#Refuse War - International CO Day

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War Resisters League - One Hundred Years of Nonviolent Resistance

Where there is war, there are also people who bravely and conscientiously refuse to participate. That is true in the Ukraine, in Israel, in the US, and around the globe. International Conscientious Objectors Day, observed on the 15th of May, is a time to promote the right of conscientious objection and to support those who refuse war.

Group at Operation Refuse War in 2006: (From left) Ellen Barfield, Vets for Peace and WRL;  Oskar Castro, AFSC Youth & Militarism Program (with cap), and Camilo Mejia, Iraq Vets Against the War (two down from Oskar) with CO's from around the world (Photo by Joanne Sheehan)Group at Operation Refuse War in 2006: (From left) Ellen Barfield, Vets for Peace and WRL;  Oskar Castro, AFSC Youth & Militarism Program (with cap), and Camilo Mejia, Iraq Vets Against the War (two down from Oskar) with CO's from around the world (Photo by Joanne Sheehan)

 War Resisters International (WRI) has highlighted International CO day for nearly 40 years with various organizing efforts, a number of them taking place in the U.S.  In the early 2000’s, WRI marked International CO Day with a gathering in a country where support for conscientious objectors was especially needed. Gatherings were held in the Balkans in 2002, Israel in 2003, Chile in 2004, and Greece in 2005. With the U.S. going to war in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, soldiers were returning home opposed to war after experiencing its reality. Others were refusing to go to war.  WRI and WRL worked together, with sponsoring groups, to organize Operation Refuse War in May of 2006. 

Group at Operation Refuse War in 2006: WRL organizer Steve Theberge is seated next to the easel, Tali Lerner of New Profile in Israel is seated on the floor at a strategy session at Operation Refuse War (Photo by Joanne Sheehan)

2006 Operation Refuse War poster
Group at Operation Refuse War in 2006: WRL organizer Steve Theberge is seated next to the easel, Tali Lerner of New Profile in Israel is seated on the floor at a strategy session at Operation Refuse War (Photo by Joanne Sheehan)

The first two days in New York City was a time for conscientious objectors from around the globe to come together and share their stories and strategies for supporting the right to refuse to kill. The next two days in Washington, DC, they gathered with other antiwar activists and people from the growing number of military families opposed to the war.  More stories and strategies were shared and networks and relationships deepened.  

“International COs Build Lasting Alliances”  in the Summer 2006 WIN, shares some of those stories. Two things particularly stick with me from that time together. The Colombians told a story that was included in WRI’s Handbook for Nonviolent Campaigns. “The youth in (Sincelejo) have faced forced recruitment by the state army, the rebel groups, and the paramilitary. Many of them have joined these forces because of economic reasons, to support their families. The conscientious objection group from Sincelejo started creating alternatives against forced recruitment, first by giving workshops on peace culture, nonviolence, and conscientious objection. Then, as they realised that economics were a main reason why youth in Sincelejo were recruited, they started creating economic alternatives by forming their own small enterprises.”

It was taking place at a time in the U.S. when nonviolent action was being challenged by what some saw as more militant “direct action” (minus the nonviolence), and some U.S. activists were arguing that “nonviolence is a privilege.” The U.S. participants were moved by the commitment of those in countries experiencing wars and conflicts, who saw that “nonviolence is our power.”

This year, WRI is launching the international action #RefuseWar!  The website includes options for actions against militarization and war.

“We aim to show broad solidarity with conscientious objectors, deserters, and war resisters worldwide – and in particular with those who are persecuted (or face persecution), jailed, and exposed to state violence like Mustafa Hürben (Cyprus), Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal  (Thailand) and Sophia Orr (Israel).” (Note: Click on En for English translation)

– Joanne Sheehan
Joanne Sheehan is on the staff of War Resisters League. She was the Chair of War Resisters International in 2006, and an organizer of Operation Refuse War.