International Conscientious Objectors' Day
Remembering all those who have refused to bear arms and participate in war, throughout history and today.
This page is supported by the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship, Conscience, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Humanists UK, Movement for the Abolition of War, Network for Peace, Pax Christi, Peace News, Peace Pledge Union, Quaker Peace and Social Witness, The Right to Refuse to Kill Group and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.
Join us on May 15th
Every year on May 15th we remember those who have established and are maintaining the right to refuse to kill, both in the past and today. Hundreds of people across the world are imprisoned or forced to flee their home countries for refusing to join the armed forces. On May 15th we stand in solidarity with them, as well as celebrating the memory of all those throughout history who have resisted conscription.
Keep an eye on this page and the PPU website for plans for 2021.
Scroll down for more information on campaigns and resources on conscientious objection. You can watch the National Online Ceremony 2020 below. If you have any stories or experiences of conscientious objection, or are planning a ceremony for International Conscientious Objectors' Day, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
National Online Ceremony 2020
Usually on May 15th ceremonies are held around the UK, but due to the Coronavirus outbreak all ceremonies for 2020 all took place online. Events were held by groups around the UK, including in Leicester and Edinburgh.
Instead of the usual ceremony in Tavistock Square in London in front of the Conscientious Objectors' Commemorative Stone, on 15th May 2020 hundreds of people attended the National Online Ceremony. Among them was Donald Saunders, 95, who was a British conscientious objector in World War Two.
Niat Chefena Hailemariam from Network of Eritrean Women spoke about military service in Eritrea, which is compulsory for both men and women. “There are many Eritreans who for moral or religious reasons have refused to join the military," she told the ceremony. "Their objection has caused them to flee, and some of them have been imprisoned indefinitely for years and years... Many have died and some have developed respiratory and skin disorders... They have friends and family who miss them dearly.”
During the event, the actor Michael Mears performed a new piece based on the testimonies of conscientious objectors during World War Two, including British objector Dennis Waters and Austrian objector Franz Jägerstätter. He has also filmed, during lockdown at home, a version of his play This Evil Thing on Britain's conscientious objectors in the First World War, which is now available online.
Resources on Conscientious Objection
Read the story of the resistance to the 1914-1919 war. The Men Who Said No explores the experiences and historical context of the men and women who put their lives on hold, first to stop war from happening and then refusing to participate in it.
WRI maintains a global database on current conscientious objection. This year they are focussing on Conscientious Objection and Asylum. Many refugees are forced to flee due to military recruitment in countries that don't recognise the right to conscientious objection.
This educational resource created by the Peace Education Network helps children explore what they believe to be right through stories and activities. It is designed for a school assembly, but can be adapted for home use.
This resource by the Peace Pledge Union, aimed at secondary aged students, tells the story of conscientious objectors and the No Conscription Fellowship in WW1. Students are encouraged to explore the concept of 'heroism' through case studies (can be completed individually or as a group).
This powerful one-man play written and performed by Michael Mears, delves into the lives of British conscientious objectors from the First World War. Following acclaim at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2016 and tours in the UK and USA, a special performance of the play, filmed at home during the Coronavirus outbreak, is now available online in six chapters.
Unveiled in 1994, this monument pays tribute to conscientious objectors around the world, past and present. A ceremony is held at the stone every year on 15th May to commemorate their lives and resistance.
Learn about plans for the Opposing War Memorial in Princes St Gardens, Edinburgh, which will commemorate Conscientious Objectors and all who oppose war. You can donate to help establish the memorial here.
This account by Richard Hale explains why he became a conscientious objector, in line with his humanist beliefs, when called up for National Service in the aftermath of the Second World War.
A thirty minute documentary made by Watford Quakers telling the dramatic and largely forgotten stories of some of the men who refused to fight in WW1.
Over 130 Scots became COs during the First World War. Most were imprisoned. Read about their lives and convictions in this thoroughly researched publication by the Edinburgh Peace & Justice Centre and the Workers’ Educational Association Scotland.
Listen to and learn peace songs by singer-songwriter Sue Gilmurray. The Ones Who Said No is often sung on International Conscientious Objectors' Day.
Since 1982 people around the world have remembered and marked their support for conscientious objectors on the 15th May, through vigils, demonstrations and ceremonies.
This short film inspired by the poem by Edna St Vincent Millay, provides a thought-provoking starting point for wider discussion and reflection. With original music by Thomas Gray and Soprano Rowan Fenner. Directed by Colin Stevens (aka Steven Carne).