Tenth International Conference on War Tax Resistance and Peace Tax Campaigns - Brussels, Belgium 2004

Workshop 8: Peace Tax as a Human Right:

What can the United Nations and other international organizations do to help?

Led by Martina Weitsch, Kshama Pandey, and Derek Brett

3.8

Report by John Krehbiel, Jr.

Attendees: David Bassett, Vic Thiessen, Bjørg Berg, Hannelore Morgenstern, Klaus Eherler, Ulla Klotz, Jan Birk, Robert Antoch, Ute Antoch, Svend Henriksen, Sepp Rottmayr, Christa Voigt, Tim Godshall, Klaus Martin Voigt, John Krehbiel Jr., Bart Horeman, Nick Wright.

Presenters briefly introduced themselves. Nicholas Wright volunteered to make an oral report to the plenary, John Krehbiel, Jr. a written report. 

Martina Weitsch works with the Quaker Council on European Affairs (QCEA) and brings Quaker concerns to:

  1. the European Union (EU):
    • European Council/Council of Ministers (Brussels)
    • European Commission (Brussels)
    • European Parliament (Brussels and Strasbourg)
  2. Council of Europe (CoE) in Strasbourg.

[Another important institution is NATO in Brussels.]

Utilizing an overhead projector, Martina Weitsch displayed a map of EU members and potential members.  She also showed a map of the CoE with its 45 member countries.  She noted that Belarus is not a member because of its poor human rights record and practices.  The CoE has recognized the right to Conscientious Objection to military service.  The CoE has also agreed against the use of capital punishment.  The United States and Japan have observer status with the CoE.  Discussions are taking place with the USA and Japan with regard to their use of the death penalty.  In the background of this discussion is the possibility that the United States and Japan could lose their observer status with the CoE due to their continuing use of capital punishment.  (The issue of the United States' practice of torture and other human rights violations has not apparently been raised nor does it seem any other state's human rights records are currently in question). 

After the workshop, Martina also made available a chart listing the Membership of EU and CoE .  It is obvious from this list that all EU members are CoE members.  Additionally the CoE has 21 more members, thus making it a more broadly inclusive international organization than the EU. (See annex 1.)

How do Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) interact with the EU and the CoE?

In answering this question Martina showed Chart 1 comparing the CoE and the EU on five issues.

Chart 1

The Council of Europe and the EU in the context of lobbying on the Peace Tax

Key Differences and Issues
Issues Council of Europe European Union
1. NGO Status and Structures

Participatory Status

Can raise issues either via NGO Groupings or with relevant committees or both

None

2. Human Rights remit

Yes, one of their main areas of activity

Limited

3. Interest in and Competence for Peace issues

Limited

In the context of Common Foreign and Security Policy;

Increasing emphasis on militarisation;

4. Competence in matters of Taxation

No

No

5. Freedom of Conscience; Religious Freedom

Yes: Article 9 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms;

Conscientious Objection is not specifically mentioned in this text.

However, there is a resolution adopted in 1967 relating to this.

Yes: Article 10 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights but right to conscientious objection is constrained to a recognition ‘in accordance with the national laws governing the exercise of this right’.

 

 

Martina Weitsch then explained QCEA's Reasons for Choosing to Focus on Council of Europe rather than the EU.  See Chart 2 .  It should be noted that the EU is still in the process of development and that its relationship with NGOs for example, while informal at present, may evolve into more formal structures and status.

Chart 2 Reasons for Choosing to Focus on Council of Europe

  1. Right to conscientious objection to the payment of taxes for military purposes = to right to conscientious objection to military service.
  2. Issue of human rights – Council of Europe competence
  3. Council of Europe has a history of supporting conscientious objection under Article 9 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms.
  4. NGO status – allows the submission of proposals for recommendations and resolutions.
  5. NGO Human Rights Theme Grouping allows us to generate support from a range of NGOs before taking the proposal forward to the relevant committee and from their to the Parliamentary Assembly; this gives us a slightly higher chance of success.
  6. Broader membership of countries than EU.
  7. All EU countries are also members of Council of Europe

The concluding insights which Martina presented were the Interests of the European Union in this Context . (See Chart 3 .)  Unfortunately, some of these areas of interest have to do with developing military capacities.  However, there are also areas of interest which could benefit from a Peacebuilding/Conflict Prevention fund that could arise from the implementation of Peace Tax Legislation.  Yet, the reality is that the EU seems to be manifesting signs of increasing militarization.  This is due in part to Article 40 which calls on members to increase their military capacities.  The USA and the armaments lobby are also pushing for increased military spending.  It is also being speculated that the EU may be desperate to compete with the US in military capacity for geopolitical reasons. 

Nevertheless, despite the reasons for choosing to focus on the CoE for the Peace Tax Proposal, it is still recognized that the EU is being observed as having issues and areas of interest in which we need to continue being observant and engaged.

