Conscientious objector law debate,
A DRAFT legal change to allow for conscientious objection to military service in North Cyprus — accepted in Europe and at the United Nations as a human right — is to be scrutinised in Parliament, but faces opposition from MPs who claim it cannot apply because of the TRNC’s “special circumstances”.
The proposed amendment to the Military Service Law was brought on to the agenda of the Assembly’s Legal and Political Affairs Committee in the wake of last Thursday’s ruling by a military court in Lefkoşa fining Halil Karapaşaoğlu 2,000TL for refusing to attend one-day annual “refresher” training.
Supporters of Mr Karapaşaoğlu from the Conscientious Objection Initiative gathered outside Parliament calling for the amendment Bill to be passed and enacted speedily — winning the backing of MP Fikri Toros, of the ruling Republican Turkish Party (CTP), who emerged from the building to “commend . . . your strong, determined stance”.
However any legal change is almost certain to be too late for Mr Karapaşaoğlu, who faces 20 days in jail after announcing that he would not pay the fine by a court-imposed deadline of Monday.
Parliamentary Speaker and CTP MP Teberrüken Uluçay said procedure required the issue to be taken up at the committee in 20 days’ time, adding: “When the details are ironed out it will then be sent to the Parliamentary Assembly for scrutiny and debate.”
All four coalition partners — CTP, the People’s (HP), Social Democratic (TDP) and Democrat (DP) parties — backed legislation on the issue in their manifestos for last January’s general election.
But while the ruling parties can muster 27 votes between them, comments from the National Unity Party (UBP), which has 21 MPs in the 50-seat legislature, and the Rebirth party (YDP), with two seats, signalled the measure will not sail through Parliament unopposed.
Supporters of the Bill say genuine conscientious objectors must be accorded this opportunity, in line with fundamentals of “freedom of thought”, “conscience” and “religion”, as laid down in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, and Article 18 of the 1976 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
Opponents, however, argue that the absence of a comprehensive political settlement in Cyprus and continued arming in South Cyprus are among reasons why “now is not the time” and that this measure should be put on hold until after a peace deal on the island.
Mr Uluçay told Cyprus Today CTP “fully supports this human right”, and party leader and Prime Minister Tufan Erhürman declared in Parliament on Tuesday: “Conscientious objection was part of the programme of all four coalition parties as well as the government . . . and the issue has come to Parliament within the framework of human rights.
“We have the views of the Attorney-General. There is also a ruling by the Constitutional Court. The decision rests on the legislature.”
Cyprus Today was unable to reach DP leader Serdar Denktaş and HP’s Kudret Özersay for their views, but National Education and Culture Minister and TDP leader Cemal Özyiğit pointed out that his party had proposed conscientious objection legislation in 2014, but it had been rejected by the government of the day.
Mr Özyiğit said he hoped the military court might have deferred judgment on Mr Karapaşaoğlu, commenting: “There are youths who do not want to pick up a gun, and want to benefit from this [conscientious objection] right. Those youths will be told to work in the public sector for a [certain] period.
“However a youth who goes hunting, who wields a gun for that purpose, will not then be able to come and claim this right, saying they don’t want to hold a gun in the military.”
Support from outside Parliament came from Comnunal Liberation Party (TKP) leader Mehmet Çakıcı, who said the opportunity to express conscientious objection was a “human right”.
Basın-Sen Press Workers’ Union (Bel-Sen) president Ali Kişmir and general secretary Serkan Soyalan last week declared their own conscientious objection, saying the Karapaşaoğlu verdict had been “unacceptable” and put human rights “behind bars”.
Mr Soyalan, who has completed his national service and is to attend one more “refresher” training day before his obligation ends at age 40, told Cyprus Today this week: “This is a human rights issue. I am not against the army but do not agree with people being forced to join up if they are conscientious objectors.
Kerem Hasan Halil Karapaşaoğlu Conscientious objection supporters protest outside the TRNC Parliament on Monday