About this guide

This guide updates and expands the publication A Conscientious Objectors Guide to the UN Human Rights System, published jointly by War Resisters' International and the Quaker United Nations Office, Geneva, in 2000, and compiled by Emily Miles. The initial publication was extremely useful in raising awareness about the use of the United Nations human rights system to advance the right to conscientious objection to military service, and to protect conscientious objectors from persecution.

However, there have been a number of advancements in relation to the right to conscientious objection to military service since the initial publication, which made an update necessary. The most important of these has been the United Nations Human Rights Committee decision in the case of the complaint by Yeo-Bum Yoon and Myung-Jin Choi vs. Republik of Korea from January 2007, in which the Human Rights Committee for the first time explicitly recognised the right to conscientious objection to military service. Other UN mechanisms too have increasingly dealt with conscientious objection to military service, creating a wealth of opinions and jurisprudence recognising the right to conscientious objection.

Initial discussions between War Resisters' International and the Quaker United Nations Office, Geneva, about updating the 2000 Guide go back to 2008. It quickly became clear that a simple update of the UN system would not be sufficient. In their work with human rights and conscientious objection organisations from all parts of the world, both, War Resisters' International and the Quaker United Nations Office, Geneva, often a lack of comparative knowledge of the different regional and international human rights mechanisms, and tendency to do “the usual” - meaning to use the regional or international system usually used by NGOs from a respective country, irrespective of whether or not the system had a good track record on conscientious objection to military service. Both organisations therefore felt that a comparative overview of the United Nations' and regional human rights systems would be needed, to enable conscientious objectors, their organisations and human rights NGOs to make an informed choice which system to use.

Work on this guide began in 2010, thanks to a generous grant by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. In addition to WRI and QUNO, Geneva, it was possible to involve Conscience and Peace Tax International (CPTI) as another international NGO working on conscientious objection, and the Centre on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR Centre) as an organisation supporting NGOs in working with the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

This Conscientious Objector's Guide to the International Human Rights System is mainly intended as a web publication (see http://co-guide.org), which allows users a quick overview of relevant human rights mechanisms applicable to their situation. While it can be read as a book, its main use is as an interactive guide. It is aimed at conscientious objectors to military service anywhere in the world who struggle for the recognition of their right to conscientious objection, or against discrimination for being a conscientious objector, and who want to use international or regional human rights systems in their struggle. It can also be used by local or national organisations of conscientious objectors to military service, or by human rights NGOs supporting conscientious objectors to help them to access international or regional human rights systems.

Some human rights mechanisms can be used in individual cases of human rights violations – the prosecution or imprisonment of a conscientious objector to military service, or an individual case of discrimination. Others are more suitable for highlighting state law (and the lack of recognition of the right to conscientious objection) or state practice, and for putting pressure on the State to comply with international human rights standards.

Human rights – and human rights systems – are dynamic and evolving. While every effort has been made to provide accurate descriptions of the human rights mechanisms included in this guide, and to include all relevant jurisprudence, we can not guarantee that all information remains correct. We therefore recommend to use this as a guide, and not as a reference book, and to always check the official website of the different mechanisms before making a submission.