Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict: Signed (7 Sep 2000). Ratified (22 Oct 2003).
Compulsory recruitment age: 19.
Voluntary recruitment age: 18.
Duration of compulsory military service: 9 months (for most of the conscripts in land forces) and 12 months (for few soldiers in naval and air forces).
Conscientious objection to military service recognised for conscripts: Yes, since 1997.
Duration of civilian service: 15 months.
Conscientious objection recognised for professional soldiers: No.
Military expenditure: 3.2% of GDP (data 2009).
1) There are still some punishments and prosecutions against conscientious objectors and suspended sentences have been handed down. Some conscientious objectors are punished and prosecuted repeatedly for their continued refusal to perform military service.
According to a Joint Ministerial Decision of the Minister of National Defence and the Minister of Finance (F.429.1/17/281810/S.394/04 March 2011, FEK 517 B'), a 6000 Euros fine is imposed on the insubordinates and deserters for each charge of insubordination and desertion, in addition to any criminal punishment. According to a decision of the Minister of Finance which will enter in force on 1st August 2011, those who owe more than 5000 Euros to the state will be charged with a criminal offense. This also affects conscientious objectors who do not serve the civilian service either because it is punitive or because their application is rejected. This was imposed in June 2011 on an anonymous conscientious objector (details available to EBCO) who had applied for civilian service in May 2003 and had his application rejected in April 2004. In May 2004 he appealed against the rejective decision to the State Council and he has not yet been informed about the outcome.
On 19 February 2010 E.Μ., a conscientious objector on ideological grounds, who refused to serve the punitive civilian service in 2007 was sentenced by the Military Court of Athens to 8 months suspended imprisonment on charges of insubordination. He has appealed against the decision.
On February 23, 2011 the trial of Avraam Pouliasis on charges of insubordination was postponed by the Military Court of Athens. Avraam Pouliasis, a conscientious objector on ideological grounds, was called up for military service before 1998, when there was no civilian service, and he refused to serve. Now he is 48 years old, and not liable for conscription any more.
On March 22, 2011 conscientious objector Babis Akrivopoulos was sentenced by the Naval Military Court of Piraeus to 8 months imprisonment suspended for 2 years for insubordination, because he refused to serve the compulsory military service and the discriminatory and punitive substitute civilian service still practiced in Greece.
On 31st March 2009, the Appeal Military Court of Athens found conscientious objector Lazaros Petromelidis guilty on two charges of insubordination, and sentenced him to eighteen months imprisonment, which he bought off. This was his 16th trial and represented a halving of the three years’ imprisonment without suspension handed down in absentia by the Naval Court of Piraeus on 20 May 2008. He had been left at liberty pending the appeal on payment of €7,000 bail. Petromelidis was first prosecuted after he declared his conscientious objection in March 1992, at a time when Greece did not recognize the right to conscientious objection. In 1998 he refused to do the civilian service of 30 months that he was offered, as it was of an extremely punitive duration -- in his case, 7.5 times longer than the military service he would otherwise have had to perform. Since then, he had been regularly receiving call-up papers to serve in the military and had been repeatedly charged with insubordination because of his refusal, as a conscientious objector, to serve in the army. He had been imprisoned three times, in May 1998, April 1999 and September 2002 and had been banned from travelling abroad.
2) There is no right to conscientious objection for professional soldiers.
On 16 February 2011 the Judicial Council of the Appeal Military Court of Athens heard the appeal of Nikolaos Xarhos against the bill of indictment by the Judicial Council of the Naval Court of Piraeus for a second charge of desertion. Nikolaos Xarhos was a professional soldier. In 1989 he took leave and went to Sweden where he was baptized as a Jehovah's Witness. He came back to Greece in November 2006 and was sentenced to 6 years imprisonment for desertion. He appealed against this verdict and was sentenced by the Appeal Military Court of Athens to 3 years imprisonment suspended for 5 years. On 8 August 2010 he was sent a bill of indictment by the Judicial Council of the Naval Court of Piraeus for a second charge of desertion for the period starting from the day of his trial in the appeal military court until June 2007 when his resignation was accepted.
