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

Human Rights Council Special Procedures

Summary

“Special procedures” is the name given to the mechanisms of the Human Rights Council to monitor human rights violations in specific countries or examine global human rights issues. There are basically two different mandates:

The principal functions of Special Procedures are:

  • analysing the relevant thematic issue or country situation, including visits to countries;
  • advising on the measures which should be taken by the relevant Government(s) or other actors;
  • alerting the UN agencies, in particular the Human Rights Council, and the public to the need to address specific situations and issues;
  • advocating on behalf of victims of human rights violations through measures such as urgent action and by calling upon States to respond to specific allegations and provide redress;
  • activating and mobilising the international and national communities and the Human Rights Council to address particular human rights issues, and to encourage cooperation among Governments, civil society, and inter-governmental organisations;
  • following up on recommendations

In individual cases they can send so called communications (urgent appeals and letters of allegation) on alleged violations of human rights to the Governments concerned.
They present their annual reports, as well as reports on country visits and thematic studies to the Human Rights Council and selected documents to the General Assembly. All special procedures jointly produce a communications report for each session of the Human Rights Council, which includes letters of allegation and urgent appeals, and responses received from governments.

1. Likely results from use of mechanism

In individual cases, the mandate holder may send either an urgent appeal or a letter of allegation (of human rights violations) to the Government of the state concerned. Depending on the response received from the Government, the mandate holder will decide on further steps to take.
As a general rule, the existence and content of both urgent appeals and letters of allegation remain confidential until a summary of such communications and the replies received from the State concerned are included in the joint communications report of all special procedures to the Human Rights Council. The joint communications report also includes links to the original urgent appeal or letter of allegation, and – if available – to the Government's response.

The Special Procedures can be used for complaints about state law and practice. The mandate holder may raise these issues as and when he or she thinks it appropriate.
The mandate holders of the Special Procedures conduct country visits, during which they meet with representatives of the State, but also with NGOs. The Special procedures can only visit countries which have agreed to their request for invitation. Some countries have issued "standing invitations", which means that they are, in principle, prepared to receive a visit from any special procedures mandate holder. As of the end of December 2011, 90 States had extended standing invitations to the special procedures. After their visits, special procedures' mandate-holders issue a mission report containing their findings and recommendations.

2. To which States does the mechanism apply?

All states

3. Who can submit information?

Everybody.

4. When should information be submitted?

Information on individual cases should be submitted as soon as possible, especially in cases where an urgent action by the Special Procedure is desired.
For information on State law and practice information can be submitted at any time. It is also advisable to watch out for visits of a relevant Special Procedure to your country, and to submit information timely before a scheduled visit, and to attempt to schedule a meeting during the visit. A coalition of NGOs might have a higher chance to have a meeting during a country visit than an individual NGO so far unknown to the Special Procedure.

5. Are there any special rules of procedure?

Information can be submitted by post or electronically, but anonymous submissions will not be considered.
In individual cases, submissions to the Special Procedures are not a quasi-judicial procedure, which means that they are not meant to replace national or international legal procedures. Therefore, there is no need for domestic remedies to be exhausted.
Allegations of human rights violations should contain clear and concise details of the details of the case, the name and other identifying information regarding the individual victim(s), information as to the circumstances including – if available – date and place of incidents and alleged perpetrators, suspected motives, and any steps already taken at the national, regional or international level regarding the case(s).

6. What happens to a submission (how long will it take)?

Mandate holders of the Special Procedures may acknowledge receipt of information from individuals and organisations, but they often do not do so. They are also not required to inform those who provide information about any subsequent measures they have taken – and they often don't.
In case of request for an urgent action, the Quick Response Desk of the Special Procedures Division of the OHCHR coordinates the sending of communications by all mandates. Governments are generally requested to provide a substantive response to urgent appeals within 30 days. Only in appropriate cases a mandate holder may decide to make such urgent appeals public by issuing a press release.
Governments are usually requested to respond to letters of allegation of human rights violations within two months.
A summary of urgent appeals and letters of allegation and responses from Governments is usually included in the joint communications report of the Special Procedures to the Human Rights Council. This will include the names of the victims, unless there are specific reasons why the names of the victims should remain confidential. In this case, explain those reasons in your initial submission.
The joint communications reports can be accessed at http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/Pages/CommunicationsreportsSP.aspx.

Contact Details: 
How to send information on alleged human rights violations to Special Procedures: Special Procedures Division c/o OHCHR-UNOG 8-14 Avenue de la Paix 1211 Geneva 10 Switzerland Fax: +4122 917 90 06 For urgent actions: E-mail: urgent-action@ohchr.org http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/chr/special/index.htm For further information, or to submit information (other than specific information on alleged human rights violations), please contact: spdinfo@ohchr.org
Further Reading: 

Interpretations

Title Date
General Comment 22 on Article 18 of the ICCPR 13/07/1993

General Comment 22 emphasises the broad scope of the freedom of thought, and clarifies that article 18 protects all form of religion, including the right not to profess any religion or belief.
However, manifestation of religion or beliefs may be limited on the grounds of the protection of others (also article 20: prohibition of propaganda for war, hatred or discrimination).
No restrictions on other grounds may be imposed “even if they would be allowed as restrictions to other rights protected in the Covenant, such as national security”. (reiterated in General Comment 29)
(…) while the ICCPR does not explicitly refer to the right to conscientious objection, that right can be derived from article 18 “inasmuch as the obligation to use lethal force may seriously conflict with the freedom of conscience and the right to manifest one's religion or belief” (para. 11).

