4.9

Documentation for Civil Purposes

there shall be no discrimination against conscientious objectors because they have failed to perform military service.

Human Rights Committee, General Comment 22 (July 1993), Paragraph 11

The Commission on Human Rights...reiterates that States, in their law and practice, must not discriminate against conscientious objectors in relation to ... any economic, social, cultural, civil or political rights

(Resolution 1998/77, OP 6)

Section 2.3.2outlined the many purposes for which military documentation may be needed. Where documentation of equal standing is not available to those who have not performed military service, whether they have been exempted from, excused it on condition of performing alternative service, or have refused it, they remain at a potentially severe disadvantage.

The Jehovah's Witnesses report from Armenia, As of October 13, 2004, there were over 17 Jehovah's Witnesses who, after their release from prison as conscientious objectors to military service, were refused identity documents (internal passports) because they were not given a document of registration by the military commissariat. The identity documents are necessary for such things as employment or marriage. An additional seven men, who have identity documents, were refused residency registration, a requirement in Armenia.[1]

In Brazil, following alternative service a Certificate of Alternative Obligatory Military Service Rendered will be issued, with the same legal implications as the Certificate of Reservists.[2] As indicated above (page 86) there is also (perhaps uniquely) a Certificate of Refusal to Render Alternative Service. Under Article 4.1 The refusal or the non-completion of Alternative Service, under whatever pretext due to personal responsibility of the draftee, will result in the corresponding Certificate not being issued for a period of years after the established expiration period. Thereafter, the Certificate will be issued only after the proper authority rules for the suspension of political rights of the defaulter, who, at any time, can regularize his situation by fulfilling the due obligations(Article 4.2). Thus the certification which is essential for legal identity is eventually available even to those who have refused all service, but the loss of political rights - including the right to vote or to stand for elective office - is permanent, being recoverable only by the withdrawal of the objection.

In Eritrea, it has not been individual conscientious objectors, but the whole community of Jehovah's Witnesses who, in punishment for not fighting in the liberation struggle, refusing to vote in the independence referendum and refusing to do national service found that following a presidential decree of October 1994, the government expelled them from government employment and accommodation, denied them access to government services including schools and hospitals, and refused them the official identity cards, essential for daily life and administrative procedures, and passports. In 2004 this situation was defended by the head of the President's office: ...Their number is very small, they publicly said they don't recognize the temporary government and the government's response was, okay, if they do not recognize the temporary government, the government will also not recognize them…[3]

In the USA, prosecution for failure to register has generally been treated as a last resort. Instead, registration is enforced by the denial of benefits. Those who have not registered are not eligible for federal loans or grants for higher education, for federally-funded job training, or for most federal employment. The federal government has also encouraged state and municipal legislatures to enact similar legislation. As of August 2004, at least 20 of the fifty states required those eligible to be registered for the draft as a precondition of receiving state finance for higher education and 17 states would not employ unregistered persons in any capacity. Nine states debarred unregistered men from admission to state colleges or universities. States have also been encouraged to make registration a precondition for the issue of a driving licence, or a state sanctioned photographic ID, essential for many mundane purposes: One cannot even buy a plane or train ticket in the US without a photo ID. Or cash a check in most places. Or even enter some buildings.[4] As of August 2004, 21 states and the Virgin Islands Territory had introduced such rules, and in Illinois the necessary legislation was awaiting the Governor's approval. Eleven further states, plus the District of Colombia and the Territory of Guam had linked the procedure for application for a driving licence to draft registration for those who were not already registered, but most did not make this mandatory. In all, only 11 of the 50 states made no linkage between draft registration and higher education, state employment or the issue of driving licences; in thirteen there was linkage in all three areas.[5] Once a man has passed the age of 25 he can no longer register, and - unless he can prove that this failure was not knowing and wilful - may find that the consequent handicaps persist for life. This last is a particular fear for non-citizens. Resident non-citizens who are discovered not to have registered - even if their presence in the country at the appropriate time was not covered by valid documentation - are in a particularly vulnerable situation at any future time when their residence status comes under scrutiny. Under law, those who are convicted of failure to register are deportable, may be debarred from obtaining citizenship for at least five years, or from obtaining a green card or permanent residence status, and may even be prohibited for life from re-entering the USA. This severest penalty would certainly apply to any non-citizen who was convicted of leaving the country in order to avoid military recruitment.

Conscientious objectors who have been convicted of offences connected with the refusal of military service may suffer disadvantages as a result not of the objection itself but of the criminal record. In a landmark judgment, the European Court of Human Rights found in the case of Thlimmenos v Greece,[6] that a Jehovah's Witness who had been imprisoned for refusing military service, before there was any provision for conscientious objection in Greek law, was the victim of discrimination when his criminal conviction debarred him from subsequently practising as an accountant. The result was that in Law 2915/2001 Greece provided for the deletion of convictions resulting from conscientious objection from criminal records, and also abolished the practice of requiring proof of successful completion of military service in order to obtain employment in various professions. Some of the fourteen Jehovah's Witnesses in Romania whose convictions for failure to perform alternative service were overturned by the Supreme Court in 2003 (see p35) had in the meantime lost their (lay) jobs.[7]

Finally, special mention must be made of a very common restriction placed on those who have been accepted as conscientious objectors. Those States which will not grant the status to persons who have held a firearms licence also tend to place restrictions on their ability to be issued one at any stage in the future; Armenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Portugal are examples. In Armenia, 1. Citizens who have performed alternative service may not … be granted the right to own, bear and use weapons. 2. Citizens who have performed alternative service may not be appointed to State positions that involve operations connected with the possession, bearing and use of weapons.[8] Similarly, in Portugal a person who has been a conscientious objector cannot during his whole lifetime exercise any public or private function which entails using or carrying guns, trading or manufacturing war material. Austria has a more limited form of such an exclusion; no person who has performed alternative service as a conscientious objector may obtain a licensable weapon until more than 15 months after completion of that service.


  • [1] General Counsel of Jehovah's Witnesses, evidence submitted to the OHCHR, February 2005
  • [2] Article 4 of Law Number 8.239
  • [3] Amnesty International (2004), Eritrea: You have no right to ask, London, Section 3.
  • [4] Center on Conscience and War, evidence submitted to the OHCHR, 2003.
  • [5] For a full table see Center on Conscience and War (2004), State Penalties for Non-registrants (http://centeronconscience.org/statepen_chart.pdf)
  • [6] Application Number 34369/97; judgment of 6th April, 2000.
  • [7] General Counsel of Jehovah's Witnesses, response to OHCHR questionnaire 2003
  • [8] Law on Alternative Service, 2003, Article 22.