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MARCH 11, 2013

UN Says Turkey Must Respect Conscience of Its Citizens

Millions of Christians conscientiously refuse to bear arms​—and many nations honor that decision. The UN Human Rights Committee has ruled that Turkish citizens deserve the same freedom.

In its decision adopted on March 29, 2012, the Committee ruled in favor of two Turkish citizens, Cenk Atasoy and Arda Sarkut. Both men are Jehovah’s Witnesses who refused to perform military service because of their religious beliefs.

Mr. Atasoy and Mr. Sarkut had repeatedly submitted petitions to government offices to explain their conscientious decision, and they offered to perform nonmilitary civil service. Nevertheless, the men were relentlessly pressured to join the military. After the military threatened to file criminal charges against the university that employed Mr. Sarkut as an assistant lecturer, he lost his job.

In its ruling, the Committee stated that the right to object to military service on grounds of conscience “is inherent to the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion,” which is implied by Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Furthermore, the Committee ruled that this right “entitles any individual to an exemption from compulsory military service if the latter cannot be reconciled with that individual’s religion or beliefs.”

This ruling comes on the heels of two related decisions by the European Court of Human Rights. In one of those decisions, the Court ruled that “the absence of an alternative to military service in Turkey is in breach of the right to conscientious objection” guaranteed in the European Convention on Human Rights.

Conscientious objection to military service is as old as Christianity itself. E. W. Barnes, in his book The Rise of Christianity, wrote: “A careful review of all the information available [shows] that, until the time of Marcus Aurelius [Roman emperor from 161 to 180 C.E.], no Christian became a soldier; and no soldier, after becoming a Christian, remained in military service.”