15 May 2012

May 15 marks the International Day of Conscientious Objection

Derived from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a treaty adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1966, this day was first observed in the early 1980s as an opportunity for conscientious objection activists to share their experience and learn from each other's struggles and campaigns.

The UK-based War Resisters' International, an anti-war organisation with members and affiliates in over thirty countries has, since 2001, been coordinating international events to observe this day. These events include non-violence training and activities that promote world peace.

A conscientious objector is an individual who has claimed the right to refuse to perform military service on the grounds of freedom of thought, conscience, and/or religion.

In South Africa, the apartheid government had a policy, under the Defence Act in 1967, which stipulated that all white South African males had to serve a minimum of two years in the South African Defence Force, the national military wing of the apartheid government.

This led to the formation of the End Conscription Campaign, an anti-war and anti-apartheid organization allied to the United Democratic Front and composed of conscientious objectors, activists and their supporters. It was launched in 1984 and it provided a platform for white South Africans to take a united political stand around the issue of conscription.

Its existence during the turbulent years of the apartheid regime linked it to the broader anti-apartheid resistance movement. It therefore allowed liberal South Africans to rise against conscription and push for a peaceful and just society where human rights of all people are honoured.

When the ECC commemorated its 25th anniversary, SAHA developed a virtual exhibition to document how this campaign provided a voice for young white South Africans opposed to an increasingly militant apartheid state.

As the world celebrates the International Day of Conscientious Objection, SAHA hopes that the assemblage of exhibitions such as the ECC exhibition will demonstrate the movement's ongoing relevance, the universality of its cause and its influence on the world stage.

Visit the ECC virtual exhibition
View SAHA's collections relating to the ECC from the list below:

AL2540 The SAHA Ephemera Collection

AL2446 The SAHA Poster Collection

View the United Democratic Front (UDF) Collections