Recognition of CO Recognised
Discrimination Recognised
Reports

None

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

Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief

Summary

The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief is an independent expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council. It was formerly known as the Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance and was originally created by the UN Commission on Human Rights.
The mandate is primarily based on article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 18 of the ICCPR and the 1981 Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.
The mandate holder is appointed to identify and examine incidents and governmental actions in all parts of the world which are inconsistent with the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion or belief. The Special Rapporteur recommends remedial measures as appropriate which includes transmitting urgent appeals (to try to prevent human rights violations) and letters of allegation (about events which have occurred) to States. Furthermore the mandate holder undertakes fact-finding country visits and submits reports on them to the Human Rights Council and General Assembly as well as annual reports, highlighting state practice, trends and individual cases, and thematic studies.
As conscientious objection as a human rights falls under the right to freedom of thought, religion, or belief, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Beliefs has the mandate most closely related to conscientious objection to military service, and takes up most regularly issues of conscientious objection. Cases of non-religious conscientious objectors might however, be a little more difficult, although theoretically they fall under the mandate.

1. Likely results from use of mechanism

a) Individual cases

After the Special Rapporteur has received information on cases of alleged human rights violations, the mandate holder might either send an urgent appeal or a letter of allegation to the Government of the state concerned. Depending on the response received from the Government, the Special Rapporteur will decide on further steps to take.
As a general rule, the existence and content of both urgent appeals and letters of allegation remain confidential until a summary of such communications and the replies received from the State concerned are included in the joint communications report of all special procedures to the Human Rights Council. The joint communications report also includes links to the original urgent appeal or letter of allegation, and – if available – to the Government's response.

b) State law and practice

The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Beliefs also receives information on state law and practice, and raises issues with a state concerned either in communications, or during a state visit. The Special Rapporteur might make recommendations in the Annual Report, or in a report on a state visit. For example, in the interim report to the UN General Assembly from July 2009 the Special Rapporteur noted that “Conscientious objection to perform military service is another issue of concern in some States. The Special Rapporteur welcomes the fact that a growing number of States have in their laws exempted from compulsory military service citizens who genuinely hold religious or other beliefs that forbid the performance of military service and replaced compulsory military service with alternative national service. However, certain domestic legislation remains problematic in terms of the eligibility to and conditions of conscientious objection. The Special Rapporteur recommends a thorough review of these laws from the perspective of their compliance with international standards and best practices.” (see http://wri-irg.org/node/20274)
Following a visit to Azerbaijan, the Special Rapporteur “urge(d) the Government to honour its commitment made before the Council of Europe and to adopt legislation on alternative service in pursuance to the provisions of its own Constitution, which guarantees such a right.” (see http://wri-irg.org/node/20254) Following a country visit to Turkmenistan, the Special Rapporteur recommended: “The Government should ensure that conscientious objectors in Turkmenistan, in particular Jehovah’s Witnesses who refuse to serve in the army due to their religious beliefs, be offered an alternative civilian service which is compatible with the reasons for conscientious objection. As such, the Government should also revise the Conscription and Military Service Act which refers to the possibility of being sanctioned twice for the same offence. The Special Rapporteur would like to recall that according to the principle of “ne bis in idem”, as enshrined in article 14 (7) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, no one shall be liable to be tried or punished again for an offence for which he or she has already been convicted or acquitted in accordance with the law and penal procedure of each country.” (see http://wri-irg.org/node/20252)

2. To which States does the mechanism apply?

All States

3. Who can submit information?

Everybody

4. When to submit information?

Information on individual cases should be submitted as soon as possible, especially in cases where an urgent action by the Special Procedure is desired.
For information on State law and practice information can be submitted at any time. It is also advisable to watch out for a visit of the Special Rapporteur to your country, and to submit information timely before a scheduled visit, and to attempt to schedule a meeting during the visit. A coalition of NGOs might have a higher chance to have a meeting during a country visit than an individual NGO so far unknown to the Special Rapporteur.

5. Are there any special rules of procedure?

Information can be submitted by post or electronically, but anonymous submissions will not be considered.
In individual cases, submissions to the Special Procedures are not a quasi-judicial procedure, which means that they are not meant to replace national or international legal procedures. Therefore, there is no need for domestic remedies to be exhausted.
Allegations of human rights violations should contain clear and concise details of the details of the case, the name and other identifying information regarding the individual victim(s), information as to the circumstances including – if available – date and place of incidents and alleged perpetrators, suspected motives, and any steps already taken at the national, regional or international level regarding the case(s).
To facilitate the submission of allegations of human rights violations, the Special Rapporteur has produced a model questionnaire, which is available at http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomReligion/Pages/Complaints.aspx.

