‘disorder’. 
  • A large number of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are likely to need mental health support services for years to come.  It falls to the state to take prime responsibility for ensuring that the long-term welfare needs of injured veterans are met.  That is an expensive undertaking, which it behoves any government to appreciate and accept before deciding whether to send young men and women to war
read more >>

This report from ForcesWatch, shows that young soldiers recruited from disadvantaged backgrounds are substantially more likely than other troops to return from war experiencing problems with their mental health. It calls for the policy of recruiting from age 16 to be reviewed so that the greatest burden of risk is not left to the youngest, most vulnerable recruits to shoulder.

Download the full report (PDF 1294kb)

Download the Executive Summary (PDF 268kb)

read more >>

This paper, published by ForcesWatch and Child Soldiers International, indicates that the risk of fatality in Afghanistan for British Army recruits aged 16 and completed training has been twice as high as it has for those enlisting at 18 or above. This increased risk reflects the disproportionately high number of 16 year olds who join front-line Infantry roles. This is mainly the result of recruitment policies which drive the youngest recruits into the Army’s most dangerous roles.

read more >>

ForcesWatch's submission to the Defence Committee's inquiry Future Army 2020, which recomments an evaluation of the case for an independent review of the minimum age of recruitment into the Army with a view to recruiting only adults (aged 18 and above) in the future, looking at five reasons why the time is right for this.

read more >>

Men who have served in the UK Armed Forces are more likely to commit a violent offence during their lifetime than their civilian counterparts, according to new research by King's Centre for Military Health Research at King's College London.

read more >>

Research from Homeless Links's Survey of Needs and Provison suggests that while levels of homelessness among ex-service personnel is not high, it is widespread. Approximately half the day centres in England reported that they work with some ex-service personnel, however second stage accommodation reported much lower rates. This suggests that ex-service personnel do face a high risk of falling into patterns of rough sleeping, albeit for fairly short periods.

Research by the Centre for Housing Policy at York University in 2008 found that an estimated six per cent of London’s non-statutory homeless population had served in the Armed Forces. Although this represented a substantial drop from the proportion (approximately one quarter) reported in the mid-1990s, it showed that a higher proportion of ex-service personnel have alcohol, physical and/or mental health problems compared to the rest of the rough sleeping population.

read more >>

These BBC radio programmes explore the effect of killing on people in the military, how many are unable to kill and others live with the effects of having killed for the rest of their lives.

read more >>

A study published in May 2010 called What are the consequences of deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan on the mental health of the UK armed forces? found that armed forces personnel engaged in combat suffered PTSD at over twice the rate of the general population and that the symptoms may start to present themselves for up to a decade after deployment. The occurrence of other mental disorders, at nearly 20%, is also higher than the general population.

Recent research using MoD information shows that young infantrymen are suffering most in Afghanistan. In 2009 there were 107 deaths, of which 71 (66%) were infantry personnel. The researchers found that the risk faced by the infantry in Afghanistan is more than 12 times that faced by the rest of the armed forces on average. “Infantry recruits tend to be younger and from more disadvantaged backgrounds than those joining most other branches of the armed forces. 

risks

Research from the UK and US about suicide and self-harm among those in the military and ex-military.

"The risk of suicide in men aged 24 y and younger who had left the Armed Forces was approximately two to three times higher than the risk for the same age groups in the general and serving populations"

"More U.S. military personnel have died by suicide since the war in Afghanistan began than have died fighting there."

read more >>

Sign the petition to raise the age of recruitment in 2014

We call on the UK Government to stop its policy of allowing 15 year olds to apply and 16 and 17 year olds to be recruited into the Armed Forces.
sign petition   download paper version   
sign here if not in the UK

Thinking of joining up / already in the forces

Before You Sign Up is a vital resource for those with questions about the consequences of enlisting in the military. At Ease is a voluntary organisation providing advice and information to members of the Armed Forces. For more information on these independent sources of advice and for other things to look at, see our before you enlist page.

more info & advice

For more on terms of service and the risks involved with being in the armed forces see guidance.

news on risks associated with the armed forces

31/07/2014 Birmingham Mail

An ex-Army school teacher in Solihull was given a life ban from teaching after punching and pulling the hair of students.

an ex-Army school teacher in Solihull is given a

life ban from teaching for punching and pulling the hair of students

13/05/2014 The Guardian

More than 1,600 service personnel required medical treatment in the past year

13/05/2014 Telegraph

Not all Afghan veterans will suffer from mental trauma – but we owe a debt to those who do

13/03/2014 Channel 4 news

Channel 4 report on how the MoD deal with bullying and assault in the armed forces and new indications that they recognise that the chain of command is part of the problem. Can it be tackled if the new Ombudsman that the MoD has announced will not be independent?

