The Union of Conscientious Objectors, AKL, is a youth organization for peace, founded in 1974. It has two roles: on the one hand, it is an interest group for all kinds of conscientious objectors (COs), and on the other hand, it is an anti-militarist organization open to everybody. Anybody can become a member of the Union, without any restrictions on age or gender. (Updated Google translation)
The Union of COs does not believe in security based on weapons. We believe that it is wrong to start with the notion that the interests of nations and the people who live in them are opposite to one another, that security is security against other nations, against other people. Killing other people or preparing for it does not create protection against real threats, such as environmental problems or poverty. More likely, war and armament make these problems worse, wasting economical and human resources desperately needed for solving them. The only way mankind can solve the problems threatening our existence and our planet is to work together with each other.
Instead of security based on armament, The Union of COs wants to build a world where real security reigns. Security that is not based on weapons, but on nobody needing weapons any more. The foundation of The Union of COs' action is the international war resisters' proclamation: "War is a crime against humanity. I am therefore determined not to support any kind of war and to strive for the removal of all causes of war". We believe that the causes of war are inequality between people and the lack of real ways to have influence in society. In other words, the cause of war is the structural violence that creates violent institutions – armies.
Armies are not only the result of structural violence, they also maintain it. Therefore we think that being a conscientious objector and acting in an anti-militarist movement are important ways to strive for a more just world.
The Union of COs considers the army institution and the compulsory military service to be superfluous and demands their abolishment. As long as they exist, The Union of COs supports total objection and strives for the development of the alternative service system, to make conscientious objection a considerable alternative to an increasing amount of conscripts.
The Union of COs strives for developing legislation concerning conscientious objection by lobbying in the Finnish Parliament and in the departments that take care of it (Ministry of Labour and Ministry of Defence), and by making public the faults of conscription. If required, it has relied on civil disobedience by setting up several labour strikes and shut-downs of COs in alternative civilian service (the last one was held in 2001).
Some of our main demands are: to shorten the time of the non-military service (aka alternative service, civilian service or substitute service) so that in the end it would be as long as the time of the military service (6 months), to free everybody in non-military service from military duties also during possible war time and military crisis, to get humanitarian work as a possible form of non-military service, to improve the social and economical conditions of the conscripts, to decrease the overall number of conscripts and to end the imprisonments of total objectors (aka absolutist conscientious objector, total resister or absolutist war resister) or at least to shorten the prison terms.
The Union's legal secretary Juha Keltti helps conscientious objectors in need of legal aid. The Union enforces "zero tolerance" on the continuously increasing trampling on the rights of COs: The Union makes pleas for criminal investigation for victims of illegal discrimination, which includes e.g. places of service which have neglected the payment of housing costs, or by defending total objectors or persons performing non-military service who have been unjustly accused of breaking legislation associated to non-military service. The Union of COs campaigns for the release of Finnish prisoners of conscience and defends their human rights. When needed the Union lodges complaints on violations to the Ministry of Labour or the Parliamentary Ombudsman and files human rights complaints.
One of our most important forms of action is distributing information about conscientious objection. The dissemination of this sort of information should be undertaken by the officials in charge, but they are not keen to do this. The Union of COs also keeps up a telephone hot-line which is manned at least five days a week. Every autumn, The Union of COs has a countrywide "Call-Up Campaign", in which volunteers distribute information about conscientious objection to youngsters going to their recruitment procedure (aka draft, conscription or compulsory enrollment). Information is also shared with people at rock festivals and in many other youth events.
As a general anti-militaristic organisation The Union of COs concentrates on grass roots activism. In recent years the Union has actively been participating in the European network against nuclear arming by arranging several trips around the continent to various civil disobedience events against nuclear arms. Another central form of action in recent times has been the promotion of the Food Not Bombs campaign (FNB; 'Ruokaa ei aseita / REA') in Finland.
The Union of COs also works against militarism on other grounds other than conscientious objection: we are against the arms race and trade, and against the use of organized violence in solving conflicts. Considering these issues we concentrate on spreading information and other kinds of forms of direct action rather than lobbying. There are various means to do this: spreading flyers and posters, making protest appeals and gathering signatures to them, demonstrations, civil disobedience action, public statements for media, camps (2009, 2008, 2007, ...), and organizing different events, i.e. concerts etc. The Union also publishes the Sivari&Totaali members magazine, which appears four times a year. The support products of the Union can be found on a separate page.