6. What happens to the submission (how long will it take)?

The Special Rapporteur may acknowledge receipt of information from individuals and organisations if requested to do so, but they often this does not happen. The Special Rapporteur is also not required to inform those who provide information about any subsequent measures they have taken.
In case of request for an urgent action, the Quick Response Desk of the Special Procedures Division of the OHCHR coordinates the sending of communications by all mandates. Often communications are sent as joint communications of several special procedures. Governments are generally requested to provide a substantive response to urgent appeals within 30 days. Only in appropriate cases a mandate holder may decide to make such urgent appeals public by issuing a press release.
Governments are usually requested to respond to letters of allegation of human rights violations within two months.
A summary of urgent appeals and letters of allegation and responses from Governments is usually included in the joint communications report of the Special Procedures to the Human Rights Council. This will include the names of the victims, unless there are specific reasons why the names of the victims should remain confidential. In this case, explain those reasons in your initial submission.
The joint communications reports can be accessed at http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/Pages/CommunicationsreportsSP.aspx.
With the introduction of the joint communications report, the Special Rapporteur does no longer add observations to urgent appeals or letters of allegations, and responses received from governments.

7. History of the use of the mechanism.

The special rapporteur for religious intolerance has the mandate most closely related to conscientious objection to military service and is the thematic mechanism to most regularly taking up issues of conscientious objection.
The Special Rapporteur has been informed of the violation of the right to conscientious objection of individual conscientious objectors in several cases, such as cases from Armenia, Turkmenistan, Eritrea, Azerbaijan, among others (see “case law”, below). The issue of conscientious objection has also been raised by the Special Rapporteur during several country visits.
In the past, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief has drawn governments' attention to explicit international law (see “legal basis”), and urged governments to comply with international standards by recognising the right to conscientious objection. In several reports, the Rapporteur stressed 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.

Contact Details: 
The complaint should be sent to: Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief c/o Office Of the High Commissioner for Human Rights United Nations at Geneva 8-14 Avenue de la Paix 1211 Geneva 10 Switzerland Fax: (+41 22) 917 90 06 E-mail: freedomofreligion@ohchr.org or to urgent-action@ohchr.org (please include in the subject box: Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief) Model Questionnaire in Englisch: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/religion/docs/questionnaire-e.doc

Interpretations

Title Date
General Comment 22 on Article 18 of the ICCPR 13/07/1993

General Comment 22 emphasises the broad scope of the freedom of thought, and clarifies that article 18 protects all form of religion, including the right not to profess any religion or belief.
However, manifestation of religion or beliefs may be limited on the grounds of the protection of others (also article 20: prohibition of propaganda for war, hatred or discrimination).
No restrictions on other grounds may be imposed “even if they would be allowed as restrictions to other rights protected in the Covenant, such as national security”. (reiterated in General Comment 29)
(…) while the ICCPR does not explicitly refer to the right to conscientious objection, that right can be derived from article 18 “inasmuch as the obligation to use lethal force may seriously conflict with the freedom of conscience and the right to manifest one's religion or belief” (para. 11).

Recognition of CO Recognised
Discrimination Recognised
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

Pages

Reports and Observations
Title Date
Armenia. Alleged arbitrary detention and harassment of members of the Jehovah's Witnesses community 23/02/2012

According to the information received, members of the Jehovah's Witnesses community had been facing harassment, as well as the imprisonment of the following 72 Jehovah's Witnesses: (...) The individuals have reportedly been charged under the Armenian Criminal Code for their conscientious objection to military service on religious grounds. Reportedly, a further three had been held in pretrial detention. On 19 July 2011, Garegin Avetisyan was allegedly convicted as a conscientious objector, sentenced and arrested for refusing military service.

Recognition of CO Recognised
Report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, on his mission to the Republic of Moldova 27/01/2012

A. Recommendations for the authorities of the Republic of Moldova
(...)
84. The Government should continue to recognize the right to conscientious objection in law and in practice, and ensure that the relevant legislation is implemented in a non-discriminatory manner.
(...)
87. The “authorities” of the Transnistrian region of the Republic of Moldova are additionally urged:
(...)
(c) To cease without delay practices of detaining persons objecting on grounds of religion or conscience to military service, as well as to develop rules for alternative service for such conscientious objectors;

Recognition of CO Recognised
Report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt: Mission to Paraguay 26/01/2012

VI. Conclusions and recommendations
(...)
58. (...) To date, Paraguay has respected conscientious objection to military service, and it is to be hoped that this practice will continue under Law No. 4.013. (...)
64. Against the background of these general observations, the Special Rapporteur encourages the Government: (...)
(g) To continue to recognize the right to conscientious objection in law and in practice; this includes the independent functioning of the newly established National Council on Conscientious Objection, ensuring fair and transparent procedures while maintaining non-punitive principles for alternative non-military civilian service.

