About the event
Conscientious Objectors are those who, for moral or religious reasons, refuse to participate in armed conflict or join the armed forces. International Conscientious Objector Day is marked around the world each year on 15 May.
With its origins in the post-WWII pacifist groups of Europe, this day was first observed in 1983 when campaigners organised around opposition to compulsory military service. The day was soon expanded internationally as a way to promote anti-militarism and conscientious objectors still suffering around the world.
There continues to be compulsory military service in various countries internationally and this day serves to highlight the continued fight for peace and how it must be at the centre of international relations.
How to approach the event
Conscientious objectors highlight important human rights issues and can give rise to interesting discussions about civil rights and responsibilities. You could draw attention to the fact that in the past the UK and other European countries had compulsory military service. And you could note how countries like South Korea, Israel and Switzerland still have compulsory military service today.
Next, introduce the concept of pacifism and anti-militarism. Explain pacifism as the belief that, if war is to end, it must be resisted non-violently. For a pacifist, no war is a good war and thus fighting in one goes against their beliefs. Encourage discussion around this belief. Ask students whether this makes sense to them- you could introduce the opposing notion of a ‘just war’, such as a defensive war.
You could then discuss forced enlistment. Ask: does your country have the right to force you to enlist, and do you have the right to refuse? Think through with students about how they would like to be treated in this situation. For example, would they like their country to protect their right to say no to military service?
Pacifism continues to be an effective tool for revealing violence in social systems. Ask students, what does it say about our own society that there continues to be strong support for military intervention and conscription? Discuss with them about how they think a more peaceful, cooperative world could be built.
A conscientious objector is a person who refuses to fight in a war. Usually conscientious objectors do this because they believe in nonviolence. The belief in nonviolence is called passificism. Can you think of any reasons people prefer non-violence?