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US army deserters
The US army is facing strong criticism from within its own ranks over the war in Iraq. Around 5500 soldiers have deserted since coalition forces invaded Iraq in 2003 with some seeking refuge in Canada. One of these is Jeremy Hinzman, a soldier in the Elite Infantry Division, 82nd Airborne, who fled to Canada seeking refugee protection after being refused status as a conscientious objector. Hinzman stated, “This is a criminal war and any act of violence in an unjustified conflict is an atrocity. I feel that invading and occupying Iraq is an illegal and immoral thing to do.” Hinzman is the first of three deserters to ask for refugee protection in Canada. Whilst the ruling isn’t expected until February, the Canadian government have intervened in his case, stating that Hinzman cannot be classed as a refugee as he is not fleeing a well-founded fear of persecution. Hinzman’s attorney Jeffrey House argues that it is persecution to punish someone for refusing to take part in a war that is illegal under international law. The penalty for desertion in wartime is usually five years in military prison and a dishonourable discharge.
Greek COs sentenced
Giorgios Monastiriotis, a professional sailor in the Greek navy, was sentenced to five months imprisonment on 17 January for desertion. Monastiriotis had joined the navy on a five-year contract but when his unit was sent to the Persian Gulf in May 2003 he refused to join them and handed in his resignation stating, “I consider that my participation in this mission consists of collaboration in the murdering of 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 are still being killed.” Monastiriotis was originally arrested in September 2004 when he was tried and sentenced to three years and four months imprisonment for desertion. This means that he has now been sentenced twice, contravening the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which states that you cannot be tried or punished twice for the same offence. Monastiriotis is the first Greek professional soldier known to have refused to fight in Iraq on the basis of his conscientious objection. Although the concept of conscientious objection is recognised in Greece, it cannot be applied to professional soldiers who are denied the right to claim this status. In a related story, another Greek conscientious objector, Lazaros Petromelidis, was sentenced to two-and-a-half years imprisonment in December for two charges of “insubordination”, dating from 26 July 1999 and 3 July 2003. The trial was carried out in his absence.