Recognition of CO Recognised
Turkmenistan: Urgent appeal sent on 12 February 2010 jointly with the Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention 14/02/2011

The Special Rapporteur would like to reiterate the observations and recommendations on the issue of conscientious objection in his predecessor’s country report on Turkmenistan (see A/HRC/10/8/Add.4, paras. 17, 50-51, 61 and 68). In paragraph 68 of the country report, the Special Rapporteur recommended that “the Government should ensure that conscientious objectors in Turkmenistan, in particular Jehovah’s Witnesses who refuse to serve in the army due to their religious beliefs, be offered an alternative civilian service which is compatible with the reasons for conscientious objection. As such, the Government should also revise the Conscription and Military Service Act which refers to the possibility of being sanctioned twice for the same offence. The Special Rapporteur would like to recall that according to the principle of “ne bis in idem”, as enshrined in article 14 (7) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, no one shall be liable to be tried or punished again for an offence for which he or HRC/16/53/Add.1 she has already been convicted or acquitted in accordance with the law and penal procedure of each country.

Recognition of CO Recognised
Repeated punishment Recognised
Report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Asma Jahangir – Mission to Turkmenistan 12/01/2009

68. The Government should ensure that conscientious objectors in Turkmenistan, in particular Jehovah’s Witnesses who refuse to serve in the army due to their religious beliefs, be offered an alternative civilian service which is compatible with the reasons for conscientious objection. As such, the Government should also revise the Conscription and Military Service Act which refers to the possibility of being sanctioned twice for the same offence. The Special Rapporteur would like to recall that according to the principle of “ne bis in idem”, as enshrined in article 14 (7) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, no one shall be liable to be tried or punished again for an offence for which he or she has already been convicted or acquitted in accordance with the law and penal procedure of each country.

Recognition of CO Recognised
Repeated punishment Recognised
Turkmenistan Communication sent on 17 July 2007 28/02/2008

The communication concerned the cases of two conscientious objectors imprisoned for refusing military service.
251. The Special Rapporteur regrets that she has not received a reply from the Government concerning the above mentioned allegation. She would like to refer to Resolution 1998/77 of the Commission on Human Rights, which draws attention to the right of everyone to have conscientious objections to military service. The Human Rights Committee recently observed “that while the right to manifest one’s religion or belief does not as such imply the right to refuse all obligations imposed by law, it provides certain protection, consistent with article 18, paragraph 3, against being forced to act against genuinely-held religious belief” (CCPR/C/88/D/1321-1322/2004, para. 8.3). In line with the Human Rights Committee’s General Comment No. 22, there shall be no differentiation among conscientious objectors on the basis of the nature of their particular beliefs when the right to conscientious objection is recognized by law or practice; likewise, there shall be no discrimination against conscientious objectors because they have failed to perform military service.

Recognition of CO Recognised
Discrimination Recognised
Libya Urgent appeal sent on 13 February 2007 jointly with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants and the Special Rapporteur on the question of torture 28/02/2008

The case concerned the situation of 430 Eritrean refugees in Libya, the majority conscripts who fled Eritrea to avoid military service. All were detained in Libya. “The 430 individuals are facing imminent deportation to Eritrea. During their detention, Libyan authorities have reportedly beaten and raped or sexually abused some detainees. Concerns were expressed that, should they be forcibly returned to Eritrea, they may be at risk of torture or ill-treatment, as well as for potential persecution with regard to their freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Further concern was expressed for their physical and mental integrity while in detention.
(…)
The Special Rapporteur “would like to take the opportunity to refer to her last report to the General Assembly where she has dealt with the vulnerable situation of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced persons (see A/62/280, paras. 38-63). A refusal to perform military service in the refugee’s country of origin may give rise to a well-founded fear of persecution and relevant UNHCR documents (see ibid., para. 58) provide that refugee status may be established if the refusal to serve is based on genuine political, religious or moral convictions or valid reasons of conscience. In conscientious objector cases, a law purporting to be of general application in the country of origin may be persecutory where it impacts differently on particular groups, where it is applied in a discriminatory manner or where the punishment is excessive or disproportionately severe or where it cannot reasonably be expected to be performed by the individual because of his or her genuine beliefs or religious convictions.

Recognition of CO Recognised
Eritrea Communication sent on 11 October 2007 jointly with the Special Rapporteur on the question of torture 28/02/2008

95. The Special Rapporteur regrets that she has not received a reply from the Government concerning the above mentioned allegation. She wishes to stress that the right of conscientious objection is a right which is closely linked with freedom of religion of belief. The Special Rapporteur would like to draw the Government’s attention to paragraph 5 of resolution 1998/77 of the Commission on Human Rights, which emphasizes that States should take the necessary measures to refrain from subjecting conscientious objectors to imprisonment. Imprisoning conscientious objectors for more than 13 years is clearly a disproportionate measure which violates the individuals’ 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 (ICCPR).