On 18th February 2010, the appeal was heard against the third conviction of Giorgos Monastiriotis. Monastitiotis, who had joined the Greek Navy on a five-year contract, refused, citing conscientious reasons, to follow his unit in May 2003 when the frigate "Navarino" on which he was serving was sent to the Persian Gulf. He is the first Greek professional soldier known to refuse to participate in that war in Iraq on the basis of his conscientious objection and to declare his resignation from the Navy for this reason in May 2003. On 13 September 2004 he was arrested and sentenced to 40 months' imprisonment for desertion by the Naval Court of Piraeus. He was taken immediately to prison in Corinth where he remained imprisoned for 22 days until his temporary release pending his appeal hearing. On 17 January 2005 he was sentenced again by the Naval Court of Piraeus to 5 months' imprisonment for a second desertion charge, because he did not return to his unit after his release. He appealed and was released until his appeal trial. On 15 March 2006 he was fired by the army. On 31 October 2006 he was sentenced by the Appeal Military Court of Athens to 24 months’ imprisonment suspended for 3 years for the first desertion charge. On 21 February 2008 he was sentenced again by the Naval Court of Piraeus to 10 months’ imprisonment suspended for 3 years for the third and last desertion charge, because he did not return to his unit after his second release. As a result of the latest appeal, the sentence for the last conviction was halved, and again suspended for three years.
3) The civilian service provided is discriminatory and punitive. It still remains under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defence, including the examination of the applications and the assessment of persons applying to perform civilian service. A lot of applications for civilian service, mainly of the ideological conscientious objectors, are rejected by the Minister of Defence, following the opinion of a problematic committee of the Ministry of Defence which is judging their conscience posing unacceptable questions during an interview. The duration of the civilian service remains punitive in nature; by law it is double longer than the military service, and in the best case it could become 14 months by ministerial decision, while the military service for the vast majority of the conscripts is 9 months. Currently it is 15 months following a ministerial decision (66,7% longer than the military service). Other conditions of civilian service are also problematic: to be served far from the conscientious objector's home area, not in a series of major cities, and without adequate financial support (223,50 euros per month if the institution doesn’t provide accommodation and food). Furthermore, there is lack of adequate information on the possibility of applying for recognition as a conscientious objector (nothing written in the call-up papers). The time-limits for the submission of any application for recognition as a conscientious objector are strict, accompanied by all the required documentation which is difficult to be acquired. The definition of conscientious objection is restrictive and there is arbitrary refusal of recognition. Excluded, for no logical reason, is anyone who has ever held a firearms license (applicants have to provide a certificate from the police showing that they have never done so), or been a member of a hunting club, or participated in shooting sports, or been sentenced for crime related to use of guns, ammunition or illegal violence or even is currently prosecuted for such crime (which is anti-constitutional, in violation of the presumption of innocence). Finally, there were at least five cases in 2009 when conscientious objectors were refused recognition because during the recruitment process, and before their applications could be considered, they had been obliged for administrative reasons, and against their will, to spend a night in barracks, and were therefore deemed to have commenced military service although they had never accepted enlistment in any form.
4) Greece has reportedly failed to protect conscientious objectors as refugees.
One refugee case in Greece in 2009 concerned two sisters from Eritrea who had escaped forcible recruitment and abuse in the Eritrean army. Despite the ample evidence to the contrary (UNHCR etc) the tribunal chose to find that there was no known history of forced recruitment in Eritrea and also, despite the fact that their experiences had been shared, to disbelieve the girls because of the similarity of their stories.
