Conscientious objectors still facing uncertain futureNenad, a recruit in the Yugoslav army, abandoned his unit and fled to an uncertain future after he witnessed the horrors of the war in Kosovo and decided he would not be party to human rights violation. If arrested, he faces up to five years' imprisonment.
Months after the end of the Kosovo conflict the men who followed their consciences and refused to take part in it as soldiers in the Yugoslav army are still paying a high price for their convictions, Amnesty International said today.
Among them are men whose conscientiously held convictions and beliefs prevent them from bearing arms and others, like Nenad, who would be ready to defend their country but refuse to take part in conflicts that they regard as unjust.
Eight months after the publication of its report on the plight of conscientious objectors to military service in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), Amnesty International is today releasing new information showing that they are finding themselves with little protection, either in the FRY or in the countries where they sought refuge, mostly NATO member states.
"While NATO states encouraged Yugoslav soldiers and reservists to desert, they are now failing to provide those who did so with adequate protection," Amnesty International said.
The organization is calling on the authorities in countries of refuge not to return any of those men to the FRY where they face arrest, prosecution or imprisonment, and to grant them effective and durable protection.
Meanwhile, in Serbia indictments for draft evasion or desertion are still arriving at the homes of conscientious objectors who have already fled, and trials against them are carried out in absentia.
"Without an amnesty and changes in the legislation, the hopes that conscientious objectors can return home without fear of imprisonment are extremely small," Amnesty International said.
The organization is urging the FRY authorities to release all conscientious objectors, to suspend legal proceedings against draft evaders or deserters who can be recognized as conscientious objectors and to bring legislation into line with international standards on conscientious objection.
"A positive step has been taken by the Serbian authorities with regard to at least 10 Jehovah's Witness objectors, sentenced under special provisions for times of war, who were released or had their sentences effectively reduced to those imposed during peacetime," Amnesty International said.
"However, a change in the law is needed to ensure that these men are not called up again and risk further imprisonment," the organization added.
Amnesty International, International Secretariat, 1 Easton Street, WC1X 8DJ, London, United Kingdom
Greek Conscientious ObjectorsReport on the Situtation of the Greek Conscientious Objectors for the EBCO Board Meeting on June 17th, 2000
In the last elections PASOK won again altough with a few votes difference. So regarding the situation of COs we are, more or less, at the same point.
We know that there are ready some changes in the law regarding CO, but we don't know what these changes would be. We hope, but we are not sure, that these changes will be in the new conscription law that is not going to reach the Parliament before this Autumn, according to Mr. Tsochotzopoulos (who is again the Minister of National Defense).
Among the articles that are proposed to be reformed is article 4 that states "Every Greek that can bear arms must contribute to the defense of the country". PASOK proposed an addition saying that there can be exceptions for conscientious objectors according to certain law. Because in the first time the votes in favor of this change were 170 now it needs at least 180 votes in favor, out of 300. This is very difficult as New Democracy party has 126 members in the Parliament and the first time voted against it. Also at least few of the 157 PASOK members will vote against or will absent, and we don not know what the 11 Communists will do (they absent the first time). Of course, we are sure that that the 6 member of SYNASPISMOS will vote in favor.
Cases - Trials
Lazaros Petromelidis' trial, that was scheduled for June 15th, was postponed for the next year due to medical reasons of the defendant. His lawyer remind to the court that Petromelidis has also appealed to the Council of State (Highest Administrative Court), and so the military court decided to let some time pass for the decision of the Council of State. In the meanwhile a new prosecution against Petromelidis began in March and we expect that later there will be a third one.
The next trial is on June 27th and regards Nikos Karanikas. As you know he is accused for desertion. This trial will take place, as it has been postponed four times. Hans Dijkman is already in Greece, but it will be very good to have a member of the European Parliament form abroad (we hope that M. Papayiannakis will testify) and we need your help on this.
In the meanwhile Y. Chryssovergis', L. Petromelidis', and Yiorgos Kostoulas' (a member of our Association that his application for CO status was rejected) appeals to the Council of State were postponed or we expect that will be postponed by the court itself.
The situation of the COs performing their civilian service is better than some months ago but the Committee that examines the applications is systematically rejects the CO status to those who are not religious objectors or not baptized in the Jehova's Witnesses Church, even if the came from a JW family and they claim to be religious objectors.
Generally we think that the situation is stagnated. Marginal improvements of civilian service in the one hand, and attempts for limitation of the number of COs by rejecting the status to some of them on the other. The authorities, also, do not want to have political COs in prison but they do not wish to resolve the problems of the "old" (before the 1997 law) objectors.