The international human rights system is not always easy to understand. It can be difficult to assess the possible benefits of using one process rather than another, and this often prevents campaigners unfamiliar with these systems from using them. With this in mind, in 2000 the Quaker UN Office, Geneva, and War Resisters' International published A Conscientious Objectors Guide to the UN Human Rights System written by Emily Miles. In the year 2000, there was little explicit reference to conscientious objection to military service.

Since that time, the understanding and recognition of conscientious objection to military service has moved forward dramatically. In particular, the UN Human Rights Committee has made clear that it is protected as an inherent part of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and that States must provide for conscientious objectors. Following this, the European Court of Human Rights, which has binding legal powers over Council of Europe States, has issued a series of judgements also recognising that conscientious objection to military service is protected under that Convention.

These breakthroughs mean that there is now a solid legal basis to which States can be held, and which can also be used by other international and regional bodies and procedures for their own work on this issue.

At the same time, these positive developments have meant that it was necessary to expand this updated version of the Guide to encompass the regional human rights systems as well as the United Nations. Fortunately, having an on-line version means that it is readily searchable and material can be accessed via weblinks, meaning that - although longer - it should be easier to use. This is important as each part of each system has its own particularities and requirements.

The main purpose is to guide individuals and organisations wishing to raise issues and cases about conscientious objection in what the possibilities are, how to use them, and the likely advantages and disadvantages of the different procedures. We hope that, in breaking down the steps involved, these mechanisms become more approachable.

The major steps forward that have occurred have resulted not only from individual actions, but from the greater awareness and understanding developed within these systems through having to consider cases and issues arising from different countries and regions. In addition, the greater visibility arising because of the judgements, opinions, views, concluding observations and reports issued as a result also contribute to a broader knowledge and understanding, including by people and within countries who might not previously been aware of conscientious objection to military service, and why it is important.

I commend this Guide to all those working on conscientious objection to military service and look forward to seeing the results.

Rachel Brett

December 2012