03/03/2014 BBC online

A second inquest into the death of Cpl Anne-Marie Ellement, who was found hanged, has found the effect of an alleged rape by two serviceman and bullying by colleagues were factors in her taking her own life.

03/03/2014 The Guardian

Informal and unaccountable 'in-house' procedures mean hundreds of allegations go unquestioned

03/02/2014 Telegraph

Inquest hears how The Royal Military Police woman complained to her mother that she was depressed after senior commanders decided not to pursue her claim

01/02/2014 The Guardian

Call for urgent overhaul of military justice as MP highlights plight of servicewomen alleging sexual offences

23/01/2014 BBC Online

Falklands War veteran Simon Weston says the latest defence cuts make him think that joining the forces is "not worth the risk".

21/01/2014 British Forces News

The Defence Committee hears evidence about mental health risks in the armed forces.

11/01/2014 BBC online

Ministers accept that the transition to civilian life can have its problems

26/11/2013 ForcesWatch comment

Many areas of society in the UK have seen a growing involvement and/or visibility of the military and military approaches in recent years - from schools, to local communities, to ‘militainment’ (military-themed films, TV programmes, video games etc). This process of privileging and prioritising the military is often referred to as ‘militarisation’; Cynthia Enloe, one of the foremost thinkers on the subject, states that “To become militarised is to adopt militaristic values and priorities as one's own, to see military solutions as particularly effective, to see the world as a dangerous place best approached with militaristic attitudes.”

In response to the recent developments in the UK, there has been an increase in critical academic studies, media coverage, and work by campaigning organisations and others on these issues. On 19 October 2013, around 70 academics, activists, campaigners, and writers came together in London at the Militarisation in Everyday Life in the UK conference organised by ForcesWatch.

08/11/2013 ForcesWatch comment

ForcesWatch are among 24 signatories of an open letter to Mark Francois MP, Minister of State for the Armed Forces which calls for an end to the recruitment of under-18s.. The signatories include the Church of Scotland, the Church in Wales, the Unitarian Church and Catholic, Baptist, Methodist and Quaker groups and Child Soldiers International. The letter notes that as the centenary of the outbreak of World War One approaches, the recruitment and deployment age of British soldiers is lower now than it was a century ago. The signatories call on the Ministry to raise the recruitment age to 18 as a “fitting memorial” to the thousands of young soldiers killed in World War One.

"We call for the minimum recruitment age to be returned to 18 years. This would be a fitting memorial to those thousands who, whether unlawfully recruited as minors during the First World War or recruited to fight in other conflicts, were exposed to death, injury and trauma that no child should ever experience."

08/11/2013 Wales Online

The Ministry of Defence has come under pressure from the Church in Wales and campaign group Child Soldiers International which is calling for an end to recruitment of under-18s to the Army

08/11/2013 Child Soldiers International

Recruitment of 16-year-olds down 40% on previous year; former Armed Forces minister says “Time is right” to review recruitment age

05/11/2013 livescience.com

"To extinguish a person's life is a very personal thing. While physically we don't experience the five senses when we engage a target — unlike [how] an infantryman might — in my experience, the emotional impact on the operator is equal."

01/11/2013 The Guardian

After telling the Guardian it would not be revisiting its recruitment policy the MoD is doing exactly that

28/10/2013 ForcesWatch

In response to The Last Ambush report, the Ministry of Defence has issued a statement containing some claims that are either inaccurate or not relevant to the report’s findings. Here we respond to each claim in turn.

28/10/2013 ForcesWatch press release

Young soldiers recruited from disadvantaged backgrounds are substantially more likely than other troops to return from war experiencing problems with their mental health, says a wide-ranging report published today by human rights group ForcesWatch.

