Fifth International Conference on War Tax Resistance and Peace Tax Campaigns - Hondarribia, Spain 1994

Workshop 1: Legislation and Juridical Cases

The preparatory document

As for the IVth conference in Brussels I made a non-limitative survey on legislation and court cases. I do not pretend to be complete, the survey can only give some impression about what was going on in this field. I have a strong idea-that not all the information concerned reached me, so I ask everybody who reads this to bring in further information to the conference.

Australia

In Peace News of January 1933 I read:

On 1 December, Prisoners for Peace Day, WRI vice chair Peter Jones arrived at the Australian Tax Office in Hobart, Tasmania carrying a box of medical supplies in lieu of the A$ 303.81 he owes in taxes. In this way Peter was redirecting his tax money to Australian Humanitarian Aid for Bougainville.

I don't know whether the Australian Tax Authorities accepted this redirection of tax money.

Canada

Conscience Canada gave hopeful signs in 1993 on the matter of CO tax legislation. I quote Edith Adamson:

Ray Funk's Peace Trust Bill was scheduled to be debated in the House of Commons on June 18th, and the Government decided to recess Parliament on the 16th - we wonder why it now seems unlikely that there will be a Fall sitting, but it may be debated after the election. Recently, Mr. Chr├ętien stated that his Government, if elected, would provide more opportunities for MPs to have ‘free’ votes, not bound by party policy, so they will be able to vote according to conscience. (...) He also stated that it would be possible, if his party formed the Government after the election, to introduce legislation which would allow conscientious objectors to military taxation to direct such taxes to CIIPS (...)

CIIPS is the Canadian Institute for International Peace and Security.

Germany

The Voigts' case. On July 1, 1993 the European Commission for Human Rights declared the applications of Klaus Martin and Christa Voigt inadmissible: Having examined both applications and the other material submitted, the Commission finds that, insofar as the matters complained of having been substantiated and are within its competence, they do not disclose any appearance of a violation of the rights and freedoms set out in the Convention and its Protocols.

On September 7, 1993 the Voigts sent an application to the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva. The decision of that Committee will perhaps be the same as in the case of Dr. Prior versus Canada, decision d.d.November 7, 1991, and in the case of the Van Kerkwijks versus the Netherlands, decision d.d. July 23, 1992. But you never know.

On July 20, 1993 the Committee gave a so called General Comment on article 18 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which article 18 is about the freedom of conscience. In that General Comment the Committee changed its policy towards conscientious objections against the military service slightly but in the good direction. Let us hope that the Committee once will change also its opinion and policy on the matter of CO against militax.

The Netherlands

The Dutch Bill on Peace Taxation is still in Parliament (Staten-General). The Second Chamber discussed the bill in the defence commission and the finance commission and gave the provisional report on September 24, 1993. Many members of parliament had objections and questions about this Conscientious Objections to the Military Destination of Tax Money Bill. The Christian democrats would like to know whether there exist also objections to spend money for the military activities of the UN.

USA

The Colrain action is just the type of movement-inspiring activity which sets the almost glacially slow, but required, effective and reformative historical processes in motion(Harold Burbank).

In February 1992 the US taxation authorities sold the beautiful but confiscated home of tax resisters Betsy Corner and Randy Kehler in Colrain Massachusetts. Reason: the couple stopped paying for killing in 1977. Through a long tunnel of many law-suits and arrests and with help of an also persistent support committee finally a settlement is reached on December 31, 1933 according to -which the Franklin family who bought Betsy and Randy's house from the Tax authorities moved out.

United Kingdom

A so called Ten Minute Rule Bill on conscientious objection to payment of taxation for military purposes is to be/was introduced in the House of Commons by Labour MP Neil Gerrard this year. A bill of this sort enables the MP concerned to make a short, advocatory speech in Parliament and provides good publicity for the issue. When the militax bill already has become law, we would have heard it.

European Parliament

In the parliament of the European Union a CO resolution has been discussed in January this year. The proposed resolution was about CO against military service and about the equalisation and internationalisation of the alternative service. There was also one paragraph about our subject : The European Parliament considers that this fundamental right of conscientious objection also relates to tax contributions and calls therefore on the Member States to draw up a reply to the conscientious objections of people who are forced to support the military system through the national budget. On reasons of opportunity i.e. to save the rest of the proposed resolution this paragraph was withdrawn.

