Aware of the fact that conscientious objectors are still treated harshly in some European countries and that the right to conscientious objection is not even recognized in all the member states of the Council of Europe, the Quaker Council for European Affairs commissioned this report to highlight the problems which still remain in Europe with regard to the right to conscientious objection to military service.

This report provides an overview of the current situation in Europe. In recent years many developments have taken place with regard to conscription and conscientious objection. Several European countries have suspended conscription, although by 2005 most European countries still maintain conscription and most European young men are still liable to perform military service. In many countries, particularly in Eastern Europe, the Balkans and the former Soviet Union, both legal regulations on the recognition of the right to conscientious objection and actual practice are changing quickly. In other European countries, the right to conscientious objection is still not recognized fully or at all and governments persist in harsh treatment of conscientious objectors.

Although there is a wealth of information available about conscription and conscientious objection in some countries, surprisingly little is known about others. Moreover, there is no recent comparative survey on conscientious objection in easily accessible format. The last survey of this kind was published in 1998 by War Resisters’ International (‘Refusing to bear arms – a world survey of conscription and conscientious objection to military service’), which answered the need of many organisations working on issues of conscription and conscientious objection. QCEA’s report – although being geographically limited to Europe – was intended to answer a similar need.

The report was originally published in April 2005 and featured reports on each of the individual member states of the Council of Europe. Some of these country reports were updated in 2008, leading to a revision of the main report’s Executive Summary and the publication of revised reports for the individual countries concerned.

The Right to Conscientious Objection in Europe: A Review of the Current Situation