British sailor denied right to conscientious objection as world marks CO Day

12/05/2011

ForcesWatch press release


Only a few days after International Conscientious Objectors’ Day on Sunday (15 May), a member of the Royal Navy with moral objections to the war in Afghanistan will be tried for ‘wilful disobedience’.

British sailor denied right to conscientious objection as world marks CO Day

A British NGO has said that members of the UK armed forces are still denied full rights to conscientious objection.

Forces Watch pointed out that only a few days after International Conscientious Objectors’ Day on Sunday (15 May), a member of the Royal Navy with moral objections to the war in Afghanistan will be tried for ‘wilful disobedience’.

Michael Lyons, a naval medic, will face a court-martial in Portsmouth on Friday 20 May. He asked not to participate in rifle training last September after having applied for conscientious objector status. This application was turned down and was also rejected by the Advisory Committee on Conscientious Objection (ACCO) in December.

Michael’s objection was based on medical ethics, which led him to believe that injured people should be treated equally whatever their nationality. He also objects to the level of civilian casualties in Afghanistan. But ACCO told him his objection was “political” rather than “moral”.

Emma Sangster, Co-ordinator of Forces Watch, said:

“95 years ago, the UK became the first country in the world to formally recognise the right to conscientious objection in law. This is something we can be proud of. Yet this right still exists more in theory than in practice.

“Recent weeks have seen conscientious objectors imprisoned in Egypt and South Korea, but many people will be surprised to hear that the same thing may be about to happen in Britain.”

Forces Watch called on MPs to amend the Armed Forces Bill currently going through Parliament to strengthen the right to conscientious objection for serving personnel. They want to see straightforward procedures written in law and made known to personnel when they sign up.

They point out that, while the right currently exists in theory, many personnel are unaware of it and the procedures for applying for discharge are opaque and not accessible to serving personnel. It is not mentioned in the Enlistment Paper which new recruits sign.

Forces Watch have also called for greater recognition of the human rights of forces personnel, including freedom of expression and assembly, as well as a reduction in minimum lengths of service and an increase in the minimum age of recruitment from 16 to 18.

ENDS

Notes

1. ForcesWatch is a network launched in 2010 concerned with ethical issues around armed forces recruitment and the rights of forces personnel.

2. Serving members of the forces legally have a right to apply for discharge if they develop a conscientious objection. However, evidence from At Ease, a forces helpline, suggests that many are unaware of this right. For more information on conscientious objection, see, ‘Informed Choice? Armed forces recruitment practice in the United Kingdom’ http://www.informedchoice.org.uk/informedchoice/index.php

3. For more on the case of Michael Lyons, see ‘Navy medic faces 10-year sentence for ‘disobedience’ – http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/navy-medic-may-face-10year-sentence-for-disobedience-2254131.html and ‘Navy medic loses appeal over objections to Afghan duty’ –
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/defence/8209595/Navy-medic-loses-appeal-over-objections-to-Afghan-duty.html


Also see:

Bringing it up to date: 100 years on from the First World War

This article, summarising ForcesWatch work, was first published on the White Feather Diaries website.

The price of pacifism: Refusing to go to war is finally being recognised as a brave act

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.