Oral statement given at Interactive dialogue on the situation in Ukraine

UN Human Rights Council, 56th Session

by WRI and Connection e.V.

(10.07.2024) This morning, Mr. Volker Turk, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights concluded the interactive dialogue at the UN Human Rights Council on the situation in Ukraine. Connection e.V. collaborated with War Resisters International to the drafting and delivering of an oral statement in the plenary, calling for the end of the war in Ukraine and for the protection of the human rights of those who object to the war. Among others, the case of the human rights defender, Yurii Sheliazhenko, and of his organization, Ukrainian Pacifist Movement have been raised.

 Statement by WRI and Connection e.V. as pdf-file

Mr. Vice- President

Mr. High Commissioner,

[War Resisters’ International (WRI)] thanks the High Commissioner for the update [and the Secretary-General for the report.]

We stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine who are suffering from the ongoing war of aggression by the Russian Federation, which is causing tragedies and grave violations and an inhumane nuclear threat.

We call on the international community to provide support for a ceasefire and peace negotiation.

We would like also to bring to the attention of this Council the concerning situation of those who refuse to engage in this war and are prevented from exercising the human right to conscientious objection to military service [which should be protected and cannot be restricted as highlighted in the 2022 OHCHR thematic report].1

It has been reported forced detention of Russian refusers to war2 in the occupied territory as well as jailing and trials for several priests.3

The new report of the European Bureau for Conscientious Objection (EBCO) states serious violations of the right to conscientious objection in Ukraine where, in practice, it has been suspended.4

ECHR Guide on Article 9 states no justification for “the absence of an appropriate alternative service”.5

For instance, Ukrainian objectors are punished with fines6  and in some cases are arbitrarily detained [by military recruiters]7. The Supreme Court upheld a 3-years jail sentence8 for [the conscientious objector and Adventist church member,] Dmytro Zelinsky [with the motivation that military service is possible without carrying weapons -actually not in line with army’s statutes9 – and that draft evasion cannot be justified on religious ground10].  The Supreme Court refused to also consider the cassation of the convicted conscientious objector Vitaliy Alexeienko11.

WRI and its partner Connection e.V. are also deeply concerned by the current persecution of the human rights defender Yurii Sheliazhenko, [who has been supporting conscientious objectors’ rights in his country,] -whose case has been pointed out also by several Special Rapporteurs12 – and of his organisation Ukrainian Pacifist Movement13.

High Commissioner, how can those who refuse war [-those who object to participating in its deadly disasters-] be fully protected in time of war?

We urge Russia to end the illegal armed occupation of Ukraine, cease conscription in the occupied territory, [contrary to international humanitarian law14], and the militarization of school system in the region15.

We call on Ukraine to stop the persecution of conscientious objectors and of human rights defenders who support them.

Thank you.


1 Analytical report by the OHCHR (see paragraph 5), https://undocs.org/en/A/HRC/50/43.

2 https://www.ifor.org/news/2023/3/29/russia-release-all-those-who-object-to-engage-in-the-war-and-are-illegally-detained-in-the-russian-controlled-areas-of-ukraine

3 https://www.forum18.org/archive.php?country=17

4 Annual Report “Conscientious objection to military service in Europe 2023/24” (p. 150), https://ebco-beoc.org/sites/ebco-beoc.org/files/2024-05-15-EBCO_Annual_Report_2023-24.pdf

5 ECHR Guide on Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Freedom of thought, conscience and religion), para. 66, p. 26/107. https://www.refworld.org/docid/6048e2a40.html

Chapter II.A.2. of the Guide (updated on August 31st  2022) deals with “Conscientious objection: the right not to act contrary to one’s conscience” and refers to the Mushfig Mammadov v. Azerbaijan judgement of 2019.

It that the “necessity of defending the territorial integrity of the state” does not in itself constitute grounds capable of justifying the absence of an appropriate alternative service”.

6 New law adopted on 9 May 2024 increased fines for violations of military registration and mobilisation regulations from 17 000 to 25 500 Ukrainian hryvnia (the sums is comparable to an average monthly salary) in special time, including current regime of martial law; https://zakon.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/3696-IX

7 CCPR/C/UKR/CO/8, para. 29, 30.

Ukrainian parliamentary commissioner for human rights Dmytro Lubinets reports about facts of detention and forcible transportation of citizens to territorial recruitment centres https://ombudsman.gov.ua/report-2023/rozdil-3-prava-liudyny-v-sektori-bezpeky-ta-oborony.

“The Ombudsman asked the State Bureau of Investigation and the National Police to investigate forced transportation of a man to the Territorial Recruitment Center in Chernivtsi” (Human Rights Centre ZMINA, 5 July 2024) https://zmina.info/news/ombudsman-zvernuvsya-do-dbr-ta-naczpolicziyi-cherez-sylove-dostavlennya-cholovika-do-tczk-u-chernivczyah/ ; according to Andrii Osadchuk MP, commanders of military recruitment centres failed to appear when summoned to hearings at parliamentary commission regarding human rights violations related to mobilisation, including a death of a detained conscript in custody of a Zviahel recruitment centre https://www.radiosvoboda.org/a/news-predstavnyky-minoborony-zasidannia-tsk/32983025.html.

Yulia Yatsyk MP reported about 3200 complaints to parliament regarding actions of military recruiters https://www.radiosvoboda.org/a/news-kovalchuk-smert-zvyahelska-ttsk/33006787.html.

