Greece: Greek Soldier Imprisoned for Refusing to Fight in Iraq Should be Released Immediately

On 13 September 2004 conscientious objector Monastiriotis, 24, was arrested and brought directly to the Naval Court of Piraeus for trial. He was sentenced on the same day to three years and four months imprisonment for desertion, and was taken immediately to prison in Corinth.

Giorgos Monastiriotis had joined the Greek Navy on a five-year contract and refused, citing conscientious reasons, to follow his unit in May 2003 when his frigate 'Navarino' was sent to the Persian Gulf as part of operation 'Enduring Freedom'. He is the first Greek professional soldier known to have refused to participate in the recent war in Iraq on the basis of his conscientious objection and to declare his resignation from the Navy for this reason.

In his public refusal in May 2003, Monastiriotis had stated that: 'I consider that my participation in this mission consists of collaboration in the murdering of the Iraqi people. I refuse on grounds of conscience to participate in or contribute by any means to the relentless massacre of the Iraqi people, in a war that is not finishing, since even now, after its official end, people, even Children's rights are still being killed. My refusal is also a minimal act of solidarity with the Iraqi people as well as to the peaceful sentiments of the Greek people.'

In Greece the right to conscientious objection is not recognised for either volunteer or professional soldiers after their entry into the armed forces.

Seven years after the introduction of Law 2510/97, which for the first time offered the possibility of alternative civilian service in Greece, and despite a series of declarations by the authorities promising its improvement, Amnesty International believes that the alternative civilian service, both in law and in practice, continues to be of a punitive nature and to discriminate against conscientious objectors. The organisation calls for a reform of this service on the basis of international standards and for an end to the persecution of conscientious objectors.

Background

Amnesty International’s concerns are described in detail in the report 'Greece: To be in the army or choosing not to be: the continuous harassment of conscientious objectors' .

Amnesty International urges the Greek authorities to amend Law 2510/97 in order to ensure that:

  • alternative civilian service is not of discriminatory and punitive length;
  • it falls under entirely civilian authority (including in the examinations of applications for conscientious objectors);
  • conscientious objectors have the right to claim conscientious objector status at any time, both up to and after entering the armed forces;
  • the right to perform alternative civilian service can never be derogated from, including in times of war;
  • conscientious objectors who carry out trade union activities or participate in a strike during their alternative service do not have their right to alternative civilian service or unarmed military service revoked;

Amnesty International considers a conscientious objector to be any person who, for reasons of conscience or profound conviction, refuses to perform service in the armed forces or any other direct or indirect participation in wars or armed conflicts. This can include conscripts or professional soldiers who have developed a conscientious objection after joining the armed forces. Wherever such a person is detained or imprisoned solely because they have been denied or refused their right to register an objection or to perform a genuinely civilian alternative service, Amnesty International considers that person to be a prisoner of conscience and calls for his immediate and unconditional release.

Similar concerns have also been raised by the Greek Ombudsman and the Greek National Commission for Human Rights.

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