Chart 3: Interests of the European Union in this Context

1. Areas of Interest which rely to some extent on military capabilities of Member States

2. Areas of Interest which might benefit from a Peacebuilding/Conflict Prevention Fund that could arise from the implementation of Peace Tax Legislation

3. Militarisation of the EU

Kshama Pandey, who also works with the Quaker Council on European Affairs, presented the current status of QCEA's Peace Tax Resolution which will be submitted to the CoE.  The QCEA approach will be to reference both Article 9 of the Convention for Human Rights and Freedoms and Resolution #337 (See Chart 4 ) adopted in 1967 which more clearly specifies Conscientious Objection (CO) to Military Service.  Having established that CO to military service is specified, means that CO to military taxation (COMT) may be presented as updating CO provisions. Kshama also pointed out that conscription for military service is not currently very widespread and even when it has been utilized the amount of time for military service is usually only a couple of years.  This contrasts with military taxation which goes on during nearly all of one's working life.  So, COMT provides an outlet for a person to register their Conscientious Objection for a much more significant portion of their lifetime.  Kshama appealed to those attending for feedback on the Peace Tax Resolution (See Chart 5) and emphasized that the current version is an early draft and not the final proposal. 

Chart 4: Resolution 337 (1967) on the right of conscientious objection

The Assembly,Having regard to Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights which binds member States to respect the individual freedom of conscience and religion

Declares

  1. Basic principles
    1. Persons liable to conscription for military service who, for reasons of conscience or profound conviction arising from religious, ethical, moral, humanitarian, philosophical or similar motives, refuse to perform armed service shall enjoy a personal right to be released from the obligation to perform such service.
    2. This right shall be regarded as deriving logically from the fundamental rights of the individual in democratic Rule of Law States which are guaranteed in Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
  2. Procedure
    1. Persons liable for military service should be informed, when notified of their call-up of the rights they are entitled to exercise.
    2. Where the decision regarding the recognition of the right of conscientious objection is taken in the first instance by an administrative authority, the decision taking body shall be entirely separate from the military authorities and its composition shall guarantee maximum independence and impartiality.
    3. Where the decision regarding the recognition of the right of conscientious objection is taken in the first instance by an administrative authority, its decision shall be subject to control by at least one other administrative body, composed likewise in the manner prescribed above, and subsequently to the control of at least one independent judicial body.
    4. The legislative authorities should investigate how the exercise of the right claimed can be made more effective by ensuring that objections and judicial appeals have the effect of suspending the armed service call-up order until the decision regarding the claim has been rendered.
    5. Applicant should be granted a hearing and should also be entitled to be represented and to call relevant witnesses.
  3. Alternative Service
    1. The period to be served in alternative work shall be at least as long as the period of normal military service.
    2. The social and financial equality of recognized conscientious objectors and ordinary conscripts shall be guaranteed.
    3. The Governments concerned shall ensure that conscientious objectors are employed in social work or other work of national importance - having regard also to the manifold needs of the developing countries.

Chart 5: Draft Peace Tax Resolution

(as presented at the Conference on July 9, 2004),

which recognises the right to conscientious objection to paying taxes designated for military purposes.

The Assembly,

Having regard to Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Right which binds member States to respect the individual freedom of conscience and religion

Declares 

  1. Basic principles
    1. Persons who, for reasons of conscience or profound conviction arising from religious, ethical, moral, humanitarian, philosophical or similar motives,  would refuse to perform armed service, if required to do so by conscription or contract, shall enjoy a personal right to be released from their obligation to contribute to military spending through taxes. This right does not absolve the person from the general duty to pay taxes, but allows for an alternative peaceful use of the amount of money that would otherwise have contributed to military spending.
  2. Procedure
    1. All persons liable to pay taxes have the right to register as conscientious objectors with their national authorities.
    2. The authorities shall notify all persons liable to pay taxes about the right in paragraph 1.
    3. Where the decision regarding the recognition of the right to conscientious objection is taken in the first instance by an administrative authority, this decision-taking body shall be entirely separate from the military authorities, and its composition shall guarantee maximum independence and impartiality. It is advisable that the existing decision making body on Conscientious Objection to military service also fulfill this duty. 
    4. Where the decision regarding the recognition of the right to conscientious objection is taken in the first instance by an administrative authority, its decision shall be subject to control by at least one other administrative body, composed likewise in the manner prescribed above, and subsequently to the control of at least one independent body. This shall be the existing decision making body in the area of Conscientious Objection to military service.Where a person's claim to have a conscientious objection to military service is no longer subject to administrative assessment, persons claiming to have a conscientious objection to military taxation shall equally enjoy such absence of an assessment procedure. 
    5. The money shall be kept in a holding account earmarked for peace tax, the account controlled by an independent authority.