Another case which came to attention in 2009 concerned Ridvan Celik, born in Turkey on 2 March 1969, who had refused to serve his compulsory military service for reasons of conscience in September 1991 and was forced to flee Turkey for this reason. He then immediately asked international protection as refugee in Greece, explaining his situation in his application for political asylum to the Ministry of Public Order. However, on 27 January 1992, the Minister of Public Order rejected his application. On 24 August 2000 the Turkish authorities removed his Turkish citizenship. On 18 July 2002 Mr. Celik applied for residence permit in Greece on humanitarian grounds, but on 23 September 2002 he was informed that this application was also rejected. On 19 June 2003 Mr. Celik applied for status of stateless person, according to the provisions of New York Convention (1954). On 6th December 2009 Mr. Celik was arrested in Heraklion (Crete) as one of being in a group of 20 persons on their way to a demonstration on the anniversary of the killing of Alexandros Grigoropoulos by a policeman in Athens. He was the only one of the group whose detention was not temporary; his trial was set for the summer of 2010, but the police in Heraklion issued a deportation decision against him, and on 24th December 2009 he was transferred to the Attica Aliens Department. Following an international campaign, including an intervention by EBCO, Ridvan Celik was released on 30th December and permitted to lodge a further asylum claim.
A case which is still pending is this of Kusha Bahrami, born in Iran on 22 March 1982. After being expelled from the Najaf Abad University in 2003 because of his public protests against the theocratic state and the violations of women’s rights, he was called to perform military service, which is compulsory in Iran and lasts two years, with no right to conscientious objection. Following strong pressure, he finally enlisted in 2004 but he refused to take a gun on ideological grounds. First he was punished to six-hour isolation because he didn’t obey the order. Then he was threatened that he would be sent to a military psychiatric clinic in order to cure his “disorder” and make him obey. Some days later he finally escaped. In 2006 he converted to Christianity. On 2 January 2008 the UNCHR in Turkey recognized him as a refugee at 1st instance (case number 385-07C00422, registered on 23 February 2007). In April 2008 he asked international protection as refugee in Greece but not only he was not allowed to apply for political asylum and even to contact UNHCR, but he was arrested immediately, convicted in a trial without lawyer and translator in his language, and he was detained for three months in Evros, in the north-eastern Greece. In May 2008 he was finally allowed to apply for political asylum and in June 2008 his application was rejected. In July 2008 he appealed against the decision rejecting his application and he is still waiting for his appeal hearing.
1) Stop punishing and prosecuting conscientious objectors (especially repeatedly for their continued refusal to serve in the army).
2) Recognise the right to conscientious objection for professional soldiers.
3) Make a genuinely civilian service (not under the Ministry of Defence) and of equal duration to the military one, without restrictions on accessing it. Give adequate readily available information on the status of conscientious objector and the means of obtaining such status to all those liable to be conscripted to the armed forces.
4) Give political asylum to conscientious objectors who flee their country of origin because of the compulsory military service.
Notes: There are also concerns about the violence directed against conscientious objectors. On 24 February 2009 at around 10 pm, an attempt was made to throw a hand grenade through a window into a public meeting against the new armaments plan hosted by the Greek Association of Conscientious Objectors in the Migrants’ House at 13A Tsamadou Street in Exarchia, Athens. It was solely through the good fortune that only the outer panel of the window's double glazing broke and the grenade bounced back and exploded in the empty street that there were no injuries; had the grenade exploded in the room there could well have been fatalities. As it was some damage was caused to the pavement and windows in surrounding buildings were broken. It is not known whether the attack was specifically targeted at the Association of Conscientious Objectors; the building known as the Migrants’ House, also houses a number of left, feminist, homosexual and immigrant groups. A short time before the attack, the daily Greek language courses for non-native speakers, attended by dozens of immigrants, had been taking place. Also on 12 April 2008, there was a bomb threat telephone call against a public event on conscientious objection organized by the Greek Section of Amnesty International, with the participation of EBCO, on the occasion of the ten-year anniversary of the law on conscientious objection. The latest attack was symptomatic of a general rise in right-wing pro-militarist violence. There are suspicions that the grenade used might have illicitly come from military sources. It is also disturbing that the police have had no success in attempts to trace the perpetrator. Back in 1991, the extreme-right Organisation of Young Noiseless Raiders attempted to put a bomb at the trial of conscientious objector Pavlos Nathanail, a total objector who was prosecuted because he refused to serve his military service.