European Court ruling fails to protect the rights of conscientious objectors in Armenia
YEREVAN, Armenia—On October 27, 2009, in the case of Bayatyan v Armenia, the European Court of Human Rights held, in view of existing case law, that it was required to rule that freedom of conscience as defined in Article 9 of the European Convention does not protect the rights of conscientious objectors who refuse to serve in the military.
Vahan Bayatyan is an Armenian national, born in 1983, who lives in Yerevan, Armenia. He is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and for reasons of conscience refused to perform military service. In 2002 he was sentenced to a prison term of one and a half years. His sentence was increased by one year after the Prosecutor appealed for a harsher sentence, claiming that Mr. Bayatyan’s conscientious objection was “unfounded and dangerous.” When the decision was confirmed by the Armenian Supreme Court, Bayatyan took his case to the European Court. The European Court ruled against Mr. Bayatyan even though it did “not doubt that the applicant’s objection to compulsory military service was based on his genuine religious convictions.”
Even though it ruled against Mr. Bayatyan, the Court was cognizant of the fact that the Council of Europe requires new member states to recognize the rights of conscientious objectors and to offer an alternative civilian service.
Dissenting judge Anne Power, from Ireland, found this ruling “incompatible with current European standards on the question of conscientious objection.” Concurring judge Elisabet Fura, from Sweden, was initially of the view to relinquish the case to the Grand Chamber to “examine the issue/revisit the case-law.” Advocate André Carbonneau, who is representing Mr. Bayatyan, confirmed that an appeal seeking the intervention of the Grand Chamber will be lodged within the next three months.
The Republic of Armenia undertook to provide an alternative civilian service by adopting an alternative service law on July 1, 2004, in order to be in compliance with European Standards as a requirement for accession to the Council of Europe. However, that alternative service law, because it is under the control of the military, does not address the needs of conscientious objectors who are presently being called up for military duty.
There are 71 conscientious objectors who are Jehovah’s Witnesses currently in prison in Armenia for their conscientious refusal of military service.
Paul Gillies Phone +44 7775 833880
David Semonian Phone +1 718 560 5600