International Conscientious Objection Day - May 15

Graphic for International Conscientious Objection Day. Two men stand holding banners which say 'end the draft now' and 'refuse conscription'. Behind them are many other protesters in grey. The words 'Refuse war, resist for peace' are written above in green and white.
John | Better World Info

➡️ International Conscientious Objection Day, May 15 – Refuse War!

Conscientious Objection Day is dedicated to those who have refused to participate in armed conflict and military structures on moral, ethical, religious, or political grounds. The day highlights our universal right to peace and individual freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, as recognized by international human rights laws.

This annual celebration honours the courage it takes to stand up to governments, object to war, and promote non-violent means of resolving conflicts. The day is marked across the world with peace vigils, public demonstrations, and seminars, aimed at raising awareness about the role of conscientious objectors in peace-building efforts.

For further insight explore our categories on conscientious objectors by country, deserters, reliable news sources, peace, military, and conflict regions.

This year, War Resisters’ International are launching the international action campaign #RefuseWar! It highlights the increasing danger of militarisation in our societies and stands in solidarity with conscientious objectors worldwide.

As the Ukraine war rages on into its second year, we must ensure protection and the right to asylum for all those from Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine who refuse mandatory military service.

More recently, the Israel war on Gaza has prompted a surge in Israeli conscientious objection. Those advocating for peace and coexistence with the Palestinians are known as refuseniks. They are labelled traitors and risk lengthy prison sentences. In a country where military training is widely considered a rite of passage and part of national identity, pacifism and war resistance are highly stigmatised. 

'War is a crime against humanity!' - Pope Francis

Regardless of this, in many countries there are harsh penalties for pacifists who refuse to bear arms. With increasing numbers refusing to fight, international support is needed more than ever. Conscientious objectors face imprisonment, discrimination, and other serious penalties.

Germany and South Korea are paving the way for a brighter outlook. Here the right to conscientious objection is acknowledged and alternative forms of service are provided, such as civil or community service. As there is no universal standard, the disparity in the treatment of conscientious objection raises important questions about human rights and the balance between national security and individual rights.


Two people hold up signs at an anti-war protest organized by ANSWER Coalition, demonstrating against the Iraq War. The signs read 'My sons wont kill or die for oil' and 'Capitalism terrorizes all workers.'
Flickr | Ben Schumin

Throughout history, numerous movements have been significantly shaped by principles of conscientious objection. For instance, during World War I and II, the pacifist movements, including notable figures such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr, emphasized nonviolent resistance and conscientious objection to military service.

The Vietnam War also saw a substantial rise in conscientious objection in the United States, influencing public opinion and policy regarding military drafts. These movements not only challenged attitudes towards war but also contributed to broader social and political reforms.

Conscientious objection is a powerful form of protest. By refusing to serve in the military, we can make a strong political and moral statement against war, the military, and the use of violence to forge peace. High profile cases also serve as catalysts for public discussions about peace, human rights, and a peace-first approach to conflict resolution.

A modern example in the persecution of conscientious objectors is the ongoing case against Ukrainian peace activist Yurii Sheliazhenko. Yurii is a key member of the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement and a Council Member of the International Peace Bureau.

He has been charged by the Ukrainian government with justifying Russian aggression due to his vocal opposition to any escalation of the conflict. He has openly called for a ceasefire and peace talks to end the war. Throughout the war Ukraine has suppressed peace activism, and accused those expressing pacifist views, of in fact supporting Russia.

The challenges faced by conscientious objectors underscore the need for greater advocacy and legal protections that ensure the rights of conscientious objectors are upheld, promoting tolerance and understanding within societies.


Black and white photograph showing a large group, mostly women, in front the National Council for Reduction of Armaments headquarters, in the same building as the National League of Women Voters headquarters in Washington, D.C. Thy arre raising a large white banner which says 'No more war'.
Picryl | Public Domain

War itself constitutes a tragic failure of diplomacy and politicians, as well as a bloody victory for militarism and war profiteers. Any persecution of those who object war constitutes a blatant violation of their fundamental human rights.

There is a great need for legal reforms in order to defend and support conscientious objectors around the world. We must protect our right to #RefuseWar!

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Author: Rachael Mellor, 14.05.24 licensed under CC BY-ND 4.0

For further reading on International Conscientious Objection Day see below ⬇️

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