NEWS IN 2008
PT7 AT THE UN HUMAN RIGHTS HEARING
Simon Heywood and Robin Brookes went to the 93rd Session of the Human Rights Committee in Geneva at the beginning of this month. They were invited by Conscience and Peace Tax International (CPTI) to voice their complaint that Britain does not accommodate conscientious objection to military taxation.
UN representative for CPTI, Derek Brett was pleased to get a chance for British war tax resister/peace tax campaigners to state their case to the Human Rights Committee. He has been the lone voice for conscientious objectors at the UN for many years and this was the first time ever that COs have been before the Committee. He managed to get a two minute slot for Robin Brookes to deliver the essence of what conscientious objection to military taxation is about to a packed session at the Palais Wilson. Text as follows:
I am a member of the board of Conscience and Peace Tax International and of Conscience the UK peace tax campaign. The latter has 2,500 members who, along with many others, have a conscientious objection to paying taxes for military preparations and war. I am also one of a group of British citizens - the Peace Tax Seven - who are bringing a test case to the European Court of Human Rights regarding the breach of our freedom of thought, conscience and religion. I must emphasise - we do not ask to be excused from paying part of our taxes. Rather, we wish for it to be put to peaceful uses.
If I were called up to military service, I would refuse on moral and religious grounds. I am not being conscripted into the armed forces, but I am being conscripted into my country’s military exploits, through the taxes I pay.
To pay for somebody else to kill is as bad as committing the act oneself. This is recognised in law and morality. Paying for war has been deeply distressing for me for many years. I am personally implicated when my taxes are used to deliberately kill other human beings and I do nothing to resist or prevent that.
The final straw for me was Britain’s collusion in the Iraq war. I felt no longer able to pay my taxes until my conscientious status is recognised by my government and they provide a ring-fenced ‘peace fund’ into which an appropriate proportion of my taxes are deposited.
My current status is that I am awaiting bailiffs for a third time and they will seize my possessions. I cannot collude with the stupidity and barbarism of war. I cannot consent to my money being spent on weapons when there are intelligent, proven methods of resolving conflict non-violently which our government should be investing in.
The right of conscientious objection to military service has long been upheld in Britain. Conscientious objectors have been given alternative service to contribute to society in other ways. This is what we are calling for - to have our taxes put to alternative service to the benefit of our fellow citizens and for world peace.
CPTI were one among a number of NGOs briefing the Committee on the UK, France and Spain. In a lunchtime seminar, NGOs were able to expand on their morning presentations and to answer questions from Human Rights Committee members. Simon Heywood led this with the following:
A significant and increasing number of UK citizens object in conscience to compulsory military taxation. The essence of the objection is that compulsory military taxation is a form of military conscription, in just the same way as I become legally and morally guilty of murder if I pay for the services of a professional assassin. As such, financial conscription has effectively replaced physical conscription in the UK. The right to conscientious objection applies equally to physical and financial conscription, for the same reasons. This is not a political issue; it is an issue of personal morality and conscience which engages individuals across the political spectrum.
However, the UK tax system is highly centralised and offers no recourse to military tax objectors. Most taxpayers pay income tax through their employers into a central fund managed and distributed by the state. Employers are naturally reluctant to challenge military taxation directly on their employees' behalf. Some dozens of taxpayers have nevertheless challenged the tax system directly by withholding tax payments, facing prosecution and distraint as a result. However, even this course of action is open only to a few. There has been no systematic study of the total numbers of actual objectors in the UK, but judging by the levels of active support for UK peace tax campaigns such as Conscience and the Peace Tax Seven, they are to be reckoned in the thousands rather than hundreds.
In our recent related action in the UK High Court, the government argued that British taxpayers do not pay tax to the military at all. We reject this argument. Around 10% of UK government expenditure goes to the military, and obviously this money comes from taxpayers or it comes from nowhere. The case was referred on appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, to whom we are now applying.
Conscientious objectors to military taxation are not, I emphasise, seeking to abdicate any of their responsibilities as citizens or as taxpayers. We want to pay all the tax we owe. Alternative, non-combatant service is offered to, and expected from, objectors to physical conscription. In the same way, we are, so to speak, not seeking outright exemption from tax, so much as a transparent guarantee of alternative non-combatant disbursement of it. The continued, unnecessary and disproportionate refusal of the UK to enable its taxpaying citizens to fulfil their public duties in good conscience constitutes a violation of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion as guaranteed under Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Three members of the committee asked sensible questions and were genuinely interested. One said later "It is a long road ahead for you, but we will get there in the end."