28/10/2013 The Guardian

Britain is one of just 19 countries that still recruit 16-year-olds to the armed forces. A new report from ForcesWatch claims that younger recruits are more likely to suffer from PTSD, alcohol problems and suicide than those who join as adults. This video tells the story of David Buck who joined the army at 17 but now feels he was conned by misleading recruitment marketing.

28/10/2013 The Guardian

Former soldiers criticise MoD recruitment practices, with Britain one of only 19 countries to allow 16-year-olds to join up

28/10/2013 BBC Newsbeat article and video

Soldiers who join the Army as teenagers are more likely to suffer from mental health problems after being deployed, a new report suggests.

28/10/2013 Wales Online

Forces Watch report calls for the minimum age of recruitment to be raised to 18 to avoid exposing the youngest soldiers to the most trauma

28/10/2013 British Forces News film report

Young soldiers from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to suffer from mental health problems, according to a report out today published by lobby group Forces Watch.

23/10/2013 GQ Magazine

Killing with drones and PTSD

08/09/2013 The Mirror

“It all lasted about 10 minutes. If it was to happen in civvy street, all those lads in that picture would be arrested. But it’s a normal day in the Army.”

22/08/2013 ForcesWatch and Child Soldiers International press release

The risk of fatality in Afghanistan for recruits who enlisted into the British Army aged 16 and completed training has been twice as high as it has for those enlisting at 18 or above, according to a study published today on behalf of human rights groups Child Soldiers International and ForcesWatch. The authors believe the increased risk reflects the disproportionately high number of 16 year olds who join front-line Infantry roles.

22/08/2013 ForcesWatch

In response to the paper, ‘Young age at Army enlistment is associated with greater war zone risks’, published by ForcesWatch and Child Soldiers International (August 2013), the Ministry of Defence have issued a statement. Here we respond to their points.

22/08/2013 Evening Standard
Soldiers serving in Afghanistan who joined the Army at 16 are twice as likely to die than those who joined at 18 or above, a new report has claimed. Human rights groups Child Soldiers International and Forces Watch, who were behind the study, said the increased risk reflected the "disproportionately high" number of 16-year-olds who join front-line infantry roles.
15/03/2013 ForcesWatch comment

A study published in the Lancet called Violent offending by UK military personnel deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan has found that men in the UK armed forces are more likely to have been convicted of violent offences than their civilian peers. The study shows a strong link with age – that fighting and being traumatised by it tends to make those in younger age groups more likely to be violent afterwards.

15/03/2013 Reuters

British soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan - particularly young men and those who have seen active combat - are more likely to commit violent crimes than their civilian counterparts, according to research published on Friday.

15/02/2013 ForcesWatch comment

2012 was the the first year 'in at least a generation' in which a greater number of currently-serving US Army soldiers killed themselves (177) than were killed in active duty (176).

01/02/2013 The Guardian

Last year, more active-duty soldiers killed themselves than died in combat. And after a decade of deployments to war zones, the Pentagon is bracing for things to get much worse

19/12/2012 The Telegraph

More than 50 members of the UK Armed Forces have committed suicide since serving in the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, figures suggest.

14/12/2012 Owen Everett, ForcesWatch

A play about and starring injured veterans, and recent government data and policies, highlights their suffering.

29/11/2012 Telegraph

Bullying is perceived as “acceptable” among some in the Army, according to an internal report that found every single woman questioned said they had been the victim of unwanted sexual attention.

26/11/2012 Owen Everett, ForcesWatch

Each of the episodes from both series of Our War focuses on a different platoon or company, with varying missions during their tours in Helmand Province (which dated from between 2006 and 2012). Common themes to each of them include the youth of those involved, and the gravity of what is being asked of them.

26/11/2012 Telegragh

Military staff have failed to learn the lessons of the Deepcut Review and continue to turn a blind eye to the bullying and abuse of young recruits, a judge has claimed.

19/10/2012 Owen Everett, ForcesWatch

There are two plays on in London's West End currently that depict life in the UK military, and they do so critically. Our Boys', by Jonathan Lewis, at the Duchess Theatre is a revival, having first been performed in 1993. Sandi Toksvig's Bully Boy is at the St James Theatre. There is considerable similarity in the themes of the two plays: why young men join the armed forces, how they are often neglected when injured, and the horror of contemporary war in general.