Erik Hummels, April 24, 1994

The report

Written by Arthur Windsor

This workshop, whose facilitator was Erik Hummels from the Netherlands, started in the usual way with self-introductions of the participants all round, but these quickly led to statements about the legislative position or personal juridical cases in the country of the speaker. Erik had told us about his own short survey of the state of affairs in Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, USA and the European Parliament, but his report is in the Preparatory Documents of the Assembly ; but there was hardly time during the workshop for us to discuss it. Erik did, however, make valuable interventions, especially towards the end. He also told of the position in the Netherlands, where a Peace Tax Bill is still pending, in Parliament. There have been a few court cases and some seizures.

Piercarlo Racca (Objettori alle Spese Militari - Italy), representing the non-violence movement, told us of the position, first, of legislation there. Under the old Parliament, a bill recognising conscientious objection to military service had been amended to make it possible for fiscal objectors also to be included, but as it went to the Senate, the President dissolved Parliament. That was in 1991. A new bill has been introduced, but it is still in Parliament, as, since the new Parliament is right-wing and the military are powerful, it has little chance. Then, as for War Tax Resistance, at its peak, during the Gulf War, there were 10,000 resisters (including three bishops and some well-known clergy), the number dropped to 5,000 last year and 4,000 this year, The publicity about fiscal objection has given rise to 30 cases against objectors; tax resisters have come to court with special pleading, but without success and when they went to the Constitutional Court, they still had no success.

Bob de Baecke ( VRAK - Belgium), in a country where there has been no conscription since last year, gave news of a working group on War Tax, a new bill on which subject will be introduced. Cesar Mercedes Manchego (Peru), who is living and working for Kerk en Vrede (Fonds Latijns Amerika) in the Netherlands, told us something of the position in South America. In Peru, there is nothing in the Constitution to deal with conscientious objection to military service, even, but in Paraguay, things have moved a little; there in fact there is a provision for conscientious objection in the Constitution. Paraguay now occupies a sort of symbolic position in Latin-America. Since 1992, COs can do alternative service: the only country in Latin-America. As, here again, the military are so strong, it is difficult to get War Tax Resistance and also, as in the case of conscientious objection, there is apathy among the masses, because people are so busy just surviving, in a country with vast economic problems. This applies to other Latin-American countries also. of course, but peace work and conscientious objection are just becoming issues; this is the first generation to realise they can object.

As we had no German member of the workshop, Erik reminded us that during the Gulf War Germany had a special law for military tax, by which a specific amount was contributed by tax for the support of German forces engaged in the war itself. So there was a possibility of objection to paying that tax. The British position is fairly static, explained Arthur Windsor, in that, owing to the peculiarities of the parliamentary system, it is very difficult to introduce legislation, except by means of a Private Member's Bill (The greater majority of which never see more than their First Reading, as it is called.) The second Peace Tax Bill was introduced by a Labour Member of Parliament, Neil Gerrard, this year, but owing to pressure of parliamentary business, never had its second reading and so has quietly died. However, support from Members of Parliament is slowly increasing and especially in the new European Parliament. Individual cases of war tax resistance have almost ceased to exist, though some still battle on.

The position in Spain is so different from the other countries represented that it engendered some lively discussion. It is well-known that Spanish effort is concentrated more on individual, or rather corporate, tax resistance (or diversion), as a lever to bring about the ideal -- the getting rid of all arms -- than on bringing about legislation for war tax diversion as a right. In fact, some feel that work towards legislation for (legal) tax diversion is a concession to the state forces which they cannot make; they wish to divert by wish of the people rather than by permission of the government. This ties in with the position of the over 400 Conscientious Objectors to military service who are in prison rather than being willing to do alternative service.

The workshop ended with Erik giving some useful advice about appeals to the European Court and, if necessary after that, to the International commission on Human Rights, which everyone has a right to do. It's easy, said Erik, giving us the addresses to which objections can be sent. Owing to numerous complaints, the Commission has changed its position on conscientious objection.

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