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Israeli refusenik calls for an end to the persecution of conscientious objectors worldwide

CO Stone inscription

Israeli refusenik calls for an end to the persecution of conscientious objectors worldwide

An Israeli conscientious objector, due to speak at an event in London today to mark International Conscientious Objectors' Day, has called for support and solidarity for conscientious objectors facing persecution around the world.

In the many countries where there is conscription, people refusing military service are often imprisoned or forced to become refugees.

The Israeli conscientious objector, Or, has drawn attention to this widespread human rights abuse. She herself has served multiple prison sentences for her refusal to join the Israeli military.

The call comes as International Conscientious Objectors' Day (15th May) is marked around the world, to raise awareness of the struggles of conscientious objectors and to send them a message of solidarity.

The current war in Israel and Gaza has drawn fresh attention to the stance of Israeli conscientious objectors, who have spoken out against the assault on Gaza and the system of Israeli apartheid and occupation. Eighteen-year-old Tal Mitnick was the first to declare a conscientious objection since October last year and has since been followed by several others.

Moreover, according to the Refuser Solidarity Network, hundreds more Israelis have refused to participate in the war, both conscripts and reservists. Many, knowing the consequences of conscientious objection, seek exemption on mental health grounds.

Young Israelis who declare a conscientious objection are aggressively questioned and can be given repeated sentences in military prison, whilst often facing stigmatisation and ostracism from wider society.

Conscientious objection is recognised a human right, covered under ‘the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion’ in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

However this right is seldom fully upheld by governments. In both Russia and Ukraine, for instance, conscientious objectors face imprisonment for refusing to fight.

In Russia their treatment is especially severe, with conscientious objectors receiving up to ten years in prison. Because of the risks they face, the majority of conscientious objectors to the fighting are likely to be among the hundreds of thousands of people who have left both countries since the Russian invasion.

Or, who is a member of the Israeli feminist and anti-militarist organisation New Profile, said: “Most conscientious objectors stay under the radar because of the social consequences of refusing to join the army.”

She added: “Supporting conscientious objectors for me is to fight against militarisation around the world, is to speak up for what they believe in, whether they are in Israel, Turkey, Myanmar, North Korea, South Korea, Finland or Iran. To remember the young people making brave choices, saying NO I am not going to kill or get killed, I choose peace.”

Members of the UK’s leading pacifist organisation, the Peace Pledge Union, have welcomed Or’s comments. They have previously called on the UK government to offer asylum to Russians fleeing conscription and defended the rights of British COs.  

The event where Or will speak today will take place in London in front of the memorial to conscientious objectors in Tavistock Square. It is organised by thirteen peace and human rights organisations and open to anyone to join either in person or online.

Attendees will also hear from Semih Sapmaz from War Resisters' International, a global coalition of organisations supporting conscientious objectors around the world.

Further events to mark International Conscientious Objectors' Day will take place in towns and cities across the UK including Edinburgh, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester and Wokingham, as well as at the National Memorial Arboretum.

The Peace Pledge Union is the British section of War Resisters' International, and works to support conscientious objectors with other allied organisations in Israel, Russia, Ukraine and many other countries where conscientious objectors face persecution.

Please join us for the National Ceremony for International Conscientious Objectors' Day, in person in London or online, from 1pm today.