Trial of conscientious objector Jonathan Ben Artzi

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of their joint programme the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, would like to draw the attention on the case of Jonathan Ben Artzi, a 20-year old Israeli student, who is facing trial in his own country for having repeatedly refused to serve in the Israeli army.

Jonathan Ben Artzi is a pacifist and is expressing his freedom of expression in refusing to serve in the army thereby denouncing violations of human rights by the Israeli army in the Occupied Territories, and the impunity for such acts. So far, he has served seven consecutive prison sentences. In total, he has spent 196 days behind bars. On February 19, 2003, he was brought before the Military Court in Jaffa in order to be court martialled. The first hearing was held on Tuesday 11th March 2003. He could face a sentence of up to three years. The second hearing is due to take place on the 25th March 2003.

Parallel to these proceedings, the Supreme Court of Jerusalem will render a decision next week on whether the Jaffa Court Martial should or not defer the case to the competence of the civil courts.

The several imprisonments imposed on Jonathan Ben Artzi are contrary to article 18 of the International Covenant on civil and political rights, 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, and it should also be mentioned that, in its 2001 annual report, the Working group on arbitrary detention stated that imprisonment of conscientious objectors was contrary to article 18 § 2 of the Covenant. Finally, the Working group, in its second recommendation (E/CN.4/2001/14, chap.IV, sect. B), warns that justice should not be used as a means to lead a conscientious objector to go against his beliefs.

Jonathan Ben Artzi’s court martialling is the first since the 1970’s. This proves, if need be, that the Israeli authorities are trying to prevent conscientious objectors from exercising their fundamental right to refuse military service, especially bearing in mind that the case of Jonathan Ben Artzi is not unique.

The Observatory has decided to follow the matter closely and will be sending a judicial observer to the hearing of the 25th March 2003 in Jaffa.