sWednesday 1 December

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

At least four Protestants are known to be among the many Yugoslavs
serving sentences or awaiting trial for refusing the call-up to
military service on religious grounds during the Kosovo war earlier in
1999. According to reports from Protestant sources in Belgrade
reaching Keston News Service, the three Nazarenes and one Charismatic
have already been tried and sentenced by Serbian courts. `The four
refused to take up guns and go to fight in Kosovo,' one source told
Keston. `There are probably many others, including Christians and
Jehovah's Witnesses.'

The Charismatic and one of the Nazarenes received a five year
sentence, while the other two Nazarenes received three and two year
sentences respectively. All five men are reported to be between 28 and
35 years old and are reported to have been called up in April or May
of this year. The lawyers and families of the four men have requested
that their identities not be publicised for fear of undermining
attempts to have the sentences overturned or at least reduced.

Yugoslavia does not have a system of alternative service for those
unable to perform military service on grounds of conscience and
pacifists - both religious and non-religious - are routinely sentenced
for refusing military service, some being handed down consecutive
sentences until they are too old for call-up. Groups especially
affected are Nazarenes, Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses, as well as
some Charismatics. Occasionally religious objectors have been allowed
to perform non-combat duties on military bases (usually unpleasant
physical tasks), but not all objectors are prepared to accept even

When the Kosovo campaign began, the Yugoslav authorities called up
reservists. Many men, both religious
and non-religious, objected to fighting in Kosovo. Specific details of
cases remain sparse, as the Yugoslav authorities generally sentence
these objectors in closed military trials and relatives fear that
bringing cases to the attention of the international community could
lay them open to colluding with enemy powers.

In July Amnesty International learned of the case of N. VUKADINOV, a
Nazarene from Vojvodina. He requested only to be permitted to perform
an unarmed service in the army after receiving his call-up notice. A
military court in Novi Sad reportedly sentenced him to five years'
imprisonment - a sentence which he is now serving in Sremska Mitrovica

Amnesty also reported in October that `an unnamed Jehovah's Witness
doing agricultural work on a military base at Karadjordjevo was
allegedly sentenced to five years' imprisonment immediately after
having refused to perform military tasks. Amnesty International is
aware of two other Nazarenes and a group of several other Jehovah's
Witnesses said to be detained in Novi Sad after having been sentenced
to up to five years' imprisonment for refusing to bear arms. The
organisation has also been told of another group of Jehovah's
Witnesses said to have been sentenced to imprisonment in Smederevo.'
It is not clear if the Nazarenes mentioned by Amnesty International
are the same referred to in the reports reaching Keston from Belgrade.

Some of those called up to fight in Kosovo fled to neighbouring
countries, mostly to Hungary, to avoid the call-up. Amnesty
International interviewed some two dozen conscientious objectors in
Hungary in October. `Now that the conflict has ended, many
conscientious objectors find themselves without any assurance of
long-term security in the countries to which they have fled and the
prospect of lengthy prison sentences if returned to the Federal
Republic of Yugoslavia,' BRIAN PHILLIPS of Amnesty reported.

Among those interviewed by Amnesty International was an Adventist
electrician from Serbia who was willing to perform unarmed military
service but refused, on the basis of his faith, to take part in armed
conflict or to carry out orders to kill. In a written statement given
to Amnesty, the Adventist declared: `I did not want to fight and take
the lives of others for a war that I believed to be totally
unnecessary because of our president's wrong political motives... I am
a Seventh Day Adventist, and I respect all human beings, no matter
what their nationality or religion. I believe that God teaches that
all men are equal.' He added: `I cannot return to my country as a
deserter, because my life would be in danger.' He is now being cared
for by the Adventist Church in Hungary.

Another of the Adventist objectors interviewed by Amnesty, a craftsman
from Vojvodina, talked proudly of how he had been raised very
deliberately with the Christian pacifist example of his grandfather.
`During the Second World War, Rade's grandfather was imprisoned after
refusing to serve in the Hungarian Army,' Amnesty reported. `His
stubborn refusal eventually led to his deportation to Dachau, where he
died in 1942. Now, in 1999, Rade finds himself living out his own
faith through a set of choices and actions whose integrity cannot be

In its October report, Amnesty spoke of `the disappointing response to
the plight of these men by the Hungarian authorities and international
agencies, who frequently fail to recognise these resisters as bona
fide refugees'. Unable to return home, the men live in exile in a
legal limbo.

Amnesty cites figures from Yugoslav NGOs of several hundred
conscientious objectors now in prison in Yugoslavia, along with draft
evaders and deserters, most of them serving sentences of at least five
years' imprisonment. Some Yugoslav NGOs put the number of cases
currently before the Yugoslav courts at 23,000, although some of those
cases involve men who have fled the country and are therefore not in
custody. (END)

All Keston News Service material is protected by copyright:
(c) Keston Institute 1999