Spanish military reforms include conscientious objection

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

After 11 months in office, Spain's Socialist government is turning some of its promised reformist zeal on the armed forces. In early November the government of Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez unexpectedly approved a measure that would reduce the joint command of the chiefs of staff to little more than an advisory body.

The government also approved a long-promised bill to recognize conscientious objection. Once it receives parliamentary approval, which is expected, given the Socialists' easy majority, conscientious objectors to the nation's mandatory draft will be allowed to do alternative civilian service.

The bill will affect slightly more than 1,350 men who have refused to be inducted this year, out of a total of 215,000 soldiers. Military service is mandatory for all eligible young men in Spain.

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Each year some 1,000 draftees go to military jails for refusing to bear arms or serve in the armed forces. In 1982, the number rose to 3,005.

Under the new legislation, the military record of these conscientious objectors would be wiped clean.

In the future, the status of conscientious objectors will be decided by a national council of conscientious objection, presided over by a judge magistrate with representatives from the ministries of defense and justice.

Types of alternative service will be determined by the prime minister's office. Priority will be given to civil defense, betterment of rural areas, protection and improvement of the environment, aid and assistance to the needy, and the rehabilitation of alcoholics and drug addicts.

They will work primarily in state institutions or in nonprofit organizations that have no connection to an established church or political party. Conscientious objectors will receive the same pay as regular recruits, a symbolic 700 pesetas ($4.55) a month, but they will serve for 22 to 30 months instead of a conscript's 15 to 18 months.

Although statistics are not available, most of Spain's conscientious objectors are believed to be members of religious groups such as Jehovah's Witnesses, one of the largest Protestant religions in predominantly Catholic Spain.

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