On December 5, 2019, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) unanimously ruled in favor of 22 of Jehovah’s Witnesses from Armenia who were wrongly convicted of evading compulsory military service. The ECHR awarded them a total of over $267,000 (EUR 242,000). This is the highest monetary value the ECHR has awarded our brothers in a case involving conscientious objection.
In 2012, the brothers were convicted for conscientiously objecting to military service and for refusing alternative civilian service (ACS). The brothers refused ACS because, at the time, it was under military supervision and was not truly civilian. Therefore, all but two of the brothers served terms in prison prior to 2013, when Armenia enacted ACS that was truly civilian and stopped imprisoning our brothers for conscientious objection.
In handing down its December 5 decision, the ECHR relied on a victory Jehovah’s Witnesses obtained in 2017, the case of Adyan and Others v. Armenia. The ECHR stated that Armenia was well-aware of that case with a similar fact pattern and should have entered into a friendly settlement with the 22 brothers. Despite our brothers’ attempts over the past year, the government refused to accept a friendly settlement. Thus, the ECHR unanimously ruled in favor of the brothers.
Thankfully, Armenia’s position on conscientious objection has vastly improved since 2013. Our brothers are no longer imprisoned or saddled with criminal records for their neutral stand. For the past seven years, Armenia’s truly civilian ACS has been a model for other nations to adopt. However, the ECHR’s December 5 judgment holds Armenia accountable for its failure to comply with international law in 2012.
With this decision, the ECHR sends a clear message that it is willing to heavily penalize a country for violating international human rights laws. We thank Jehovah for granting our brothers in Armenia this extraordinary legal victory. We pray that it opens the way for our brothers in other lands to conscientiously object to compulsory military service and to have the option for alternative civilian service where it is not yet available, such as in Azerbaijan, South Korea, Turkey, and Turkmenistan.