Recognition of CO Recognised
Repeated punishment Recognised
Report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Asma Jahangir - Addendum: Mission to Tajikistan 27/11/2007

The Special Rapporteur is concerned that the Government of Tajikistan does not recognize the right to conscientious objection to compulsory military service. She would like to reiterate the recommendation of the Human Rights Committee that the Government take all necessary measures to recognize the right of conscientious objectors to be exempted [7] from military service. In line with the Human Rights Committee’s general comment No. 22 (1993), when this right is recognized by law or practice, there shall be no differentiation among conscientious objectors on the basis of the nature of their particular beliefs; likewise, there shall be no discrimination against conscientious objectors because they have failed to perform military service. Furthermore, the Special Rapporteur encourages the Government to ensure that no legislation is adopted which overstates the permissible limitations on the freedom to manifest one’s religion or belief, especially with regard to the issue of conscientious objection to compulsory military service.

Recognition of CO Recognised
Discrimination Recognised
Report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Asma Jahangir 20/07/2007

The first mandate-holder, Mr. Angelo Vidal d’Almeida Ribeiro, developed a set of criteria concerning cases of conscientious objection (E/CN.4/1992/52, para. 185). Conscientious objectors should be exempted from combat but could be required to perform comparable alternative service of various kinds, which should be compatible with their reasons for conscientious objection, should such service exist in their country. To avoid opportunism, it would be acceptable if this service were at least as onerous as military service, but not so onerous as to constitute a punishment for the objector. They could also be asked to perform alternative service useful to the public interest, which may be aimed at social improvement, development or promotion of international peace and understanding. Conscientious objectors should be given full information about their rights and responsibilities and about the procedures to be followed when seeking recognition as conscientious objectors, bearing in mind that application for the status of conscientious objector has to be made within a specific time frame. The decision concerning their status should be made, when possible, by an impartial tribunal set up for that purpose or a by a regular civilian court, with the application of all the legal safeguards provided for in international human rights instruments. There should always be a right to appeal to an independent, civilian judicial body. The decision-making body should be entirely separate from the military authorities and the conscientious objector should be granted a hearing, and be entitled to legal representation and to call relevant witnesses.

Recognition of CO Recognised
Length/terms of service Recognised
Discrimination Recognised

Pages

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

Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

Summary

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, established as a Special Procedure in 1991, under the mandate of the former UN Commission on Human Rights (replaced by the Human Rights Council in 2006), investigates cases of arbitrarily detained people worldwide. It receives information regarding alleged cases of arbitrary detention by the individuals directly concerned, their families, their representatives or NGOs, and sends urgent appeals and communications to the concerned Governments to clarify the conditions of those allegedly detained. Under this mandate the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention considers cases without legal basis for the detention, cases where the right to a fair trial has been so badly violated that it makes the subsequent detention invalid, and cases of prisoners of conscience.

Examples of the kind of issues the Working Group examines include:

  • detention arising from a fundamental breach of human rights such as freedom of expression or freedom of thought, conscience and religion;
  • excessive time being spent on remand before being brought to trial;
  • where a person is detained after they should have been released;
  • house arrest.

Furthermore it conducts country visits to countries that issued an invitation and presents annual reports to the Human Rights Council.

There is an online database of documents of the Working Group at http://www.unwgaddatabase.org/un/.

1. Likely results from use of mechanism

a) Individual cases

After the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has received information on cases of alleged arbitrary detentions, it might send either an urgent appeal or a letter of allegation to the government concerned. When the Working Group decides to issue an opinion on a case, a response received from a government will be forwarded to the original source for comment. These opinions are reported to the Human Rights Council and are published on the website of the Working Group at http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?m=117 and in the online database at http://www.unwgaddatabase.org/un/.

Opinions of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention are quasi-judicial, in that they are not legally binding, but are argued like a legal decision, and will be taken into account by other UN special bodies, such as the Human Rights Committee.

Urgent action

In cases in which there are sufficiently reliable allegations that a person may be detained arbitrarily and that the alleged violations may be time-sensitive in terms of involving loss of life, life-threatening situations or either imminent or ongoing damage of a very grave nature to victims in the event of the continuation of the detention, the Working Group transmit an urgent appeal to the Government. An urgent appeal does not prejudge any Opinion the Working Group might subsequently render in the case.

b) State law and practice

While the focus of the mandate of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention is on individual cases, it also considers state law and practice. The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention conducts at least two country visits annually, during which it will discuss issues around arbitrary detention with the government of the country. Following a country visit, the Working Group will make observations on the information received from the government, NGOs and individuals, and will make recommendations to the government.
Reports of visits are made available online at http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Detention/Pages/Visits.aspx, and are submitted to the Human Rights Council.

2. To which States does the mechanism apply?

All States.

3. Who can submit information?

Everybody

4. When to submit information?

Information on individual cases should be submitted as soon as possible, especially in cases where an urgent action by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention is desired.
Information on State law and practice can be submitted at any time, but is especially relevant before a planned country visit by the Working Group.

5. Special rules of procedure or advice for making a submission?

According to the revised methods of work of the Working Group, submission need to be in writing, and need to include the name and address of the person and/or organisation submitting the information.
A communication should include as a minimum:

  • date of arrest
  • place of detention
  • formal charges, if any
  • access to counsel/outside organisation/family, etc
  • date of presentation to a judge, if applicable
  • date and information about trial, if applicable.