17/09/2012 ForcesWatch comment

A parliamentary question reveals that during 2011 there were 228 allegations of bullying or harassment reported to the Service Complaints Commissioner. Another parliamentary question has identified that 'Over the past two and a half years, there have been 53 reported rapes and 86 reported sexual assaults in the Army, the Navy and the Air Force (one per week). Labour MP Madeleine Moon said she was concerned there was a 'culture of silence', with hundreds of victims never reporting attacks.

27/08/2012 Daily Mail

One rape or sexual assault is reported by members of the Armed Forces every week. The MP who released the figures believes they could be a huge underestimate, with the true figures closer to an attack a day.

23/07/2012 Time Magazine

More U.S. military personnel have died by suicide since the war in Afghanistan began than have died fighting there. The rate jumped 80% from 2004 to 2008, and while it leveled off in 2010 and 2011, it has soared 18% this year. Suicide has passed road accidents as the leading noncombat cause of death among U.S. troops.

02/05/2012 ForcesWatch comment

The deaths of 6 soldiers recently in one incident was particularly tragic because of how young some of them were. Four of the six who died were under 21 years old; one was only 19.

12/03/2012 Reuters

In the search for an explanation of why a U.S. soldier left his base in Afghanistan at night and killed 16 civilians in their homes, some experts have raised the possibility that mental illness or a brain injury played a role in the massacre.

12/03/2012 Huffington Post

The U.S. soldier who allegedly attacked and killed 16 Afghan civilians Sunday may have experienced a relatively rare state of mental derangement characterized by a blind killing rage, a disregard of pain and danger, and a total disconnection from his fellow troops, military mental health specialists said.

15/12/2011 The Guardian

Calls for Ministry of Defence to look at why 13% of military have a drink problem compared to 6% in general population

24/06/2011 BFBS

An inquiry into former armed service personnel in prison has found no evidence that having served for your country makes veterans more likely to end up in prison than civilians.

But the Howard League for Penal Reform report did find military veterans are twice as likely to become convicted sex offenders than members of the general public and that veterans are more likely to commit violent offences.

11/06/2011 BBC online

"We talk about destroying, engaging, dropping, bagging - you don't hear the word killing”. This article explores the effect of killing on people in the military, how many are unable to kill and others live with the effects of having killed for the rest of their lives. Also see The Kill Factor radio broadcasts.

01/04/2011 Daily Mail

Complaints of bullying, harassment, racism and sexism in the Armed Forces have leapt 50 per cent in a year, a report revealed yesterday.

10/11/2010 Ekklesia

Veterans in both the US and UK are more likely to serve prison sentences for violent and sexual offences than those in the civilian population.

04/04/2010 Sunday Times
Michael Clohessy returned from Iraq with a distinguished war record — and ended up in prison. Our jails are swollen with former soldiers. Why can’t they stay out of trouble?
16/11/2008 The Independent

A decade after Deepcut, MoD reports reveal failure to tackle problem affecting hundreds of trainees.

ethical dilemmas and conscientious objection

Taking an active part in conflict involves serious ethical questions regarding the justification of killing and the political purposes of military action. The armed forces does not adequately address these concerns during recruitment and for serving personnel.

Active service and exposure to warfare can radically alter a person’s values and beliefs and lead to the development of an objection to further service. Although the armed forces recognise the right of serving personnel to be discharged if they develop a conscientious objection, this right is not set out clearly in legislation, is not mentioned in the terms of service, the process of declaring an objection on moral grounds is very opaque and many, perhaps most, forces personnel are unaware of it.

The system for registering a conscientious objection needs to be far easier to access and the different types of conscientious objection need to be fully recognised.

There is evidence that many more soldiers have objected to recent military activity than officially recorded. Discharges due to conscientious objection are rare with personnel encouraged to suppress their concerns, be discharged on other grounds or find other ways of leaving such as going absent without leave. High profile cases of court martial and detention of those who have refused to obey orders based on moral objections are set to deter others and also hinder understanding of an individual’s right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

ForcesWatch are campaigning to increase awareness of conscientious objection and make the process of applying for it more transparent. See more here.

supporting conscientious objectors

Conscientious objector, Michael Lyons has been released (9 Nov 2011). Michael, a medic in the Royal Navy, was sentenced to 7 months detention on 5 July 2011, for 'wilful disobedience' for not taking part in rifle training while his request for discharge as a conscientious objector was proceeding.

