Tomorrow the 15th May is International Conscientious Objection Day

The 15th of May is International Conscientious Objector’s Day

Kevin Clements

with help from the Peace Pledge Union, ICOM, Te Ara and even Wikipedia!

In London each year a brief ceremony is held at the Commemorative Stone, to Conscientious Objectors in Tavistock Square London.

At the annual ceremony. the names of representative people who ‘maintained the right to refuse to kill’ are read out and a white flower is laid on the Stone for each of the people remembered.

International Conscientious Objectors’ Day was initiated by the International Conscientious Objectors’ Meeting (ICOM) to provide solidarity and support to all those who have chosen to exercise individual conscience in the face of State conscription to the miitary and violence.

A conscientious objector (CO) is an “individual who has claimed the right to refuse to perform military service” on the grounds of freedom of thought, conscience, and/or religion In general, conscientious objector status is only considered in the context of military conscription and is not applicable to volunteer military forces.

Historically, many conscientious objectors have been executed, imprisoned, or otherwise penalized when their beliefs led to actions conflicting with their society’s legal system or government.

For those of us living in New Zealand this day gives us a chance to remember all those who have refused to participate in war , in preparations for war and all those who have conscientiously objected to specific wars.

Archibald Baxter (father of the poet James K. Baxter) is one of New Zealand’s better-known pacifists from the First World War. His book We will not cease records his opposition to the war. In his words, the book is ‘the record of my fight to the utmost against the military machine during the First World War. At that time to be a pacifist was to be in a distinct minority.’ Baxter was not alone, however, there were 2600 conscientious objectors to the First World War. They lost their civil rights, including being denied voting rights for 10 years and were barred from working for government or local bodies. Some like Baxter and Briggs were openly tortured and dispatched to the front lines in an effort to break their spirit.

In the Second World War after conscription was introduced in July 1940, conscientious objectors could appeal their military service. But the Appeal Boards were made up of older, military men, and the government expected them to ‘prevent the coward and the slacker from sheltering under a convenient conscience’. In New Zealand, of the 3000 appeals against conscription on conscience grounds, only 600 were allowed. Most of those turned down gave in to the law and served as required, but 800 refused to comply. As lawbreakers, with no right of appeal, they were sentenced to detention – a ‘scheme of concentration camps designed to be less comfortable than the army, but less punitive than gaol’. The term of their confinement was an indefinite sentence, while the war lasted.

Tomorrow we honour and remember all those who exercised their conscience and chose not to fight nor to kill in the service of the state. I will remember my father who spent 4 years in detention for his beliefs but I will also remember many others who made a big impact on me as an adolescent, Ormie Burton , a decorated World War One soldier who turned pacifist as a consequence of his experiences during the First World War. Archie Barrington, Bub Hyland, Merv and Marj Browne, Chris Palmer, Dave Sylvester, who endured detention and then developed a Christian Pacifist Community ( Riverside) at the end of the war to try and live according to strict nonviolent  Christian and communitarian  principles. I’ll remember, Bert Worboys, John McCreary, Wilf Foote, Jack Hammerton and many others. These I knew well.

What distinguished all of them was their reluctance to fight, their reluctance to kill in the name of anyone, and their care, concern and compassion for humanity. These men and their partners –and many many others- made a vocational commitment to non violence, to living their lives free of weapons of minor or mass destruction. They were motivated by Christian, Humanist and Socialist Principles. In any case tomorrow at dawn and through the day I shall remember them because they made a big impact on my on life and on my own values.



About kevinclements2012

Short CV Professor Kevin P Clements. I am the Foundation Chair of Peace and Conflict Studies and Director of the New Zealand Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago, Dunedin New Zealand and Secretary General of the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy. Prior to taking up these positions I was the Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies and Foundation Director of the Australian Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Queensland, Brisbane Australia . I went to Queensland from International Alert where I was Secretary General from January 1999 to September 2003. International Alert is one of the world’s largest NGOs working on conflict transformation. It pioneered innovative policy and practical approaches to conflict prevention and transformation in Africa ,Eurasia and Asia . It has also made a major contribution to the mainstreaming of conflict prevention within European Foreign and Development Ministries, the EU and a variety of UN institutions. During his time there I was on the Board of the European Centre for Conflict Prevention and past President of the European Peace Building Liaison Office in Brussels. Prior to becoming Secretary General of International Alert I was the Vernon and Minnie Lynch Chair of Conflict Resolution at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University Fairfax Virginia USA 1994-2000 and Director of the Institute from 1994-1999. My career has been a combination of academic analysis and practice in the areas of peacebuilding and conflict transformation. I was, for example, formerly Director of the Quaker United Nations Office in Geneva and Head of the Peace Research Centre at the Australian National University in Canberra .Prior to this I was Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Coordinator of Peace Studies at Canterbury University, Christchurch New Zealand . My first academic position was as a lecturer in Sociology at Hong Kong University . I took up this position from a Post Doctoral Fellowship at Oxford University where I worked on development issues with Paul Streeten and others. I have been an advisor to the New Zealand, Australian , British , Swedish and Dutch governments on conflict prevention , peace, defence and security issues and advised the German Government and the OECD on States and Violence. I was, a member of the New Zealand Government’s Defence Committee of Enquiry in 1985 and I currently conducting Problem Solving Workshops in North East Asia with high level participants from Japan, China and Korea. Iwas President of the International Peace Research Association (IPRA) from 1994-1998, President of the IPRA Foundation from 1995-2000 and Secretary General of the Asia Pacific Peace Research Association. I was Secretary General of the International Peace Research Association 2008-2010. I got my B.A, B.A Hon ( First Class) and Ph.D in Sociology from Victoria University of Wellington New Zealand. and held a Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the University of Oxford from 1970-1971. I have been a regular consultant to a variety of non governmental and intergovernmental organisations on disarmament, arms control, conflict resolution, development and regional security issues and I have written or edited 7 books and over 160 chapters /articles on conflict transformation, peacebuilding, preventive diplomacy and development with a specific focus on the Asia Pacific region. Research Expertise 1. Peace Research Theory- Conflict and Conflict Resolution Theory . Preventive Diplomacy , Development and Peacebuilding 2. International and Regional Regimes-APEC, ASEAN, the ARF, ECOWAS 3. Political Sociology-International Organisations. Multilateral/bilateral negotiating processes. 4. Fragile States, Legitimacy and Political Hybridity 5. Alternative Defence and Security Policies-Peace and Security in the Asia-Pacific region. 6. The politics and ethics of international humanitarian intervention 7. Altruism and Compassion In my spare time I like to paint with acrylics or pastels, go to the theatre, listen to classical music, visit art galleries etc!
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3 Responses to Tomorrow the 15th May is International Conscientious Objection Day

  1. Dear Richard,
    Yes it seems like another post ANZAC day commemoration for those who suffered differently for their beliefs. Once we get the Baxter /CO memorial we can make the same commemoration. !


  2. Thanks for this article. If you are in Wellington sometime look me up!

    To get a sense of how I attempt to “appreciate what has gone before and contribute to culture in a practical manner” you might like to have a look at or the 2011 web site:

    Perhaps it’s time to organise as a supre-national political organisation of would be conscientious objectors or ‘Peace Makers’ who are focused on nurturing the right conditions for peace and wellbeing (maybe we could even use the ‘peace and prosperity’ line?) This might be focused on relatively low tech and local practical concerns and co-operative economic initiatives.

    Basically I reckon that the Peace Makers ought to use whatever democratic opportunity is available to attend to the systemic challenges we face. A Peace Maker.. this is what PM ought to stand for in popular culture! Alexander Wright 027 270 2324


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