Derek Brett spoke regarding his knowledge of the United Nations.

Derek Brett has been and continues to be a CPTI representative in Geneva.  First off, he explained that the UN, being a much larger and more diverse body than the CoE, is perhaps less likely to support Conscientious Objection initiatives.

Derek explained, while the UN has a presence in many cities around the world, New York and Geneva are where we are focusing our efforts.  The New York UN presence usually garners the most attention because it is where the General Assembly and the Security Council meet and pass resolutions.  Geneva is a part of the UN system which among other things addresses Human Rights issues.  Geneva then reports back to the Economic and Social Committee in New York.

As the UN system is rather complicated Derek mentioned the availability of the book A Conscientious Objectors Guide to the UN Human Rights System by Emily Miles.  The book was commissioned by the Quaker United Nations Office and published by Conscription and Conscientious Objection Documentation (CONCODOC). CONCODOC was set up by War Resister's International in 1996.

Though the CoE's resolution recognizing Conscientious Objection took place in 1967, it wasn't until the late 1970s that CO made it onto the stage of the UN in New York.  Ghana brought a resolution to the General Assembly to provide refugee status to those refusing military service in defense of apartheid.  Thus it was, virtually by the back door so to speak, that the issue of CO first appeared as part of a General Assembly Resolution which primarily focused on the crime of apartheid in South Africa.

Partly based on this historical achievement regarding the introduction of the concept of CO to military service and the entrenched militarist view represented in the UN system, D. Brett believes that a COMT resolution in the UN will also have to be accomplished by the back door.

Nevertheless, subsequent to being introduced as a UN GA resolution, the issue of CO has regularly been considered by the Commission on Human Rights.

At this point Derek Brett interjected that in UN jargon mechanisms are in fact persons such as special rapporteurs and independent experts who work and present findings on special topics.  While acknowledging the need for many approaches, Derek speculated that an approach through the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief could raise the question whether or not the widespread rejection of COMT as practiced by Quakers in many countries might be a breach of the right of Freedom of Religion and Belief as stated in the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  As a Quaker, Derek acknowledged particular and personal interest in this approach while again indicating other approaches may be adopted.

Another UN body that addresses Human Rights issues is the Sub-Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.  This group is made up of government appointed representatives and Derek's view is that we are not currently in a position to move the issue of COMT forward in this group.

A third UN body that addresses Human Rights issues is the Human Rights Committee which is set-up under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  The Human Rights Committee usually meets twice yearly in Geneva and once yearly in New York.  The 18 genuinely independent lawyers that comprise this committee are charged with overseeing the operation of the covenant ( i.e. the ICCPR).

If states ( i.e. nation-states) have signed the 2nd Optional Protocol to the ICCPR then there are three possible ways of addressing human rights concerns by the Human Rights Committee.  (It should be noted the United Kingdom and the United States of America are two of the states that have not signed.) 

  1. An individual citizen may bring a communication to the Human Rights Committee that alleges a breach of the ICCPR.  Around 1992, a communication was received from Dr. Jerilyn Prior in Canada relating to COMT.  The ruling by the Human Rights Committee was not favorable at that time and Derek's assessment is that there is no indication that we could expect a more favorable ruling for another COMT communication at the present time. 
  2. The Human Rights Committee receives reports from the states which have ratified the ICCPR.  Member state's representatives then appear before the 18 committee members and the public to respond to questions from the committee for the public record. 
  3. The Human Rights Committee of 18 legal experts may also consider an issue ( e.g. Conscientious Objection to Military Service).  After studying the issue the committee will then present a general statement of their interpretation of the present state of international law on the subject.  General Statement #22 from the early 1990s is significant in this regard as it indicated that CO to military service may be derived from the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and belief.

Having mentioned these three UN bodies concerned with Human Rights [1) The Commission on Human Rights, 2) The Sub-Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, and 3) The Human Rights Committee], Derek Brett brought the discussion back to The Commission on Human Rights.

The Commission on Human Rights is actually the UN group which CPTI works with most frequently.  Currently the Commission on Human Rights considers some of the sub-items on its agenda, such as sub-item 11G on Conscientious Objection to Military Service, every other year.  So far, a most crucial resolution by the commission came in 1998 in which it recognized that Conscientious Objection to Military Service is a Human Right.

At this point Derek Brett said it was important to remember that in contrast to the situation with the CoE, only member states' representatives of the UN Commission on Human Rights may put forward resolutions.  In other words NGOs cannot write and present resolutions to the UN Commission on Human Rights.  CPTI's and other NGO's input regarding resolutions is informal.

