A Conscientious Objector's Guide to the International Human Rights System

United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC)

Summary

In 2006 the The United Nations Human Rights Council replaced the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. The Council is an inter-governmental body within the UN human rights system made up of 47 States elected by the UN General Assembly responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe. Its main purpose is addressing situations of human rights violations and making recommendations on them. Its mandate was established by General Assembly resolution 60/251 from 15 March 2006.
The Council meets in regular session three times annually and in special session as needed, and reports to the General Assembly.

In 2007 the Council adopted its “Institution-building package” which established a system of four subsidiary mechanisms, of which the following two are most relevant for NGOs and individuals working on conscientious objection to military service:

  • The Universal Periodic Review mechanism assesses the human rights situations in all 192 UN Member States.
  • The UN Special Procedures established by the former Commission on Human Rights and assumed by the Council.

For a list of all member states please go to: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/membership.htm

On 5 July 2012, during its 20th session, the Human Rights Council passed a resolution on conscientious objection to military service, “recalling all previous relevant resolutions and decisions, including Human Rights Council decision 2/102 of 6 October 2006, and Commission on Human Rights resolutions 2004/35 of 19 April 2004 and 1998/77 of 22 April 1998, in which the Commission recognized the right of everyone to have conscientious objection to military service as a legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as laid down in article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and general comment No. 22 (1993) of the Human Rights Committee”.

Interpretations

Title Date
Conscientious objection to military service (Resolution A/HRC/RES/20/2) 05/07/2012

recalling all previous relevant resolutions and decisions, including Human Rights Council decision 2/102 of 6 October 2006, and Commission on Human Rights resolutions 2004/35 of 19 April 2004 and 1998/77 of 22 April 1998, in which the Commission recognized the right of everyone to have conscientious objection to military service as a legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as laid down in article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and general comment No. 22 (1993) of the Human Rights Committee”.

Recognition of CO Recognised
Length/terms of service Recognised
Discrimination Recognised
Time limits Recognised
in-service objection Recognised
Selective objection Recognised
Repeated punishment Recognised
CO to military taxation Neutral
Conscientious objection to military service (Resolution 2004/35) 19/04/2004

The resolution recalled all previous resolutions of the Human Rights Commission and especially “calls upon States that have not yet done so to review their current laws and practices in relation to conscientious objection to military service in the light of its resolution 1998/77, taking account of the information contained in the report”;
In addition, it “encourages States, as part of post‑conflict peace‑building, to consider granting, and effectively implementing, amnesties and restitution of rights, in law and practice, for those who have refused to undertake military service on grounds of conscientious objection”.

Recognition of CO Recognised
Length/terms of service Recognised
Discrimination Recognised
Time limits Recognised
in-service objection Recognised
Selective objection Recognised
Repeated punishment Recognised
Conscientious objection to military service (Resolution 2002/45) 23/04/2002

The resolution recalls the previous resolutions of the Human Rights Commission regarding conscientious objections to military service and especially takes “note of recommendation 2 made by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in its report (see E/CN.4/2001/14, chap. IV, sect. B), aimed at preventing the judicial system of States from being used to force conscientious objectors to change their convictions”.

Recognition of CO Recognised
Length/terms of service Recognised
Discrimination Recognised
Time limits Recognised
in-service objection Recognised
Selective objection Recognised
Repeated punishment Recognised
Conscientious objection to military service (Resolution 2000/34) 20/04/2000

The resolution recalls the previous resolutions of the Human Rights Commission on the subject of conscientious objection to military service and “calls upon States to review their current laws and practices in relation to conscientious objection to military service in the light of its resolution 1998/77”.

Recognition of CO Recognised
Length/terms of service Recognised
Discrimination Recognised
Time limits Recognised
in-service objection Recognised
Selective objection Recognised
Repeated punishment Recognised
Conscientious objection to military service (Resolution 1998/77) 22/04/1998

The resolution recalls the early resolutions of the Human Rights Commission on the subject of conscientious objection to military service, and highlights:

  • article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognizes the right of everyone to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution”;
  • impartial decision making on applications for conscientious objection and the “requirement not to discriminate between conscientious objectors on the basis of the nature of their particular beliefs”;
  • that “States should (...) refrain from subjecting conscientious objectors to imprisonment and to repeated punishment for failure to perform military service, and (...) that no one shall be liable or punished again for an offence for which he has already been finally convicted or acquitted in accordance with the law and penal procedure of each country”;
  • that States, in their law and practice, must not discriminate against conscientious objectors in relation to their terms or conditions of service, or any economic, social, cultural, civil or political rights”;
  • asylum for “conscientious objectors compelled to leave their country of origin because they fear persecution owing to their refusal to perform military service when there is no provision, or no adequate provision, for conscientious objection to military service”.
Recognition of CO Recognised
Length/terms of service Recognised
Discrimination Recognised
Time limits Recognised
in-service objection Recognised
Repeated punishment Recognised
Conscientious objection to military service (Resolution 1995/83) 08/03/1995

Recalling its earlier resolutions, the Commission “draws attention to the right of everyone to have conscientious objections to military service as a legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as laid down in article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights” and “affirms that persons performing military service should not be excluded from the right to have conscientious objections to military service”.

The Commission calls on States to introduce “within the framework of their national legal system, independent and impartial decision-making bodies with the task of determining whether a conscientious objection is valid in a specific case”.

Recognition of CO Recognised
Length/terms of service Recognised
Discrimination Recognised
in-service objection Recognised
Conscientious objection to military service (resolution 1993/84) 10/03/1993

The Commission recalls its previous resolutions on the subject and “appeals to States, if they have not already done so, to enact legislation and to take measures aimed at exemption from military service on the basis of a genuinely held conscientious objection to armed service”.

Recognition of CO Recognised
Length/terms of service Recognised
Discrimination Recognised
Conscientious objection to military service (Resolution 1991/65) 06/03/1991

The Commission reaffirms “its resolution 1989/59 adopted without a vote on 8 March 1989”.

Recognition of CO Recognised
Length/terms of service Recognised
Discrimination Recognised
Conscientious objection to military service (Resolution 1989/59) 08/03/1989

The Commission “appeals to States to enact legislation and to take measures aimed at exemption from military service on the basis of a genuinely held conscientious objection to armed service”.

Recognition of CO Recognised
Length/terms of service Recognised
Discrimination Recognised
Conscientious objection to military service. (Resolution 1987/46) 10/03/1987

The Commission recognised “that conscientious objection to military service derives from principles and reasons of conscience, including profound convictions, arising from religious, ethical, moral or similar motives”, and appealed “to States to recognize that conscientious objection to military service should be considered a legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”.

It recommended “to States with a system of compulsory military service, where such provision has not already been made, that they consider introducing various forms of alternative service for conscientious objectors which are compatible with the reasons for conscientious objection, bearing in mind the experience of some States in this respect, and that they refrain from subjecting such persons to imprisonment”.

Recognition of CO Recognised

Pages

Case law

None