European Bureau for Conscientious Objection (EBCO) was founded in 1979 as an umbrella organization for national associations of conscientious objectors. The aim of EBCO is to promote collective campaigns for the release of the imprisoned conscientious objectors and lobbying the European governments and institutions for the full recognition of the right to conscientious objection to military service.
Now, this influential organization in Europe has also made a public demand to the authorities of Lithuania to grant protection and asylum to the head of the organization Our House, Olga (Volha) Karach. As the EBCO appeal says, for many years Olga has been fighting for human rights in Belarus, including the right to conscientious objection to military service. For this very reason, she is subject to persecution and death penalty in her home country, where the ruling regime has announced her a “terrorist”.
Quote from the EBCO appeal: “We appeal to the highest Lithuanian authorities, the President of the Republic of Lithuania, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs to respect international standards and provide protection and asylum for the Belarusian human rights defender Olga Karach, who has taken refuge in Lithuania.
Lithuania is also a member of the European Union. We therefore also appeal to the European institutions and the EU Missions (Embassies and Consulates of EU Member States and European Commission Delegations) which, as stated in the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders, should support and protect human rights defenders.
We also call on our national governments to take action to ensure that the protection of human rights defenders is guaranteed always and everywhere.
We call upon all civil society, from individual citizens to journalists and institutional representatives across Europe to take action in defence of human rights and those who defend them.”
This appeal is connected to the international campaign #protection4olga which started after the Lithuanian authorities refused to provide political asylum to the Belarusian peacebuilder and human rights defender Olga Karach, and is demanding to provide protection and refuge to the director of the organization Our House.
We’d like to remind that on August 18, 2023, Lithuania denied her a political asylum, groundlessly calling her a “person that poses a threat to the national security of the Republic of Lithuania”. She was however granted a one-year temporary residence in the country. In the EBCO they believe it is probably due to international letters of concerns that some politicians and heads of foundations had written to the authorities and to Lithuanian Ambassadors in different countries. Nevertheless, this status does not give Olga any safety regarding her status – authorities could at any time revoke this decision and decide to deport her.
That decision is grossly unfair, and because of that EBCO has started an International Campaign for the immediate protection of the human rights defender and peacebuilder Olga Karach. The organization assumes that the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted in 1998, acknowledges “the valuable work of individuals, groups and associations in contributing to, the effective elimination of all violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms of peoples and individuals”.
Olga Karach, through the organization she leads, ‘Our House’, has numerous activities to her credit in monitoring and defending human rights in Belarus and Belarusian citizens who have fled to other countries (such as Lithuania). Her activity is so significant, that Olga Karach’s organization was also chosen by the International Peace Bureau to be nominated for the 2024 Nobel Peace Prize, together with the Russian Movement of Conscientious Objectors and the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement.
The EBCO reminds, that all the states have an obligation to protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms of all citizens, and, especially for human rights defenders who ‘frequently face threats and harassment and suffer insecurity’ ‘to take all measures necessary to ensure the protection of human rights defenders, at both the local and the national levels, including in times of armed conflict and peacebuilding’, as stated in UN General Assembly resolution 66/164.
- is involved in drawing up the annual report of the Committee on Civil Liberties of the European Parliament on the application by the Member States of its resolutions on conscientious objection and civilian service,
- provides expertise and legal opinions on behalf of the Directorate General of Human Rights and Legal Affairs of the Council of Europe,
- enjoys participatory status with the Council of Europe since 1998 and is a member of the Conference of International Non-Governmental Organizations of the Council of Europe since 2005,
- is entitled to lodge collective complaints concerning the European Social Charter of the Council of Europe since 2021,
- is a full member of the European Youth Forum since 1995.