The Working Group prefers to receive information using its model questionnaire, which is available at http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Detention/Pages/Complaints.aspx.

6. What happens to the submission (how long will it take)?

After receiving information on a case of arbitrary detention, the Working Group will send a communication to the Government concerned, which will include the information that the Working Group is authorised to render an opinion on the case. The Government is requested to reply within 60 days to this letter, but can request an extension of no more than one month. A reply received by the Working Group will be forwarded to the source for comment.
Depending on the information received, the Working Group can take one of the following measures:

  • if the person has been released, the case might be filed, but the Working Group reserves the right to render an opinion, whether or not the person has been released;
  • if the Working Group considers that further information is required, it can keep the case pending and request further information;
  • if the Working Group has sufficient information, it will render an opinion, which can either state that the detention was arbitrary, or not. Even in the absence of a State's response, the Working Group can render an opinion, if it considers the information received from the source to be sufficient.

Depending on the complexity of the case, the time it takes the Working Group to come to a final decision varies between 6 months and 24 months.
Any opinion is sent first to the Government concerned, and two weeks later to the source.
Opinions are published in an addendum to the Working Group´s annual report to the Human Rights Council, and are also available on the website of the Working Group at http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Detention/Pages/Complaints.aspx and http://www.unwgaddatabase.org/.
In exceptional cases, the Working Group can reconsider an Opinion on the request of the source or the government, for example if the facts have changed or have to be considered as entirely new, so that the Working Group would come to a different opinion would it have been aware of the facts at the time. Governments can only request a review if they replied to the original allegation within the above mentioned time limit.

In an urgent case scenario the Working Group sends an urgent appeal to the Government concerned in order to ensure that the detained person’s right to life and to physical and mental integrity are respected.
The government will be urged to safeguard the right not to be arbitrarily deprived of one's liberty.
An urgent appeal to a Government does in no way prejudge the Working Groups final assessment of the case, unless the arbitrary character of the deprivation of liberty has already been determined.
Urgent appeals and responses received by governments will be included in the regular joint communications report of all Special Procedures to the Human Rights Council, and are available online at http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/Pages/CommunicationsreportsSP.aspx.

7. History of the use of the mechanism.

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has been successfully used by conscientious objectors. It's first known opinion was on the case of Turkish conscientious objector Osman Murat Ülke (Opinion 36/1999), who was imprisoned repeatedly for disobeying orders. In line with the international standards at the time, the Working Group considered any detention from the second detention on as arbitrary, contrary to the principle of ne-bis-in-idem. The Turkish government requested a review of this Opinion in 2000, but the Working Group upheld its original opinion (see Report of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, 20 December 2000).
In 2003, the Working Group rendered a similar opinion on five cases from Israel.
Following the development of the jurisprudence of the Human Rights Committee, from 2008 on the Working Group considered any detention of a conscientious objector as arbitrary (see Opinion No 8/2008 [Colombia] and Opinion 16/2008 [Turkey]).
In its Opinion No 8/2008, the Working Group also came to the conclusion that the widespread practice of “batidas” in Colombia (raids on young people in public places) in order to establish the military status of young people and their subsequent transfer to military barracks constitutes arbitrary detention. It then raised this issue also with the Government of Colombia during its country visit from 1-10 October 2008 (see Report on the Mission to Colombia, 16 February 2009).

Contact Details: 
For an individual case or cases, the communication should be sent, if possible accompanied by the model questionnaire prepared for this purpose, to: Working Group on Arbitrary Detention c/o Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights United Nations Office at Geneva 8-14, avenue de la Paix 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland facsimile: +41 22 9179006 e-mail: wgad@ohchr.org Communications requesting the Working Group to launch an urgent appeal on humanitarian grounds should be sent to the above address, preferably by e-mail or facsimile.
Further Reading: 

Interpretations

Title Date
Recommendation 2: detention of conscientious objectors 20/12/2000

The Working Group recommends that all States that have not yet done so adopt appropriate legislative or other measures to ensure that conscientious objector status is recognized and attributed, in accordance with an established procedure, and that, pending the adoption of such measures, when de facto objectors are prosecuted, such prosecutions should not give rise to more than one conviction, so as to prevent the judicial system from being used to force conscientious objectors to change their convictions.

Recognition of CO Recognised
Repeated punishment Recognised
Opinions and Reports
Title Date
Armenia. Alleged arbitrary detention and harassment of members of the Jehovah's Witnesses community 23/02/2012

According to the information received, members of the Jehovah's Witnesses community had been facing harassment, as well as the imprisonment of the following 72 Jehovah's Witnesses: (...) The individuals have reportedly been charged under the Armenian Criminal Code for their conscientious objection to military service on religious grounds. Reportedly, a further three had been held in pretrial detention. On 19 July 2011, Garegin Avetisyan was allegedly convicted as a conscientious objector, sentenced and arrested for refusing military service.

