Israel/Occupied Territories: Soldiers imprisoned for refusing to take part in human rights violations

'Israel must recognise the right to refuse military service on grounds of conscience, as recognised under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which it is a party,' Amnesty International said. 'We call on the IDF to take the concern of its own reservists, soldiers and conscripts seriously. It is a message to halt actions which breach human rights standards and international humanitarian law.'

A total of 460 reservists have so far signed a letter issued in January 2002 stating: 'We shall not fight beyond the 1967 borders in order to dominate, expel, starve and humiliate an entire people.'

An earlier open letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in September 2001 was signed by 62 school students approaching the age of conscription. In explanation of their refusal to perform military service the letter said: 'We strongly resist Israel's pounding of human rights. Land expropriation, arrests, executions without a trial, house demolition, closure, torture, and the prevention of health care are only some of the crimes the state of Israel carries out, in blunt violation of international conventions it has ratified.'

One of the signatories, Igal Rosenberg (18), has just started a fifth prison sentence for refusing military service. He served a first 21-day prison sentence from 3 to 21 February; then a 28-day sentence from 26 February to 22 March; then a 14-day prison term from 10 to 22 April 2002; on 29 April he was sentenced to another 14 days. On 13 May 2002 he received a fifth prison sentence of 14 days.

Conscientious objectors in Israel are imprisoned for weeks and sometimes months, normally after unfair trials. In many cases they serve multiple prison sentences. Since the beginning of the intifada at least 114 conscientious objectors have been imprisoned with about 20 of them serving prison sentences at present.

First Sergeant Rafram Haddad (26), a reservist with the military police, was sentenced on 29 April 2002 to 28 days imprisonment for refusing to serve as a guard at Megiddo Military Prison, where Palestinians are held for long periods of time without trial. Rafram Haddad is an active member of the Jerusalem peace community.

On 25 April 2002, Shay Biran, Yiftah Admoni, Alon Dror and Tomer Friedman received prison sentences of 28 days after refusing to serve as guards at the Ketziot Prison (also known as Ansar III) in the Negev desert, recently reopened to hold hundreds of Palestinians detained during the recent IDF operations in the Occupied Territories. All four serve in the Nahal Brigade, which consists mainly of youth movement graduates. Shay Biran and Tomer Friedman had previously seen active combat duty in the Occupied Territories. Each of the soldiers defended his decision in detail.

Amnesty International calls on the Israeli government to release immediately and unconditionally all those who have been imprisoned because they refused to serve in the Israeli army for reasons of conscience or profound conviction.

Background

A person who for reasons of conscience or profound conviction arising from religious, ethical, moral, humanitarian, philosophical, political or similar motive refuses to perform armed service or any other direct or indirect participation in wars or armed conflicts and is imprisoned as a result of his/her refusal to serve is considered by Amnesty International to be a prisoner of conscience unless such a person has also refused to perform alternative civilian service of comparable length. There is no such alternative civilian service in Israel.

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