Today, 15th May, is International Conscientious Objectors Day. A Conscientious Objector (CO) is someone who refuses to join any military organisation or fight in any war for religious, moral or ideological reasons.
COs have always been viewed with suspicion and fear, and are often labelled as cowards (the White Feather campaign is the visible side of this distrust). This is despite many COs, particularly during the two World Wars, taking part in non-military tasks such as ambulance driving, sometimes putting their own lives in great danger.
Sadly, many COs are still persecuted today. Just fourteen days ago, the campaigning organisation War Resisters International (WRI), sent out an alert about Uriel Ferera, a 19-year-old CO who was imprisoned in Israel on 27th April, because he refused to take up his compulsory military service. A member of the Israeli campaign group Conscientious Objectors Against the Occupation, Uriel has been a vocal protestor about the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, which he believes has had a violent impact on Israeli society.
Since January 2014, WRI has sent out nine such alerts, predominately from Israel, but also from Azerbaijan, Northern Cyprus and Turkmenistan. These men and women are being put on trial and imprisoned on an almost daily basis somewhere in the world. This is not a problem which has gone away.
In my opinion, COs are not cowards. In fact, they are some of the bravest people in the world today. They are not following on like sheep in an increasingly militarised world, but are instead standing up and saying “not in my name”. They face trial, imprisonment and sometimes torture. They will often voluntarily put themselves, unarmed, in war zones to help the innocent victims of war.
They are all my heroes and heroines, and today I will remember and salute their courage and conviction.
Go to http://www.ppu.org.uk/coday/ for more information about International Conscientious Objectors Day. You can also sign up to receive WRI CO alerts via their website (see linked text above).