Messages of solidarity were sent around the globe on 15 May, as protests and vigils were held to mark International Conscientious Objectors’ Day.
Countries such as Colombia and Turkey saw demonstrations calling for the abolition of conscription. Peace campaigners in countries from Spain to Japan sent messages of support to conscientious objectors in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.
In Finland, protests against conscription were combined with demonstrations against the Finnish government’s decision to join NATO, announced the week before.
In the UK, hundreds of people took part – either in person or online – in a ceremony in London’s Tavistock Square organised by an alliance of peace and human rights groups. It was the first time for three years that the ceremony had been held in person, due to the pandemic.
Other British towns and cities to host events included Leicester, Brighton, Sunderland and Wokingham.
Israeli peace activist Sahar Vardi told the ceremony in London that everyone can be a conscientious objector, not only those who face direct conscription to the armed forces.
‘Conscientious objection is saying “I will first be conscious to what is happening around me, then object to being part of that mechanism of war”,’ she explained: ‘Conscientious objection is an ongoing action.’
Sahar has served three prison sentences in Israel for refusing to fight.
The names were read out of a sample of 85 conscientious objectors from many times and countries as participants laid white flowers on the memorial stone for conscientious objectors in Tavistock Square.
People joining the ceremony online included Donald Saunders, 97, in North Wales. It was 79 years to the day since he had appeared before a tribunal as an 18-year-old conscientious objector in the Second World War.
Semih Sapmaz of War Resisters’ International delivered messages from peace campaigners in Russia and Ukraine, which were greeted with enthusiastic applause.
The Movement of Conscientious Objection in Russia published a statement offering ‘solidarity with all those who oppose war, with everyone who stands against the act of aggression’.
The Ukrainian Pacifist Movement condemned all attempts to force ‘civilians to conduct military service, to perform military tasks and to support the army’.
In the UK, the Peace Pledge Union called on home secretary Priti Patel to offer asylum to Russians who refuse to fight in Ukraine. They pointed to growing evidence that hundreds of Russian troops are questioning or disobeying their orders.