Over the afternoon and next day, the Human Rights Committee questioned Britain over its human rights record. This is done every four or so years with every member country. The committee aimed some fierce questioning at around 20 UK government representatives on 31 matters including why it had not incorporated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights into domestic law; lethality of rubber bullets (AEPs); what measures to stop another killing like that of Jean Charles de Menezes; removal of persons to countries where they may face torture; HR of persons taken into custody in British run detention facilities abroad (like Abu Musa in Iraq); detention without charge; Right to a fair trial - 48 hour detention without access to a lawyer, 28 day (not just the 42 days currently proposed) detention without charge, ASBOs and their use; laws to combat terrorism and their effect on freedom of expression.
|INTERNATIONAL CAMPAIGN LEGAL COMMITTEE
Conscience and Peace Tax International, an UN recognised NGO, is forming a Legal Committee to build a repository, for the benefit of future plaintiffs, of all the legal cases in the world which have been brought that challenge national tax policy. They are also looking towards bringing a case to the UN Committee on Human Rights. PT7 member and CPTI committee member Robin Brookes and one of our barristers - Nick Grief are taking part in this process. The inaugural meeting is in Brussels in May.
|A SUCCESSFUL CONFERENCE
12th International Conference on War Tax Resistance and Peace Tax Campaigns
Friday 5th to Sunday 7th September, 2008 - University of Manchester, Fallowfield Campus
Delegates were warmly welcomed by Conscience in very pleasant surroundings at Ashburne Hall
|THE PROGRAMME AND WHAT WE WERE TRYING TO ACHIEVE
The conference committee endeavoured to make a different kind of programme this year:
- More discussion based than informing.
- Encompassing the many different experiences around the world of the relationship between conscientious objection and the money which governments levy from us to pay for their warmongering.
- Seeking to understand the different approaches we use to confront the state’s barbaric methods of dealing with conflict.
- Building stronger bonds between our diverse campaigns.
PLANNING THROUGH THE FORUM
To encourage pre-participation we put a forum on the conference website. A few delegates contributed to this and it was influential in the planning which followed. Although the forum was not a great success in terms of its use, I am convinced that it is a way forward for us to share ideas and encourage each other. The forum is still functioning and will do until October 2009, after which we may move it to a permanent site.
HOW THE CONFERENCE WENT
We welcomed 55 delegates from 15 countries. 30 made the trip from abroad, including, for the first time, one from Ukraine and for a second time from Colombia and Japan.
Judging from the comments received, all the delegates found the conference useful, enjoyable and a success. There were comments for improvement, which will help us improve future conferences.
Paul Rogers gave an excellent speech, outlining an alternative approach to conflict, fit for the 21st century. Entitled Towards Sustainable Security, Paul’s talk made the connection between justice for third world, environmental degradation and war. To find peace we need to address all those issues as well.
We had two sets of four workshop sessions which concentrated on specific topics. Essentially they discussed:
1 Taxes for Peace not War - asking what scope there is for running a campaign to gain wider public support, concentrating on relieving the victims of war rather than (what is often perceived as) salving our personal consciences.
2 Effective Nonviolent Direct Action - different countries have different tax and legal liabilities, how can we most effectively challenge these systems and support war tax resisters?
3 Changing the Way Governments Think - getting to the seat of government to directly negotiate better, sustainable ways of resolving conflict and maintaining human security.
4 Judicial Routes - discussed national and international ways of challenging the system through the law courts. Can you help CPTI gather information about tax cases in your country?
CTPI Legal Committee want to compile an online archive of all case history worldwide to help future international legal action and WTRs who are fighting legal cases.
5 Attracting Young People - not necessarily students, 30 to 40 year olds also badly needed. Can we use the Internet, change the emphasis of our campaigns to ‘better ways of dealing with conflict’ or just make it more fun!
6 Comparison of Different Tax Structures - understanding the different tax structures in the different countries is key to knowing how to challenge them. It is also helpful to the international campaign to know what these differences are.
7 Personal Testimonies of Conscience - a movement in America to encourage individuals to write a ‘Statement of Conscience’ as a personal clarification of their beliefs. At a later date this could be proof of their sincerity to a ‘conscientious objection to taxes’ tribunal or board. Collected together under a Quaker Yearly Meeting or a peace library, they would form a volume of testimony to present to national or international courts and law makers. Have you written your personal testimony yet?
8 Lawful Tax Revolt - there are many international laws and protocols which outlaw war. In principle it is illegal to conduct, aid or abet war. How can we use these instruments to challenge the state’s use of war?
There were four discussion groups which were arranged so that a balanced mix of participants from each of the first four workshops were in each group. This enabled further development of the workshop topics and interaction between them. They were looking at differences and common ground between war tax resisters and peace tax campaigners. They also discussed working together across national boundaries. Many suggestions for collective and international actions arose from these discussions. There were many calls for CPTI to take a more active role, co-ordinating international action.
