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

Workshop 6: WTRand PTF as a Human Right

The preparatory document

Monica Frisch

I would like this workshop to concentrate on the implications of War Tax Resistance and Peace Tax Funds as a Human Right.

How would conscience being a right after our activities?

Should we argue that conscience is a right?

As an introduction we may need to discuss:

  1. What are human rights? How are they defined; and by whom?
  2. Rights, Responsibilities and Freedoms.
  3. Is conscience a right? Legally; and/or morally.
  4. The position in different countries.
    1. Which countries have a written document (constitution) which legally defines rights.
    2. Is freedom of conscience accepted and/or defined as a right?
  5. How would conscience being a right affect our activities?
    1. Should we argue that conscience is a right?
    2. What are War Tax Resisters and Peace Tax Campaigners doing on this issue?
  6. Recommendations.

I would hope that we can deal with items I-IV quite quickly so that we can spend time on V-VI. I would prefer not to spend too much time on legal or philosophical discussions.

The report

Written by Dominique Saillard

Convenor: Monica Frisch, Conscience - The Peace Tax Campaign, UK.

Participants: Eva Parell (Sweden); Christa Voigt (Germany); Svend Henriksen (Denmark); Alfonso Muela, Maria José Sánchez, Consuelo Bayón, Jesús Ojeda (Spain); Alberto L'Abate (Italy); César Mercedes (Perú/Netherlands); Tulle Elster (Norway); Gerald Drewett (UK); Dominique Saillard (France/UK)

After a round of introductions, the discussion started with several participants reporting back on a previous workshop entitled What is conscience?. Participants had different views about the nature of conscience, but they agreed that it was a notion that could evolve during a person's lifetime.

Monica proposed to think about what were human rights, how and by whom they were defined, and indicated she would be interested in discussing what difference the recognition of WTR as a human right would make to our campaigns. Participants noted that although the right to resist killing is sometimes recognised, there is often no talk about one's responsibility to resist killing. It was also important to be aware of cultural differences in the perception of human rights, with people in Western countries putting more emphasis on conscience as an individual right, whereas non-western cultures tended to have a more collective approach. There was also an obvious link with the recognition of conscientious objection to the military service as a human right.

Alberto informed the participants of a positive development in Italy. Since the start of the war tax resistance campaigns in 1981, there have been 17 trials of activists accused of promoting illegal activities. The defendants argued that it was their right to defend their country in the way they thought was right, and the Constitutional Court agreed with their position, ruling that nonviolent defense was indeed a valid option, together with military methods. This was seen by tax resisters as a step forward in the right direction, and setting up an important precedent. Another interesting development was that a Parliament member in favour of establishing a human right to war tax resistance had sponsored a bill that would allow citizens to choose whether to give their tax money to the army or not. The bill had been ruled constitutional, but have not yet been discussed in Parliament. Unfortunately, the election of Berlusconi and his alliance with fascist parties were now making its adoption very unlikely. His group had chosen to put their efforts behind the adoption of a general conscientious objection law, which had been approved by a majority in Parliament but rejected by the President.

When the group came to discuss how to seek a human right and how to use it to resist war, two main questions were raised: should we go for a very broad definition of the right, or for a narrower one?, should there be a law for each country or should it be universal?

On the first question, one participant noted that there were three potential directions (not mutually exclusive): seeking the adoption of a totally new right; seeking the extension of an already recognised right to cover other types of conscientious objection; or following the Italian example of arguing for a nonviolent defense alternative. Another person thought it was very important to be clear about a definition of this human right if it were to be presented to national assemblies. He saw danger in extending the definition too much. Without loosing sight of our eventual goals, it was important to outline clear, intermediate step to the public and politicians. There was widespread agreement that to further these goals the most crucial thing at this point was to increase the number of people involved in War Tax Resistance and Peace Tax campaigns around the world. To do this, emphasis on a narrower goals could be useful, but there was still the need for a statement that would appeal to the broader issue of human rights.

Discussing the level at which the establishment of a human right should be pursued (national or global), it was noted than bringing the issue at the UN level could be useful in preventing and exclusively Western and individualistic definition of human rights to prevail. A pragmatic solution would be to address our local and national governments with realistic proposals they could accept, while using the UN to give the issue of human rights a more global and encompassing focus.

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