Choosing to Live

Photo: Library of Congress

By Yan Patsenko, World BEYOND War, October 31, 2022

A simple wish to be free from harm is not something that we are all granted at this time. Not all of us are free from the obligation to engage in actions that harm others either. Not everyone has the ability to choose to live in today’s world. Entire communities of people are engulfed in military actions and in the rapid spread of sentiments that support them. It feels claustrophobic to those of us who are seeking alternative ways of conflict resolution and wishing to escape from the habitual cycles of attacks and retaliations. It gets harder to speak of the value and sacredness of each individual life when we daily lose people by hundreds to war. And yet, for these very reasons, it may be crucially important to say what we can say in support of every single person who’s ready to lay down their weapon or refuses to pick one in the first place.

There’s a right to conscientious objection to military service derived from the international human rights to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief. Both Ukraine and Russia, as well as Belarus, currently have in place many restrictions that do not allow or greatly limit their citizens’ right to the conscientious objection based on their convictions. Right now, Russia undergoes forced mobilization and Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 to 60 are not allowed to leave the country since February of this year. All three countries have strict punitive measures for those who evade conscription and military service. People face years of imprisonment and a lack of independent procedures and structures that could allow them to refuse participation in military life legally and without discrimination.

Regardless of our stance on the events in Ukraine, all of us would want to have the ability to decide what our lives should be in service to. There are so many ways to contribute to the well-being of our families and communities, and of the world at large, including in the situation of war. Forcing people to take up arms and fight their neighbors is not something that should remain unquestioned. We can respect the autonomy of every person to make their own choices of how to respond to such a complex situation. Every one of us who can be saved from losing our lives on the battlefield can become a potential source of new solutions and fresh visions. Any given individual might help us find unexpected ways to the creation of a peaceful, fair, and compassionate society experienced and enjoyed by all.

This is why I would like to share with you the petition that asks for protection and asylum for deserters and conscientious objectors to military service from Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. The petition will support the appeal to the European Parliament that details how this protection can be granted. An asylum status would offer safety to individuals who are forced to leave their countries of birth by choosing to not harm and not be harmed. As the creators of the petition mention, “with your signature, you will help to give the appeal the necessary weight”. It will be handed over to the European Parliament in Brussels on Human Rights Day on December 10th.

I will remain eternally grateful to those of you who will consider adding your name to it.

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