“The mobilisation squads have a fearsome reputation, especially in Odesa, for pulling people off buses and from train stations and ferrying them straight to enlistment centres.” https://www.bbc.com/news/articles/cz994d6vqe5o

8 See https://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2871 for a context ; by a judgement of 13 June 2024, Supreme Court upheld a guilty verdict of Ternopil Appellate Court of 28 August 2023 which quashed acquittal verdict of Kremenets District Court of Ternopil Region of 5 June 2023. The judgement rules that conscientious objection claims should be a subject to legal limitations and investigations, that there are high risks of bad faith claims in circumstances of Russian aggression, that law on alternative service doesn’t provide such option instead of conscription during mobilisation, that “no religious beliefs can be a reason for evading by a citizen of Ukraine, recognized as fit for military service, from mobilisation in order to fulfil his constitutional duty to protect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the state from military aggression by a foreign country”, that according to a pastor’s testimony in the court of first instance Seventh-day Adventist church “urges believers not to evade the call for mobilisation, but to obey God’s commandments and not take up arms”, and that “conscription for military service during mobilisation does not automatically mean that a person was obliged to take up arms, because in view of his religious beliefs and the constitutional obligation to protect the Motherland during his service, he could be involved in the repair of equipment, the construction of fortifications, evacuation of the wounded, transportation of goods and performance of other functions not related to the use of weapons” https://reyestr.court.gov.ua/Review/120029741

9 Article 11 of the Statute of Internal service of the Armed Forces of Ukraine requires from every person on military service to keep and be ready to use assigned weapons, to perform combat duties as commanded, https://zakon.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/en/548-14 ;  similar duties of a military serviceman, including to keep intact assigned weapons, equipment and ammunition are prescribed by Article 26 of the Drill Statute of the Armed Forces of Ukraine https://zakon.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/549-14

10 Practical commentary to the Criminal Code of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic edited by the Head judge Volodymyr Zaichuk of Supreme Court, published in 1969 explained that “refusal to conduct military service under the pretext of religious beliefs” constitutes a crime of draft evasion (p. 188; this also applies to draft evasion during mobilisation, punishable up to the death penalty, pp. 189-190) even if it is not a “deception” and the beliefs are sincere (p. 189). Soviet-time documents reveal that thousands of conscientious objectors were repressed in Ukraine on 1940-50s and their mass evictions were planned https://t.me/sheliazhenko/391 ; see also Hiroaki Kuromiya (2012), “Conscience on Trial: The Fate of Fourteen Pacifists in Stalin’s Ukraine, 1952-1953”. According to 1980 Amnesty International publication “Prisoners of Conscience in the USSR: Their Treatment and Conditions”, conscientious objection and its advocacy, especially on religious grounds, was punishable by imprisonment in Soviet Union https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur46/004/1980/en/

11 Conscientious objector Vitaliy Alexeienko was sentenced for one year of prison in 2022, served three months in Kolomyia correctional colony and released in 2023 by a judgement of Supreme Court which ordered retrial; he got 3 years suspended prison sentence at the retrial, appellate court denied his complaint asking acquittal and prosecutor’s complaint asking real prison term. See also: “Story from a Ukrainian Conscientious Objector” in Quaker Council for European Affairs blog https://qceablog.wordpress.com/2024/04/23/story-from-a-ukrainian-conscientious-objector/ ; “UKRAINE: Conscientious objector now jailed” https://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2813 “Belief or Betrayal? Ukraine’s Conscientious Objectors Face Hostility”, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/08/18/world/europe/ukraine-conscientious-objectors.html ; “Ukrainer auf der Flucht vor dem Militärdienst”

https://www.arte.tv/de/videos/118267-004-A/re-ukrainer-auf-der-flucht-vor-dem-militaerdienst/ and “Les Ukrainiens fuient le service militaire”


Procedural law in Ukraine requires to submit cassation complaint within three months term after the decision of appellate court was proclaimed. However, usual practice of courts is to proclaim resolutive part of decision on the day of hearings and to “proclaim” later (i.e. provide to parties) full text of the court decision including its motivation, knowledge of which is necessary to prepare a cassation complaint; so, it is uncertain when the term of complaining starts. According to a ruling of Supreme Court, full text of ruling of appellate court in Alexeienko’s case was proclaimed on 11 March 2024 while the resolutive part was proclaimed on 6 March; Alexeienko submitted his cassation complaint on 8 June, but the Supreme Court ruled that deadline expired on 6 June and refused to extend the deadline, returned cassation complaint by a ruling of Supreme Court dated 13 June 2024 https://reyestr.court.gov.ua/Review/119710528 ; Alexeienko submitted a repeated cassation complaint referring to the principle of equality of arms (since the prosecutor’s cassation was accepted -Ruling of Supreme Court on opening proceedings after cassation complaint of a prosecutor in Alexeienko’s case, dated 27 June 2024  https://reyestr.court.gov.ua/Review/120029777-) and that excessive formalism should not violate his right to a fair trial.

12 https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=28562

13 Joint press release “Ukraine: Stop the criminalization of peace and human rights speech and the prosecution of Yurii Sheliazhenko, Executive Secretary of the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement”, https://ebco-beoc.org/node/628 ; see also A/HRC/56/30, para. 45.

14 Russia Forces Ukrainians in Occupied Areas into Military. Compelling Ukrainian Civilians to Serve in Russian Armed Forces a War Crime, Human Rights Watch,  https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/12/20/russia-forces-ukrainians-occupied-areas-military

15 According to the study “School education: a hidden weapon of the Russian Federation against Ukraine”, the educational standards of the Russian Federation plainly and overtly prepare Ukrainian children on the occupied territories of Ukraine for fulfilling the “honourable” military duty in the occupying army, https://rchr.org.ua/en/analytics/school-education-hidden-weapon-of-the-russian-federation-against-ukraine/

Connection e.V. and War Resisters’ International: Oral statement given at Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Ukraine, 56th Session. July 10, 2024