Sunday, June 12, 2022

Lithuania's failure to recognize conscientious objection by Jehovah's Witness

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled against Lithuania in a case involving a Jehovah's Witness who asserted a claim of exemption from conscription based on conscientious objection. The decision in Teliatnikov v. Lithuania, Application No. 51914/19 (2d Section June 7, 2022), can be found here. The court summarized the decision as follows:

Under the Court’s case-law a refusal to take up military service or alternatives could be a
manifestation of an individual’s religious beliefs. Although the applicant in this case had not been convicted of any crime in that regard, it nevertheless held that the refusal to grant him conscientious objector status had been an interference with his sincerely held religious beliefs. That interference had had a basis in domestic law and had been a constitutional duty of citizens with the aim of securing public safety. 
The Court reiterated that compulsory military service imposed a heavy burden on individual citizens. It was necessary to strike a balance between the need to share the burden of military service and an individual’s conscience. The Supreme Administrative Court had failed to examine whether there had indeed been weighty reasons so as not to exempt the applicant from military service. Indeed, that court had consistently promoted the constitutional obligations of individuals to the State above the right to religious freedom. Overall, the Lithuanian system of conscription failed to strike a balance between the needs of society as a whole and those conscientious objectors who were happy to contribute to society in some other way. 
Regarding alternative civilian service, the Court held that that was not a real alternative, as it was part of the military superstructure, with draftees referred to as “military conscripts” throughout the regulations. States needed to establish alternatives outside of military command structures. 
The Court ultimately found that the State’s failure to respect the applicant’s conscientious
objections had not been “necessary in a democratic society”, in violation of Article 9 of the Convention.

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