Conscientious Objectors’ Rights


We would like to inform both local and foreign public as well as peace groups and other organisations for protection of human rights that the breaking of conscientious objectors’ rights by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Federal Ministry of Defence and the Yugoslav Army still continues.


As stated in the Constitution of Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (article 137.) as well as in the Yugoslav Army Law (article 297.) one is allowed to perform civilian service outside of military institutions (in health-care and general rescuing organisations, organisations for rehbilitation of the disabled persons or in any other institution of common interest).


Quoting these articles of the Constitution and the Army Law two conscientious objectors – Igor Seke from Ruma and Goran Miladinoviæ from Leskovac – have submitted their applications for genuine civilian service outside of Yugoslav Army institutions to their local military departments. Though both appeals have been submitted at the same time and contained same quotations from the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Yugoslav Army Law each military department treated its own applicant in a different manner.


In his application Igor Seke stated that he applys for civilian service first of all due to his moral and ethical reasons of conscience since under no circumstances would he be able to kill another human being or consider him as enemy who while following his country’s laws is forced to carry uniform and/or perform military service, that he strongly believes in non-violence, dialogue and mutual assistance so that he is resolved never to practice or in any other way (directly or indirectly) support any violent measures in the course of conflict-solving processes. In his application Igor also states that his conscience (and the right of freedom of conscience is recognised by the Constitution of FRY) requires of him to oppose violence in every situation and to be in favour of constructive solutions that will not cause human victims or material devastations.


Igor Seke’s application is rejected on the grounds that it should have been submitted in 1993, at the time of his first drafting, although at that time Igor was underage (17 years old). It ought to be mentioned that the present Yugoslav Army Law was passed only in 1994, so that in the year 1993, Igor could not have asked for civilian service since at that time it was still not introduced in the law. In the explanation sent to him by the military department of Sremska Mitrovica (center of Srem district) and signed by the colonel Sava Mrža it is further stated that » The statement of the applicant that he could not under any circumstances kill another human being is not clear; why is he stating that in his letter since it is generally and historically well-known fact that during military service in the Yugoslav army no one has to kill anyone«. »It is also known«, it is further stated in the explanation,« that the Yugoslav Army does not train its soldiers to attack anyone nor did it have that kind of intention in any time in the course of its history. On the contrary, Yugoslav Army recruits are trained to protect their own lives, the lives of their families, of their population as well as to protect their own territory«.


As far as the civilian service performed in some organisations or institutions ouside of Yugoslav Army system is concerned it is stated in the decision: “By the article 297. of the Yugoslav Army Law it is regulated that the civilian service should be served in units and institutions of the Yugoslav Army and the Federal Ministry of Defence so that the mentioned application requiring national service in some health-care, general rescuing organisation or any similar institutions cannot be accepted since neither of these institutions and organisations wants to have among its staff such person as the applicant”. It is interesting to mention that the Yugoslav Army speaks in the name of these organisations, specially when it is known that the same Army has answered in negative manner to the proposal of the Yugoslav Red Cross that the civilian service be performed (even under the Yugoslav Army’s control) in the Red Cross local organisations. It also sounds incredible that the same organisations that are numerated in the Law at the same time do not want to accept conscientious objectors as memebrs of their staff.  Even the construction of the last sentence from the quotation confirms the attitude that the Yugoslav Army members have towards conscientious objectors.


As far as the case of Goran Miladinoviæ is concerned his appeal is accepted (though he didn’t submit it in 1993, but nine years later – in 2002) but in the decision that he received it was stated that he will have to perform his service to military-economic institution in NiÅ¡. After refusing to accept this decision, since he clearly stated in his request that he wishes to perform civilian and not military service, he was recommended to visit a civil psychiatrist so as to receive a paper ordering his examination in the military-medical institution in NiÅ¡ that would then determine whether he is capable of performing military service. After deciding to go and do all necessary examinations in NiÅ¡, the local military department in Leskovac refused to give him all papers necessary for his medical examinations so that Goran was forced to travel to NiÅ¡ several times before actual medical examination took place. Such a scandal where conscientious objector is regarded as a psychiatric case only because of his beliefs and moral attitudes is a serious indicator of the manner in which Yugoslav Army treats its citizens, their human rights but also of the way Yugoslav Army treats its Constitution and federal laws.