Other resent campaigns that the Union has arranged or supported include, among others, a campaign against the labour and general discrimination of persons doing non-military service, Case-Hermaja, the anti-nuke Bombspotting (aka Bomspotting) campaign in Belgium, the Trident Ploughshares campaign against the British Trident-nuclear weapons and submarine system and the Faslane 365 -campaign which was initiated at the nuclear base at Faslane in Scotland October 2006, the WRI petitions, a boycott campaign against Israel, Campaign to Free Vanunu and for a Nuclear Free Middle East, the "Society for Non-military Service in Helsinki" ('Helsingin siviilipalvelusseura') and the antimilitaristic civil disobedience group Muurinmurtajat... The Union of COs has also supported hunger strikes by total objectors.
The Union of COs has in recent years – mostly by the force of circumstance – acted without regularly employed personnel, with the exception of trainees and the lately hired part time or project basis employees. The economy of the Union has none the less been on the rise. If you want to support the activities of the Union, you can become a member or make a donation. Besides of incomes from membership fees and donations we continuously hope for new people to join our activities, as the work of voluntaries is the most central resource of the Union!
During weekdays (about 13-17 pm) practical trainees, treasurer Kaj Raninen or other volunteers are on call at the office offering counselling by phone, email or mail. Also questions from the media are answered at the office.
At the moment Miira Rauhamäki from the Union is visiting the training facilities at Lapinjärvi ('Siviilipalveluskeskus') for persons doing non-military service, holding lectures on topical issues for conscientious objectors, the antimilitaristic philosophy and history as well as security politics. Lectures in Swedish are held by Jessuca Suni.
AKL's primary member in Advisory board on non-military service (Siviilipalvelusasiain neuvottelukunta, SPANK) is Antti Meriläinen and deputy member is Lydia Palo. In the advisory board lead by Ministry of Labour current issues are discussed related to developing non-military service and proposals are made to Ministry of Labour.
The Union of COs co-operates with similar organizations in other countries. We also work as a part of the anti-militarists and conscientious objectors worldwide. The forms of action are, for example, demonstrations, different kinds of solidarity events and support statements – as well as bus trips to anti-nuclear events and the Roskilde-festival among others.
The Union also stays in touch with international human rights bodies and organisations such as Amnesty International and European Bureau for Conscientious Objection aka EBCO, and participates in international seminars (War Resisters' International's seminars and the Nordic CO's Nordico-seminars).
The Union of COs is the Finnish section of the War Resisters' International (WRI). Simo Hellsten is the Union of COs representative in WRI's decision making bodies. WRI's International Conscientious Objectors' Day (Kansainvälinen Aseistakieltäytyjäpäivä) the 15th of May and the Prisoners for Peace Day (Kansainvälinen Rauhanvankipäivä) the first of December (since 1956), have been realised in Finland by the Union of COs for several years. Other international activities are also a part of the agenda and the Union has the possibility to influence the WRI's report on the realisation of the right of conscientious objection to the United Nations Human Rights Committee.
The highest authority in The Union of COs is the Union Meeting held at least twice in a year. In the Union Meeting the executive committee is elected. The Meeting is open to all the members of the Union. The executive committee assembles once a month on the average and takes care of the concerns and actions of the Union in between the Union Meetings. The meetings of the executive committee are also open to all the members. The average age of the current executive committee is circa 25 years (ages of members are ranging between a bit below 20 and a bit over 30). Almost all of our work is done by volunteers. Currently we have sections in six regions in Finland, and new ones are being established when possible. If you are interested in starting a new local group for the Union or to participate in its ongoing activities, don't hesitate to contact us!
We act almost exclusively on a voluntary basis, so each contribution is significant. Groups meeting on a regular basis exist at the time at six localities – and new ones are founded when possible. Take contact! Join the e-mail lists.
If you wish to join the action, please contact one of your local groups, if their is one. If you wish to start a local group at some new locality or wish to participate in our on going activities, don't hesitate to contact our central office (+358-(0)40-836 2786 or toimisto(at)akl-web.fi) and we will help you to a good start and we can discuss and network together further. So contact us if you're interested in finding the way to eternal peace with us!!!