Professional soldiers and the right to conscientious objection in the European Union
October 2008

Co in the EUTobias Pflüger, MEP

From the Preface:

With ... increased military engagements the right to conscientious objection – which has been achieved in all EU countries, at least for conscripts, as a result of decades of struggle by CO movements – is even more important. Even though the European Union officially adheres to the right to conscientious objection, the practice is quite different.

The end of conscription also means the end of the right to conscientious objection, because most countries recognised and recognise this right only incompletely and just for conscripts. Only Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom recognise that professional soldiers can turn into conscientious objectors, but there are a range of problems in practice.

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.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe demanded from member states on 24 March 2006 in a decision on human rights in the Armed Forces to “introduce into their legislation the right to be registered as a conscientious objector at any time, namely before, during or after implementation of military service, as well as the right of career servicemen to obtain the status of conscientious objector”. Already the Council of Europe recommendation 1581 of 2001 suggested to member states to recognise the right to conscientious objection for professional soldiers. This right can be a potential obstacle to the increasingly wild military adventures of the European Union. It is therefore necessary that after the abolishing or suspension of conscription the peace and anti-war movements, and especially the CO movements, focus their work more on the right to conscientious objection for professional soldiers, and develop an active counter-recruitment work, and work with soldiers. This publication offers background information for this work.

Conscientious objection and the UK (from the above report)

From the report:

  • 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.