December 10th World Human Rights Day

Appeal to European Union Countries to offer
asylum and protection to defectors and conscientious objectors from Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine

Ten months after the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while the devastation of the country knows no respite and tens of thousands are dead among the civilian population and soldiers enlisted in the two opposing armies, we appeal, on the occasion of World Human Rights Day, to the states of the European Union to offer asylum and legal protection to all the men and women who, called up to fight, choose not to take up arms and commit violence on their brethren.

According to the European Bureau for Conscientious Objection (EBCO-BEOC) and other international peace and disarmament networks, there are reportedly 300,000 people who in the past few months have left Russia due to the war. Among them are thousands of men – objectors, draft dodgers, deserters – who will not join the front lines and who contest a war held to be illegitimate according to international law.

During the same period, some 20,000 men have fled from Belarus to avoid being drafted and forced to take part in military operations alongside the Russian ally. In Ukraine, nearly 5,000 young men have filed for conscientious objectors status, but the martial law introduced with the war disacknowledges their choice and also denies them the option to perform civil service useful to the needs of the population as an alternative to conscription. Since the beginning of 2022, according to assessments by the Ukrainian Peace Movement, 971 men have been incriminated for choosing not to enlist and are subject to prison sentences that vary between three to five years. It is also estimated that in Moldavia alone, 3,000 Ukrainians have asked for asylum. In Ukraine, as in Russia, those who shirk military service are considered criminals and traitors of their homeland.

Many international institutions consider conscientious objection to military service a fundamental human right. The United Nations Human Rights Committee associates it with the “the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion" and takes strong measures against its violation. Similar declarations have been made by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR), the European Court of Human Rights, and the European Convention on Human Rights. The European Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe over the years have repeatedly intervened with resolutions and recommendations in support of this matter. They did so again in 1993 and 1994, with resolutions referring to deserters and draft dodgers in the republics of former Yugoslavia.

In the light of these binding legal provisions, we demand that the European Union countries promptly accept conscientious objectors, deserters, and draft dodgers, fleeing from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, within their territories, giving them protection in virtue of the dangerous situation these people find themselves in and the harassment to which they are subjected in their countries of origin on account of their choice not to take up arms but to practice active nonviolence, rejecting patriarchal rhetoric, according to which no one can refuse to fight for his country.

Considering that temporary protection in the European Union is currently granted to any citizen registered in Ukraine up to February 24, 2022, we wonder what will happen to Ukrainian conscientious objectors who are at present in EU countries when this annual provision expires, if not already extended by the Union Council. We demand that these persons be granted permanent sojourner permits, considering the particular condition in which they find themselves.

Also for Russian and Belarusian objectors, for whom it is far more difficult to cross the borders of the European Union and who do not enjoy temporary protection, we demand that international protection be granted in order to insure their safety and their lives.

As activists in a Network of Women who repudiate war and believe that all armed conflicts can be prevented – with the instruments of politics, diplomacy, and the active presence of women pledged to the pursuit of peace – through negotiation, we express our nearness to and solidarity with objectors, defectors, and draft dodgers who have chosen the impervious path of nonviolence.

Italian Network of Women in Black