As a Yugoslav representative of European Bureau for Conscientious Objection (EBCO), an international organisation monitoring implementation of rights to alternative civil service which has the status of consultative body within the Council of Europe and the European Parliament, Igor Seke met with the repreentatives of the Federal Ministry of Defence in their offices in Birèaninova street no. 5 on 26 of July 2002. This meeting was held after both Igor and Goran had submitted their applications for civilian service. The meeting was also attended by the Assistant-Minister general Radovanoviæ, colonel Mugonja from Legal Department of the Ministry of Defense, colonel Vojkovic from the Minister’s office as well as by two colonels working in the Ministry. The issue discussed on this occasion was civilian service performed in the health-care institutions in the way prescribed by the article 297 of the Yugoslav Army Law.
 
According to general Radovanovic, based on regulation of Department of Civil Defense civilian service can be performed in 31 health-care institutions covering the territory of FRY. Besides, Igor was informed that if one clearly states in his civilian service application that he wants to perform genuine civilian service and not service without arms in one of five military economic institutions the local military department has no right to send him to any military economic institution, but solely to one of the mentioned 31 health-care institutions depending on his own residence. Nevertheless, they emphasized that only a few persons ask for this kind of service, but that pervious cases of people being imprisoned because of refusing the non-combat or military-economic service cannot happen again.


After observing the map (compiled by EBCO) of countries stating precise year when civilian service was introduced there and after noting that on this map only Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania are still marked with black color, the Assistant-Minister general Radovanoviæ several times insisted that Yugoslavia should be removed from the list of countries which have no civilian service since according to his own words the Yugoslav Army represents an open and democratic institution.


Though aware that genuine civilian service can be easily misused in case of war, Igor and Goran have decided to make this step first of all because they deeply believe that the state has to start accepting conscientious objectors as a normal social group so that hundreds of young men would not be regarded as psychiatric cases which, among other things, can unable them to obtain driving licence or cause them some problems when looking for a job. We are convinced that this is the only way to provoke Yugoslav government to take into serious consideration the issue of conscientious objection and the very purpose of military service.


On the basis of these two latest cases of conscientious objectors we can draw following conclusions:


- The right to conscientious objection and civilian service does not exist in practice in Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which places this country in the same group with Albania, Belorussia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
- There is a clear incompatibility between the statements of the Federal Ministry of Defence and local military authorities which paradoxically showed itself as the higher instance from the Ministry able to interpret the Law and Constitution according to their own preferances.
- There is no unique interpretation of the resolutions of the Constitution and Law, since in one case the military department (Leskovac) does not raise up the issue of the day of submittion of application while in other case (Ruma) the day of submittion is regarded as the main reason why the application for civilian service is not accepted.
- Conscientious objectors are regarded as persons with psychological problems (Leskovac) or persons who no one wants to have among their staff (Ruma), although the question why the Army desires to have such persons as recruits remains open.
- Service without arms in military-economic instituitions is far below internationally-recognised standards applied for each conscientious objector to military service and is in fact genuine military service and cannot even be regarded as an alternative service, as prescribed by international standards.
- There is not even one indicator that in the nearest future the right of conscientious objectors in Federal Republic of Yugoslavia will improve.



Finally, in order to complete the picture about the attitude towards those who refuse to bear arms and to be trained to kill, we have to mention the terrible situation of the persons who perform military service without arms. Beside the fact that this kind of service is based on hard physical work these persons are also forced to carry uniforms and have the same obligations as the soldiers serving under arms. The most obvious example of carelessness (or better even call it malice) for these conscientious objectors is the way in which service without arms had been reduced in January this year. Behind bragging about reduction of service without arms from 24 to 13 months is hidden the fact that with this law a great number of conscientious objectors is simply forgotten. Basically it comes to this: reduction of service to 13 months begins with the September class therefore it means that those who have started their service in September 2001 will complete it in October 2002. However those who have started their service in June will be forced to perform it till June 2003.!!! The same goes for those who have started their service in March 2001, December or September 2000. This kind of unforgivable overlook is typical for those who believe that conscientious objectors deserve the worst kind of treatment. Disrespect of basic democratic principles and the attempt to continuously discriminate conscientious objectors everywhere makes the Yugoslav Army one of the last footholds of the old and long ago surpassed military and political doctrine.

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