The Peace and Justice Centre organised a very successful International Conscientious Objectors Day vigil on the Mound in Edinburgh on the 15th of May. The vigil was attended by about 60 people with several passers by joining us. We handed out about 200 leaflets. Marking the four year centenary we paid tribute to COs from the First World War, reading the names of about 80 of the 235 Edinburgh COs. We also heard in more detail about several First World War COs from Edinburgh, Scotland and around the UK and from a number of local people who were themselves COs or whose fathers or grandfathers were COs.
Alan Davies, an Edinburgh Quaker contrasted his own experience as a Quaker CO post Second World War, by which time Quakers were well known and even respected for their consistent anti-war stand, with that of his father who was imprisoned in difficult circumstances for refusing to participate in the First World War. Andrew Farrar, also an Edinburgh Quaker told of his father who was a Second World War era CO and of his grandfather’s experience during the First World War.
But the vigil was not all about past history. Shereen Benjamin read from a powerful letter from the Israeli Shimitsim, Sixth Year students who have refused the draft. Those who refuse compulsory service in the IDF are repeatedly imprisoned as many as 10 times in a tactic reminiscent of that used by Britain in the First World War while in Eritrea COs, mostly Jehovah’s Witnesses have been imprisoned for many years. Finland subjects COs to house arrest for twice as long as compulsory military service. And South Korea has imprisoned some 20,000 COs since 1945, usually for 18 months, with about 750 currently in prison, 95% of COs worldwide.