A German court ruled Wednesday that a soldier, who refused to follow orders because he did not want to support the US-led war in Iraq, had every right to do so.
Judges at Germany's Federal Administrative Court said that members of the military could not be forced to comply with orders that go against their conscience.
The court added that the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of conscience also applied to soldiers in active service.
"The court found that the fundamental right to freedom of conscience ... cannot be superseded by an order," it said in a statement summarizing the ruling. "This order was thus invalid for the soldier. The soldier gave a credible account of the seriousness of his moral decision."
The case in question began in April 2003, when the 48-year-old soldier, who was not named, refused to continue working on the development of a software program after his superiors were unable to guarantee that it would not be used to support the US-led war in Iraq.
The German soldier didn't want to be a part of the bombing of Baghdad in any way
The soldier argued that he could not finish the work as he considered the war to be unconstitutional and a violation of international law. He also said that by working on updates for existing military software he would be aiding the German participation in the war effort.
This included the fact that German troops were stationed in Kuwait as part of the US-led "war on terror," guarded US bases in Germany to free up US troops for Iraq, participated in NATO reconnaissance flights over Turkey and allowed US military planes operating in Iraq to have German fly-over rights.
German law protects objectors
As a result, a military court demoted the man from the rank of major to captain in February 2004. The soldier appealed the decision, as did the lawyer for the military, where officials wanted the man's complete removal from the service.
But the appellate court judges now said members of the military have to adhere to German laws and cannot set aside basic rights guaranteed to everyone. They reinstated his rank of major, noting that his right to reject an order applied even if he had not filed a formal conscientious objector application.
German law offers strong protections for soldiers who refuse to follow orders on ethical grounds, rooted in the abuses of the Nazi past.
The German government strongly opposed the Iraq war and has steadfastly refused to send troops to the country.