Recognition of CO Recognised
Turkmenistan: Urgent appeal sent on 12 February 2010 jointly with the Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention 14/02/2011

The Special Rapporteur would like to reiterate the observations and recommendations on the issue of conscientious objection in his predecessor’s country report on Turkmenistan (see A/HRC/10/8/Add.4, paras. 17, 50-51, 61 and 68). In paragraph 68 of the country report, the Special Rapporteur recommended that “the Government should ensure that conscientious objectors in Turkmenistan, in particular Jehovah’s Witnesses who refuse to serve in the army due to their religious beliefs, be offered an alternative civilian service which is compatible with the reasons for conscientious objection. As such, the Government should also revise the Conscription and Military Service Act which refers to the possibility of being sanctioned twice for the same offence. The Special Rapporteur would like to recall that according to the principle of “ne bis in idem”, as enshrined in article 14 (7) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, no one shall be liable to be tried or punished again for an offence for which he or HRC/16/53/Add.1 she has already been convicted or acquitted in accordance with the law and penal procedure of each country.

Recognition of CO Recognised
Repeated punishment Recognised
Opinion No 50/2011 (Egypt) 02/09/2011

18. Finally, the Working Group finds no specific facts capable of justifying Mr. Sanad’s detention. The only reasonable explanation is that Mr. Sanad’s detention is due to his criticism of the military and the police in the country. Recently, he had criticized the army in a series of articles available on the Internet. His complaints to the police and security regarding acts of public violence against him have been of no avail. It follows that Mr. Sanad’s deprivation of liberty is also arbitrary falling into category II of the categories applicable to the consideration of cases submitted to the Working Group.

Disposition

19. In the light of the foregoing, the Working Group renders the following opinion:
The deprivation of liberty of Maikel Nabil Sanad is arbitrary and constitutes a breach of articles 9, 10, 11 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and articles 9, 14 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, falling into categories II and III of the categories applicable to the cases submitted to the Working Group.
20. The Working Group requests the Government to take the necessary steps to remedy the situation, which would include the immediate release of Mr. Sanad and the provision of adequate reparation to him.

Report of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention Addendum Mission to Armenia 17/02/2011

Armenia:

68. The Working Group also received information regarding the arrest and imprisonment of 80 conscientious objectors of the Jehovah Witness faith. In recent years, young men of this faith have been imprisoned due to their refusal to enlist in the military and participate in the alternative civil service offered to enlistment. The Working Group was told that the alternative civil service, established by a 2003 Act, is not functioning in practice. The Ministry of Defence in Armenia has expressed its readiness to discuss the possibility of reducing the length of alternative service to an acceptable limit.

Recognition of CO Recognised
Length/terms of service Recognised
Report of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. Addendum: Mission to Colombia 16/02/2009

66. The Working Group notes with concern the arrests carried out by military personnel, in particular the practice of round-ups, despite the fact that the army does not have legal powers to do so. On some occasions, soldiers have orders to arrest a few persons, but arrest many more. One variation is forced enlistment: mass detentions of young persons with a view to checking their military status. Those who are deemed to have failed to register, to respond to being called up or to have performed military service are taken to the barracks for forced recruitment. The Deputy Minister of Defence declared that every young male must carry on his person his military service record or the document confirming the postponement of his military service because military service is not only the right, but the obligation of all male citizens. By and large, it is not the army, but illegal armed groups who forcibly recruit minors. The Working Group considered complaints from conscientious objectors who said that their objections were not taken into account. The Working Group has already deemed that the refusal to recognize the right of conscientious objection contravenes international human rights law.

Recognition of CO Recognised
Opinion No 8/2008 (Colombia) 07/08/2008

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared in its Opinion No 8/2008 (Colombia) the practice of recruitment in the form of raids (batidas), and the recruitment of conscientious objectors a form of "arbitrary detention".

Recognition of CO Recognised
Opinion No. 16/2008 (Turkey) 19/07/2008

"The deprivation of liberty of Mr. Halil Savda during the periods between 16 and 28 December 2004, between 7 December 2006 and 2 February 2007, as well as between 5 February and 28 July 2007 was arbitrary. His deprivation of liberty since 27 March 2008 is also arbitrary, being in contravention of articles 9 and 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of articles 9 and 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights".

Recognition of CO Recognised
Repeated punishment Recognised
Opinion No 24/2003 (Israel) 28/11/2003

The second and subsequent deprivations of liberty of Matan Kaminer, Adam Maor, Noam Bahat and Jonathan Ben-Artzi are contrary to article 14, paragraph 7, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The non-observance of the international norms relating to the right to a fair trial is of such gravity as to confer on the deprivation of liberty an arbitrary nature, falling within category III of the categories applicable to the consideration of cases submitted to the Working Group.

Repeated punishment Recognised
Report of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention 20/12/2000

44. By note of 31 October 2000, the Government of Turkey challenged the Working Group’s Opinion No. 36/1999 (O. Murat Ulke). It argues that rather than evaluating the activities for which Mr. Ulke was convicted as “single offences” (i.e. consisting of a single action and its uninterrupted continuing results), one should interpret Mr. Ulke’s consistent refusal to perform his military service as “continuing offences”: every time he was deprived of his liberty the “continuity” of his offence was broken, and every new refusal to perform military service constituted another new offence for which he was once again convicted and deprived of liberty. (…)
48. The objections of the Government were considered by the Working Group at its twenty-ninth session. The Working Group believes that its Opinion is founded on a solid legal basis consistent with accepted jurisprudential norms.