Michael joined up at 18 after seeing a TV advert depicting the Navy providing humanitarian aid overseas. At that age he was unaware of the realities of war. His desire to help people and his growing awareness in current affairs, determined his application to become a conscientious objector.

On 13 Oct 2011, an appeal against Michael's detention was held at the High Court (read press release). Although the appeal was unsuccessful, the judges expressed some concerns about the procedure for conscientious objectors. Michael is still awaiting the full written judgement.

ForcesWatch, along with other groups, have provided support for Michael and his family during his case. Michael also received many, many letters and cards, from people who wished to show their support for him during his detention. He has now left the Navy and looks forward to pursuing a career in the medical services.

read on conscientious objection

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.'

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.

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.

January 2011

The armed forces recognise the right of serving personnel to be discharged if they develop a conscientious objection.  But this right is not set out clearly in legislation, is not mentioned in the terms of service and many, perhaps most, forces personnel are unaware of it.  The system for registering a conscientious objection is opaque and little information about it is easily available.  

A briefing outlining the issues and recommendations of how to make registering a conscientious objection accessible to armed forces personnel.

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.

October 2008

Tobias Pflüger, MEP

This publication gives a detailed overview of the right to conscientious objection in the countries of the European Union (including candidate countries), and as far as possible of practices regarding this right. It has become obvious that the situation regarding the right to conscientious objection within the European Union is not good. Most countries of the EU are far from conforming with the existing international standards: of the United Nations, the Council of Europe, or the European Parliament.

It looks at the situation country by county. For the UK it concludes that: 

  • The regulations governing the right to conscientious objection are not in the public domain, and information is difficult to obtain by members of the public, and also by members of the Armed Forces.
  • Decision making on an application for conscientious objection in the first instance is by the respective branch of the Armed Forces itself, and not by an independent body. Only the appeal body – the Advisory Committee on Conscientious Objectors – is an independent body.
November 2007

Informed ChoiceThe report finds that while "all personnel have the right of conscientious objection to military service...recruits are not routinely informed about this and few can be
expected to be aware of it."

The full report outlines:

  • the right of conscientious objection
  • the procedure
  • its limitations
  • conscientious objection and absense without leave
  • conscientious objection and post-combat mental health problems

It looks at the cases of:

  • Flight Lieutenant Dr Malcolm Kendall-Smith, RAF
  • Trooper Ben Griffin, SAS

see more on conscientious objection

Guardian Data has extracted details of 654 records from the National Archive to look at who conscientiously objected to the first world war and why

read more >>

ForcesWatch's submission to the Armed Forces Bill committee raising concerns relating to the human rights of service personnel with the Armed Forces Bill Committee and making a number of recommendations to bring the UK into line with current international standards and improve terms of service.

read more >>

winter soldierThe Winter Soldier project, organised by the United States based group, Iraq Veterans Against War, details eyewitness accounts from Iraq and Afghanistan. Much of the testimony focuses on the individual soldier’s experience and how they felt about their participation and actions. Six episodes have been created for web viewing (or can be downloaded), e.g. Broken Soldier which tells the stories of 3 soldiers.

This archive and educational materials resource has an extensive collection of materials which tell the stories of the men and women conscientious objectors of the 20th century. It documents their experiences, videos their recollections, promotes their ideals and publishes teaching resources.

read more >>

"An armed forces career involves ethical questions associated with the justification of killing, the risk of civilian casualties and the political purposes of military action. In order to make a responsible choice about enlistment, all potential recruits need to have considered these issues before accepting the legal obligations of service, and to continue to do so during their career. In omitting to mention ethical dilemmas, the army recruitment literature and applications process fail to support potential recruits in making an informed decision about enlistment in this respect."

Informed Choice? Armed forces recruitment practice in the United Kingdom

Need advice on conscientious objection?