Resolutions by the Commission on Human Rights in the years 2000 and 2002 called upon the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights to seek best practices input on Conscientious Objection to military service from states and (eventually, with some pushing) from NGOs.  CPTI has given input regarding COMT but unfortunately the report writer did not make any reference to CPTI's input.

A current resolution by the commission is calling for input on the issue of CO from wider sources.  It is hoped that during the 2006 meeting on CO, that the issues of CO status for those already in military service, refugee rights for CO's, COMT rights will be elaborated.

CPTI as an NGO with official status with the UN is permitted to make written reports and oral reports which then become a part of the UN public record and are made available to member states.  (Please, see attached copies of a CPTI written and oral report.)

Derek then posed the question…Is all this just producing pieces of paper? Gladly it appears the situation is more hopeful.  CPTI heard from NGOs in South Korea regarding a case where a Conscientious Objector to military service was facing imprisonment.  The judge hearing the case found in favor of the Conscientious Objector.  Apparently, the judge cited the 1998 UN Commission on Human Rights Resolution saying it established there was an international recognition of the right to Conscientious Objection.

Following these presentations there was some continuing discussion.

Someone brought up that she has heard many COs, who are not Quakers or even members of other traditional peace churches, express conscientious objection to military taxation.  QCEA representative Weitsch responded that other traditional peace churches are also NGOs with participatory status with the CoE and they will certainly be consulted regarding the Peace Tax Resolution which is in its very early stages of drafting.   Peace Tax Resolution supporters and COs who are members of other churches need to urge their churches to consider and support this issue.

The challenge of indirect taxes and value-added-taxes (VATs) that help fund arms and militaries is unaddressed by the Peace Tax Resolution to the CoE but this challenge is being seriously considered especially by citizens in Germany.

Derek Brett: … At this time, international organizations such as the UN and CoE may only express desired outcomes to states and are unable to specify to states what mechanisms the states employ to achieve the outcomes. 

Bart Horeman affirmed the Peace Tax Resolution being considered for presentation to the CoE as an interesting and good idea.  However, he wondered if there was a precedent for any right such as COMT ever being established by an international body such as the CoE before the right had been established in a nation.  He expressed an interest in this question being researched.

Koen Moens reminded us that an effort such as the Peace Tax Resolution to the CoE as suggested by the QCEA can also be supported and advanced simultaneously through all the other avenues available such as lobbying governmental representatives and special rapporteurs.  Informing each other and coordinating these efforts on a timely basis is also desirable.  The great positive potential in establishing these rights at the EU or CoE level is that then these rights must be recognized by all the member states of these international bodies. Koen offered us all insight, encouragement, and inspiration to each add our own little contribution to this long term effort.

Christa Voigt expressed the idea that CPTI could ask for a new commentary about this article.  However, this approach by QCEA towards submitting a resolution to the CoE may be a new way.  Nevertheless, it is still important to continue the lobby work with Parliamentary members.

Bart Horeman redirected our attention back to Derek's remarks in which he stated that the first mention of Conscientious Objection at the UN came via the back door in a resolution focusing on the crime of apartheid.  He speculated that many of the supporters of this essentially anti-apartheid resolution had probably not even contemplated the issue of Conscientious Objection before.  So, he entreated us to consider what might be other back door approaches.  Furthermore, it may be more effective to approach the CoE focusing on making more resources available for peace rather than focusing on Conscientious Objection.  The sense is that more people would readily agree with this focus.   There is also a sense that many more people in Europe recognize that peace cannot be obtained by military might such as employed by the USA.

John Krehbiel, Jr. reminded the workshop members that Marian Franz had, earlier in the day during a plenary session, urged us to focus on the victims.  Perhaps, we should not be focused so much on Conscientious Objectors as the victims, but rather those direct victims of war who lose their lives, their limbs, their family members and loved ones, their communities, culture and infrastructure.  Beyond these countless direct victims of war there are also many other indirect victims of war who for example may not receive an education that would help them meet their potentials because too many of the world's resources are devoted to arms and militaries.  In addition to focusing on these victims, it may be helpful to recall the Preamble to UN Charter which calls for the members to work for peace and security with the least diversion for armaments of the world's human and economic resources.  Also the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and chemical and biological weapons conventions all contain the commitment to complete and general disarmament.  These are commitments to which the nation-states may be held accountable by the human family.

Bjørg Berg drew our attention to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's report of June 7, 2001 regarding the Prevention of Armed Conflict.  The essential theme of the report is a pledge to move the UN from a culture of reaction to a culture of prevention.  Please, see the introduction—presented by Bjørg Berg—of  this report (see annex 2), or better yet ask an electronic copy of the report in its entirety from Dirk Panhuis (email: cpti@cpti.ws) or consult it at www.reliefweb.int/library/documents/2001/un-conflprev-07jun.htm.)

A concluding THANK YOU was offered to QCEA for this Peace Tax Resolution idea and effort.