Repeated punishment Recognised
Opinion No 36/1999 (Turkey) 02/12/1999

It follows that the Working Group considers that Mr.Ülke's detention from 7 October to December 1996 was not arbitrary. Regarding the other periods, and in view of the foregoing, the Working Group considers that Mr. Ülke's detention is arbitrary, it having been ordered in violation of the fundamental principle non bis in idem, a principle generally recognized in countries where the rule of law prevails as being one of the most essential guarantees of the right to a fair trial.
In the light of the foregoing, the Working Group expresses the following opinion: The deprivation of liberty of Mr. Osman Murat Ülke from October to December 1996 was not arbitrary. His detention since 28 January 1997 is, however, arbitrary, being contrary to article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and it falls within category III of the principles applicable in the consideration of the cases submitted to the Working Group.

Repeated punishment Recognised

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

Human Rights Council Complaint Procedure

Summary

The Complaint Procedure of the Human Rights Council is a confidential procedure to address consistent patterns of gross and reliably attested human rights violations. It is therefore not suitable for individual cases except when they are representative of a pattern of reliably attested human rights violations.
The Complaint Procedure is of confidential nature and the lodging of communications should not be made public. While the complainant might be informed whether a complaint has been taken up by the procedure, the steps taken and the outcome of the complaint remain confidential, unless the Human Rights Council decides to consider the complaint in public.
The Complaint Procedure was introduced by resolution 5/1 of the Human Rights Council - UN Human Rights Council: Institution Building – from 18 June 2007, and replaces the former 1503 procedure.

1. Likely results from use of mechanism

If a complaint is taken up after initial screening by the Working Group on Communications, the allegation of human rights violations will be transmitted to the State concerned. A Working Group of the Human Rights Council (the Working Group on Situations) will then consider the complaint and the reply received from the State, and make a recommendation to the Human Rights Council, which will consider the report of the Working Group in a confidential manner, unless the Council decides otherwise.
The Human Rights Council can take one of the following measures:

  • to discontinue considering the situation, if no further action is needed;
  • to keep the situation under review, and request further information from the State concerned;
  • to keep the situation under review and appoint an independent expert to monitor the situation and report back to the Council;
  • to discontinue reviewing the situation under the confidential complaint procedure in order to take up a public consideration;
  • to recommend to the OHCHR to assist the State concerned.

2. To which States does the mechanism apply?

All States.

3. Who can submit information?

A complaint through the Complaint Procedure can be lodged by Individuals as well as NGOs with or without consultative status to the Human Rights Council. Anonymous complaints can however not be considered.

4. When to submit information?

A complaint can be lodged at any time. However, domestic remedies have to be exhausted, unless such remedies would be ineffective or unreasonably prolonged. The complaint should also not refer to a pattern of human rights violations already being dealt with by one of the Special Procedures, a treaty body or other United Nations or similar regional complaints procedure.

5. Special rules of procedure or advice for making a submission?

The Complaint Procedure can only process complaints submitted in writing. It is advisable to limit the complaint to 10-15 pages to which additional information may be submitted at a later stage.
As anonymous complaints cannot be admitted it is crucial to include identification of the person(s) or organisation(s) submitting the communication (this information will be kept confidential, if requested).
Complaints submitted to the Complaint Procedure should include a description of the relevant facts in as much detail as possible, providing names of alleged victims, dates, location and other evidence.
They should also include the purpose of the complaint and the rights allegedly violated.
All communications found to be manifestly ill-founded or anonymous will be discarded.

6. What happens to the submission (how long will it take)?

After an initial screening and a decision on the admissibility of a complaint by the Working Group on Communications, a request for information will be sent to the State concerned, which shall reply no later than three months after the request has been made. If necessary, this deadline may however be extended.
The Working Group on Situation will then prepare a report to the Human Rights Council, usually in the form of a draft resolution or decision on the situation referred to in the complaint. It may also decide to keep the situation under review and request further information.
The Human Rights Council will decide on the measures to take in a confidential manner as needed, but at least once a year. As a general rule, the period of time between the transmission of the complaint to the State concerned and consideration by the Council shall not exceed 24 months.
All material provided by individuals as well as the replies by the Governments remain of confidential nature during and after the consideration by the Complaint Procedure. This also applies to decisions taken at the various stages of the procedure.
Therefore it is important to do not publicly state that you have submitted a case to the Complaint Procedure.

7. History of the use of the mechanism.

To the knowledge of the authors, this mechanism has not yet been used for the issue of conscientious objection. However, it might have influenced the decision of the Human Rights Council to appoint a Special Rapporteur on Eritrea in 2012.

Contact Details: 
Communications intended for handling under the Council Complaint Procedure may be addressed to: Human Rights Council and Treaties Division Complaint Procedure OHCHR-UNOG  1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland  Fax: (41 22) 917 90 11  E-mail: CP@ohchr.org
Further Reading: 
Decisions

None