Details and advice relating to how to register a conscientous objection can been found on our page for those already in the armed forces. This information has been difficult to access, even for serving personnel.

news on conscientious objection

01/10/2014 Watford Quakers

Our Education Campaign worker Owen Everett was interviewed for a new short film about conscientious objectors during the First World War, 'Watford's Quiet Heroes: Resisting the Great War'. His full interview, in which he talks about ForcesWatch's three main areas of work scrutinising UK military recruitment and the influence of the military and military approaches today, is available to watch on YouTube (it is also one of the extra features on the DVD, which can be bought here). You can also watch a video of Owen and others speaking on the relevance of the film and the questions it raises to the situation today, as part of a panel at the launch of the film, here

18/05/2013 Independent

From the Second World War refusenik to the 19-year-old Israeli, Holly Williams talks to five people who risked shame and suffering to take a stand as conscientious objector.

15/05/2013 Metro

Joe Glenton, a former soldier in the British army, has served his country and risked his life in Afghanistan. He’s also been called a coward. The reason? After returning to Britain after his first tour of Afghanistan, he became a conscientious objector (CO) and refused to go back.

12/10/2011 ForcesWatch press release

Navy medic Michael Lyons, a conscientious objector convicted of disobedience, who was detained in July, stripped of his rank and dismissed from the service, will be at the High Court 13 October to appeal his conviction. A recent European ruling recognises conscientious objection for first time as human right.

01/10/2011 Peace News

Lillian Lyons, wife of imprisoned conscientious objector Michael Lyons, describes why he refused the “learning to kill” course.

14/07/2011 The Friend

Within the same week, the UK conscientious objector Michael Lyons was detained for 7 months and a landmark ruling in favour of conscientious objection was made by the European Court of Human Rights.

07/07/2011 The Guardian

A third of army recruits are under 18. Is it right to target the young and the underachieving poor?

also see

13/01/2014 British Forces News

Human rights lawyers have drawn on the cases of more than 400 Iraqis, arguing they represent "thousands of allegations of mistreatment amounting to war crimes of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment".

12/11/2011 Daily Mail

"We can best pay tribute to their sacrifices by ensuring that in the future no British sailor, soldier, Marine or airman is asked to lay down their life except for the most urgent and honourable of causes."

11/06/2011 BBC online

"We talk about destroying, engaging, dropping, bagging - you don't hear the word killing”. This article explores the effect of killing on people in the military, how many are unable to kill and others live with the effects of having killed for the rest of their lives. Also see The Kill Factor radio broadcasts.

These BBC radio programmes explore the effect of killing on people in the military, how many are unable to kill and others live with the effects of having killed for the rest of their lives.

read more >>

Critical debate

There is concern that some government initiatives, such as Armed Forces Day, seek to manufacture a climate of uncritical national pride in the armed forces in order to garner public support for foreign policy. Unqualified support of the military and foreign policy stigmatises legitimate concerns about how young people are recruited for the armed forces within our communities, and limits debate on alternatives to war. Widespread critical awareness of the risks and legal obligations of an armed forces career is essential if young people are to make an informed, responsible choice about enlistment.

Critical debate: vital

  • Do government projects like Armed Forces Day honour armed forces personnel or seek to manufacture public support for military intervention overseas?
  • Does uncritical support for the military stifle concerns about how young people are recruited and limit debate on alternatives to war?
  • Is it appropriate for the military to be visiting schools when their objective is clearly stated as recruitment and influencing young people and should the military be involved in providing education alternatives?
  • Why is the UK the only EU country to recruit 16 year olds into the armed forces and one of very few to recruit 17 year olds? There is a growing international concensus the only adults should be recruited, yet the Ministry of Defence have denied that there is a need to review this policy.
  • In order to make informed and responsible choices about enlisting, young people and their parents need to be fully aware of the risks and legal obligations of military careers.
  • Armed conflict causes enormous damage to all involved; widespread public debate about the role of the armed forces and their recruitment practices is therefore vital.

 

See more on our work to change the law on recruitment of under-18s into the military and other issues

See more on our Military Out Of Schools campaign

See more on our work looking at the military in society more generally

Film launch and public meeting

Why does the military have a 'youth engagement' policy and why is the government promoting 'military ethos' within education? What is the impact of military activities taking place in schools? ForcesWatch have been working with the charity Headliners and a group of young people in London to produce this short film which explores these questions and gives teenagers the opportunity to voice their reaction to the military’s interest in their lives.

Watch the film and see more info here

Militarisation in everyday life in the UK
An event in October 2013 which brought together academics, writers, activists and campaigners who are researching, writing, campaigning on the implications of militarisation of UK society. See more here including background reading and films of presentations.