The next conference, in 2010 will be in Sweden, hosted by Skattebetalare för fred and The Peace Tax Alliance of Norway.
|SHINANIGINS AT CAERNARVON CROWN COURT
WHAT IS GOING ON?
On a drizzly day at the beginning of October Sian Cwper and more than a dozen supporters gathered outside Caernavon County Court where she had been summonsed. Sian has withheld 10% of her taxes for five years but this was the first time she had been called to account.
|She and her supporters, including Robin who had travelled six hours from Devizes to be there, hung around for more than an hour, talking to reporters from the local newspapers and the local BBC channel. They were told the case had been delayed due to the over run of a previous case. Eventually Sian went and asked what time the case would be heard and was told that HM Revenue and Customs had withdrawn the case. Their reason was that Sian had already paid the overdue amount!
This can happen when you pay 90% of the current year's taxes, it can pay off the 10% you were withholding. What that means then is that you owe double the amount next year - it accumulates. What is outrageous is that HMRC claim that they received her payment in August. So why did they send a summons in September? And why was she not told her debt was settled until she reached court, in October? Is this deliberate antagonism or sheer incompetence?
I suspect the latter. She should never have been summonsed and she is very angry that she and her supporters have been messed around like this. She did get five minutes in chambers with the judge and was able to make her statement to him. He said he respected her views, but is in no position to change the law. This is what she said:
I have been withholding 10% of my income tax for five years. This is how much I estimate is spent on war. I am a Buddhist, and I don’t believe in killing people. I have taken a vow not to. So I can’t voluntarily give money to the Government knowing that it will be spent on war and preparations for war. I know that a lot of people feel the same, but they can’t do the same because they are on PAYE.
The Nuremberg War Tribunal said in 1950, “Individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience. Therefore [individual citizens] have the duty to violate domestic laws to prevent crimes against peace and humanity from occuring.”
If I gave money to terrorists, I would be held responsible, and punished for helping them in their crimes. I am equally responsible if I give my money to an aggressive government to kill innocent people, and I could be held responsible by an international court in the future.
I am also a member of a group of seven British taxpayers who are taking our government to the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, arguing that they are infringing our human rights to freedom of conscience and religion by making us pay for war against our religions and conscience. This group is called the Peace Tax Seven
We have been through the British courts, and have been waiting for almost two years for our case to be heard in Strasbourg.
If we are successful, the British Government, and other European governments will have to change their laws to allow anyone who wants to, to redirect the proportion of their taxes that would have been used for war, elsewhere. We don’t have the right to say where, but it would make sense to use it for non-violent conflict resolution and research into the most effective methods in this field.
If enough people were to make this choice, it could lead to the saving of millions of lives, not only those that would have been killed in wars, but also those who die of hunger, poverty and lack of medical treatment because of the enormous and hideous ammount of the world’s resources that are spend on war. After a little research, specialists in this field, would find that the most effective way to avoid war and bring peace is to ensure a fair standard of living for everyone in conformity with their human rights. This would come a lot cheaper than all the wars and preparations for war that are going on now.
What will we do with the money left over? We could spend a little of it on rehabilitating unemployed ex- arms dealers.
I have received many messages of support, including some from New Zealand, Japan, Spain, France and the United States. Those from Elfyn Llwyd and Jill Evans are amongst them. One friend says she is asking the majority of the Quakers in New York to pray over the case.
Many people have said that I am brave. I would like to contradict this. I do not think that you, honourable judge, are a dangerous person. It is not impossible, even, that you sympathise with my stand. Of course, I assume that you will order a sum of money to be taken out of my bank account. That is your job, and you have no choice. But I don’t see that it takes much courage to stand here in front of you and face such a threat.
The truly brave people are those who oppose their governments, and stand up for justice in countries such as China, Tibet, Burma, and a long and heartbreaking list of other places, where making such a stand means the threat of imprisonment, torture or death.
May the prayers that are focused on this case today be of benefit to such people everywhere.
HMRC have now informed Sian that she owes £7000 and if she does not pay she will be summonsed again to Caernarvon County Court. Sian says; 'This is all very mysterious. I hope that one day I will be taken to court, and be able to explain that I am not able to voluntarily hand over money to the Government that I know will be used for killing, because I don’t believe in killing. I am a Buddhist and have taken a vow not to.' We will keep you posted of events
Other strange tales of the way HMRC have chosen to handle cases like ours are emerging. Simon is convinced that his tax code has been deliberately inflated to take into account the likely tax due on his freelance work. The net result is that instead of receiving demands for payment, he is given a rebate instead!
Robin is still waiting for the bailiffs but all has gone singularly quiet. Our belief is that the government does not want to create publicity over this. What would happen if British citizens en masse, start to question whether they should pay for the illegal, futile and destructive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?