Cases of imprisoned conscientious objectors before the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders will bring the cases of imprisoned conscientious objectors before the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

Paris - Geneva, 16 April 2003.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH and OMCT joint venture) is very concerned with the imprisonment and trial before military courts of Israeli conscientious objectors.

On March 11, a pacifist, Jonathan Ben Artzi, after refusing to join the army for the 8th time was brought to court martial: it was the first time since the 1970’s that a conscientious objector was court-martialed. On April 15, the Supreme Court rejected the petition to bring back the trial to a civil court arguing that there are no substantive differences between procedures of civil and military courts. The Observatory is very concerned with the court-martialing of objectors: indeed, they should not be considered as military as they precisely refuse to wear the uniform. The Observatory sent an observer to the first hearing before the Supreme Court on 8 April.

On April 15, five additional young conscientious objectors, Haggai Matar, Matan Kaminer, Shimri Zameret, Adam Maor, Noam Bahat were brought to Court martial. They all refuse to enlist because of their conscientious objection to the occupation of the Palestinian Territories, and to the actions by which the army enforces it. They are among the 300 signatories of the �High School Seniors� letter to prime Minister Ariel Sharon. These young men are all charged with the crime of refusing to obey orders that can be punished with up to 3 years in prison. The Court martial decided to release them until 19 April, when they will reintegrate prison.

Currently, 18 young conscientious objectors are serving prison sentences in military facilities. Five reserve soldiers are also incarcerated for refusing to serve in the Occupied Territories.

The Observatory considers that the imprisonment of conscientious objectors is arbitrary and as a consequence has decided to bring their cases before the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

Indeed, their detention is arbitrary according to category I defined by the Working Group, as the deprivation of liberty results from the exercise of the rights and freedoms guaranteed by article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which ensures freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Even though article 18 does not explicitly refer to conscientious objectors, the Human Rights Committee, in its General Observation n� 22, confirmed that they are protected by article 18. In its 2001 annual report, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention also recognized that imprisonment of conscientious objectors was contrary to article 18 � 2 of the Covenant.

Of further concern is the fairness of their trial. Indeed, all of them were first condemned by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) disciplinary courts without the assistance of a lawyer or the hearing of any testimony. Their prosecution before a Court martial now constitutes a �double jeopardy� violating a fundamental principle according to which one cannot be prosecuted twice for the same crime. For example, Jonathan Ben Artzi was requested to join the IDF on August 8, 2002: he read his statement, refused to wear the uniform and asked to carry out an alternative service instead. He was immediately sentenced by the IDF disciplinary courts to his first 28 days in military prison. After his release, he was brought again to the army induction center where he repeated his objection and refused to serve. He was sentenced with a second 28 days term in prison. So far, he has been sentenced seven times to prison and has spent more than 200 days behind the bars.

As a consequence, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders urges the Israeli authorities:

  • To immediately and unconditionally release imprisoned conscientious objectors and drop charges against all conscientious objectors, since these charges are arbitrary;
  • To recognize the right to conscientious objection to military service by establishing an independent and impartial committee in charge of examining the cases;
  • To conform with the provisions of the ICCPR, in particular article 18 and all other human rights instruments ratified by Israel;
  • To conform more generally with the provisions of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (1998).

    Contacts : FIDH : 00 33 1 43 55 25 18 / OMCT : 00 41 22 809 49 24

    Related Links:

  • OMCT
  • FIDH