Asylum request of Finnish Conscientious Objector rejected by Belgian High Court
The Raad van State (the highest administrative court of Belgium) has rejected the appeal of Jussi Hermaja, a Finnish conscientious objector, against the refusal of the Belgian state to grant him political asylum. After hearing the arguments of Jussi Hermaja in January, the judge has finally decided that the asylum procedure should not be restarted.
In October 2001, conscientious objector Jussi Hermaja fled Finland after being sentenced to 197 days in prison for refusing to take part in both the military service and the alternative civilian service. Jussi’s asylum application was refused by the Commissioner General for Refugees (Commissariaat Generaal voor de Vluchtelingen).
Jussi Hermaja refused to take part in the military service due to his pacifist beliefs. The length of the alternative civilian service is clearly punitive, and is administered in an unequal manner. There is also discrimination between those refusing to take part in national service, based on their religious beliefs, with Jehovah’s Witnesses and some other groups being excused from service completely. This shows a punishment based on the beliefs of the conscientious objector.
Jussi has been supported by Belgian peace organisations For Mother Earth and Forum voor Vredesactie.
“It is clear that the decision not to proceed with the asylum application is a political decision,” according to a spokesperson of For Mother Earth. “If the Belgian authorities were to start a serious investigation into the case, they would discover that the length of the alternative service is clearly punitive, and discriminates against certain categories of objector. They would have to agree with Jussi’s arguments, and grant him asylum, potentially along with several other Finnish Conscientious Objectors each year.”
“To admit that there are problems of human rights abuses in another EU member state puts the whole of the European Union in a difficult position. The EU likes to present itself as a promoter of human rights around the world. This is another possible reason for the negative decision in this case.”
Jussi Hermaja has also appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, against the prison sentence he received from the Finnish state. It is unlikely that a decision will be aken on this case in the near future.
Jussi will continue to work in Belgium for reform of the Finnish conscription system. The Finnish authorities will now have to decide whether to ask Belgium for his extradition.
Amnesty International, the international human rights organisation, has stated that it would immediately adopt Jussi Hermaja as a prisoner of conscience if he were to be put in jail in Finland.
The War Resisters International, an international network of anti-militarist organisations is likely to focus on Finland for its international “Peace Prisoners Day” in December this year, because the imprisonment of Finnish COs violates international standards on conscientious objection.
In order to bring attention to the decision of the Raad van State, For Mother Earth will be holding a solidarity action on Saturday 6th March, in support of Jussi Hermaja and all Finnish Conscientious Objectors. The action will take place on the Korenmarkt in Ghent, from 11:00 to 13:00.