Contemporary Issues in Refugee Law

Contemporary Issues in Refugee Law

Edited by Satvinder Singh Juss and Colin Harvey

Refugee law is going through momentous times, as dictatorships tumble, revolutions simmer and the ‘Arab Awakening’ gives way to the spread of terror from Syria to the Sahel in Africa. This compilation of topical chapters, by some of the leading scholars in the field, covers major themes of rights, security, the UNHCR, international humanitarianism and state interests and sets out to map new contours.

Chapter 6: Draft dodger/deserter or dissenter? Conscientious objection as grounds for refugee status

Penelope Mathew

Subjects: law - academic, human rights, public international law


In June 2012, as the conflict in Syria continued and the UN Security Council stalled, a Syrian colonel defected by flying his MiG jet over the border to Jordan. This act highlighted the importance and radical potential of conscientious objection to military service. This individual, and the many who have since followed his example, would not be participating in the atrocities unfolding on a daily basis in Syria. In cases where one of the parties to the conflict is not readily characterized as evil, conscientious objection – whether to the very idea of carrying arms or to a particular conflict – has often met with ambivalence and hostility. Bearing arms has traditionally been the mark of (male) citizenship, and considerations of humanity rarely outweigh that duty. Many national decision-makers confronted with asylum claims based on conscientious objection have refused to recognize the claimants as refugees, instead reinscribing the power of the state to require military service of its citizens. National decision-makers have also distinguished between total conscientious objectors (i.e., persons who refuse to serve in the military on grounds of conscience in all situations) and partial conscientious objectors (persons who refuse to serve in the military only with respect to some conflicts). One assumes that the Syrian colonel who defected to Jordan was a partial conscientious objector, a man quite willing to serve in the military in most situations, but not to fight against his own people. His case would undoubtedly be viewed with sympathy.

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