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Germany

Conscientious Objector Protests Conscription with Hunger Strike

A 21-year-old man has begun a hunger strike to protest his conscription into the army. The case throws the spotlight anew on Germany's conscription policy, which many view as unfair.

Bundeswehr soldier saluting

Matthias Schirmer wants no part of this

Mathias Schirmer, stationed at a Bundeswehr base in the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pommerania, has refused to eat for a week, saying conscription is "not compatible with democracy and freedom as well as with human rights."

According to the German Peace Society, Schirmer was ordered to report to the Bundeswehr on April 1. When he did not show up, he was picked up by military police and sent to a base in the town of Viereck in north-eastern Germany. But Schirmer refused to wear a uniform or conform to other Bundeswehr requirements, such as shaving.

He rejects both military service or civilian alternative service, which is an option for conscripts who do not want to serve in the armed forces.

After 12 days of confinement to his quarters, Schirmer was sentenced to a further 21 days of detention. As his standpoint did not change, the military imposed a 21-day arrest sentence on him, which began on May 9. It was then that he began the hunger strike.

A spokesman for the army in Koblenz reports that Schirmer's condition is "good, considering the circumstances" and that force feeding has not yet become necessary. Schirmer is seen once a day by a doctor and army officials check on his condition every three hours.

The Bundeswehr has said releasing Schirmer from his duty can only be decided once his 21-day sentence is completed, or if "other circumstances" arise.

Fairness question

There is one other conscientious objector serving a sentence in Germany, although he is not on a hunger strike.

The cases are likely to again raise the question of the fairness of Germany's conscription program. For years, fewer then one-third of those of draft age are called into the armed forces. Calls regularly go out that the Bundeswehr should be converted into a voluntary, professional body.

Most of Germany's major NATO partners have done away with mandatory service. However, the federal government in Berlin has resisted calls to do away with conscription all together, arguing that it creates a force made up of all sections of society. Purely professional militaries tend to be recruited largely from underprivileged groups.

In two other cases similar to Schirmer's last year, conscientious objectors were let out of the army after serving short sentences. Courts imposed fines and sentenced them to community service.

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