Ukrainian Supreme Court rules on objections to military service on religious grounds

Posted on: May 8, 2024

Country: Ukraine

On May 8, the Ukrainian Supreme Court confirmed the appeal court’s ruling about Dmitry Zelinsky’s conscientious objections to military service on religious grounds. The Supreme Court of Ukraine ruled that conscientious objectors will not only have to prove that they belong to a religious organisation, but also that they have deep spiritual convictions.

The court balanced the right to conscientious objection to military service (as part of freedom of conscience as enshrined in Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights) with State's responsibilitiy to protect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity (Article 35 of the Constitution of Ukraine). The court found that a believer will avoid punishment for attempted evasion of military service if he can proof that he belongs to an active religious organisation with a doctrine that forbids taking up arms; and his sincerity of faith through consistent actions. 

In the case of Zelinsky the court found no deep conflict between his religious beliefs and military duty. The Supreme Court stated: “In this case, the Supreme Court took into account that the convicted person did not belong to any religious organisations and had served in the armed forces, including for 5 months after the formation of his stated religious beliefs.”

OIDAC previously reported the case of Seventh-day Adventist Zelinsky. 

The Court has been criticised for not making it clear enough which arguments in favour of sincerity of religious beliefs it would have found sufficient. Additionally, even though the Constitution allows to perform alternative service, within the Armed Forces, the implementation remains difficult. The general mobilisation in Ukraine implies exceptions for those liable for military service on the basis of their religious views. A number of confessions give ground for believers to refrain from taking up arms, amongst them Reformed Adventists, Seventh Day Adventists, Evangelicals, Baptists and some charismatic churches. 

Obviously, the proof of religious beliefs will become a complex issue for Ukrainian judicial practice. The legislative gap could cause believers many problems, Maksym Krupsky, head of public relations and religious freedom at the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Ukraine, told the media. "Our believers are familiar with the nuances of wartime and understand that without deep convictions it is difficult to argue their case when communicating with the [enlistment centre] staff. However, a sincere commitment to ministry and the church makes it easier to communicate with investigators if the case goes to court," he explains.


Image: UNN