From October 27 to 30, 1988, peace tax campaigners from 14 industrialized countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, West Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Great Britain, Spain, Italy, Japan, Australia and the United States) met for our Second International Conference at Vierhouten in the Netherlands. We came together in growing awareness and abhorrence of the participation by all tax payers in militarism because a percentage of our taxes are designated for war and war preparation.
We are conscientious objectors to war, and consequently many of us refuse to pay a symbolic or substantial portion of our tax liabilities. We accept our general tax obligation as citizens, but we reject war and refuse to pay for it. Many of us also campaign for the legal establishment of conscientious military tax objection.
Our movement of conscientious objection to taxation for military purposes is in an early stage of development. While there have been war tax resisters for centuries, the modern movement in the United States dates from the bombing of Hiroshima and in Western Europe, Australia and Japan from the 1970s and 1980s.
The signing of the INF Treaty has necessitated a reassessment and new design for some of our national peace tax campaigns. Contrary to news media coverage and public belief, the arms race continues at an accelerated rate. We are moving from actions against particular military programs, such as Cruise and Pershing missiles, to actions against the entire military complex. For example, in the Federal Republic of Germany, the Friedenssteuerinitiative began a new three step campaign on September 1, the International Day of War Tax Resistance.
For step one, people are encouraged to put stickers that say “Armaments Not With My Taxes” on coins.
Step two consists of Imitation cheques are circulated to protest war tax and actual refusal to pay tax for military purposes are steps 2 and 3.
In the Netherlands several different approaches are under discussion including a campaign directed at the link between disarmament in the First World and development in the Third.
The keynote speakers of the conference, Paul J. I. M. de Waart, professor of international law at the Free University in Amsterdam and Herman Verbeek, member of the Rainbow Faction in the European Parliament contributed to the discussions.
De Waart articulated the relationship between arms control, efforts towards world disarmament, a reduction of spending on weaponry, and the right of development which has been adopted by the United Nations as a universal human right.
Verbeek forcefully warned us of the warlike situation that exists in the modern world today. This situation holds the nations captive in a rat race for economic growth. In this respect, the military industrial complex is one of the greatest obstacles to achieving a world where people can live in peacevand security based on social justice for all.
Our purposes in meeting together included the exchange of information about our national campaigns, a renewal and strengthening of our commitment, and practical analysis of our campaigns. Formal discussion topics included:
- International cooperation and exchange of experience,
- Juridical aspects,
- Churches and tax resistance,
- The United Nations and international law,
- Action forms after the INF Treaty,
- Lobbying and legislation,
- The state and individual responsibility, and
- Tax resistance and political change.
We heard reports of campaigns in different countries, and saw that though the peace movement at large may seem less energetic, we have grown stronger in our commitment. We evaluated the outcome of the first international conference in Tübingen, FRG, two years ago, and discussed how to continue. The basis for international cooperation is the exchange of communication between our national campaigns. We came to the conclusion that this needs to be extended so we can keep each other better informed. We urged our national campaigns to exchange magazines with each other, and to use the newsletter of the War Resisters International to a greater extent as a platform to discuss national and international issues.
The 1st of September will remain the International Day of War Tax Resistance. In Germany this year a new campaign was started on September 1, and in the Netherlands, campaigners gave the money from their peace fund to the prime minister (who refused to accept the cheque).
In Tübingen we agreed to work on a world peace fund, but as there is little energy for this at the moment, we now proposed instead to campaign locally on an international project. All campaigns can support this with money from local peace funds or from individuals. We established some criteria and a proposal by which we can choose from several international projects.
We suggest holding another international conference in two years because it is very important to be energized and learn from other campaigns. And showing others that we are really an international movement gives national campaigns more weight.
While considering the role that can be played by the United Nations and international law in achieving tax redirection as an acceptable alternative under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we were warned not to become too ambitious in expanding the scope of our activities too quickly. In those parts of the world which have advanced along these lines like in some countries of Western Europe, it might be possible to raise the question before regional legislative lobies such as the European Parliament. But here too, positive effects can only be expected when individual countries such rights have become recognized. This will require slow and in depth educational processes to change the prevailing unfavourable attitudes towards war tax refusal.
As a matter of fact, education emerged as a key, perhaps the key element, in this stage of our work. Not only is there a crying need for more awareness of the pernicious nature of militarism, but also for greater knowledge among peace minded people that there are conscientious, specific, and empowering alternatives to participation in the system of war preparation.
Legislation and lobbying received significant emphasis in our deliberations. Legislation has been proposed in the United States, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, West Germany and Belgium, and is under development in Japan and Sweden. Legislation would not only established conscientious objector status, but also allow for the redirection of revenues received from objectors to peace building and non-violent conflict resolution programs.
The juridical aspects of tax refusal had our attention. Currently there are numerous court cases around the world of war tax refusers. Often we inform the courts of pending proposals for Peace Tax legislation to strengthen our cases. However, we realize that it will not be by court action, but rather through new laws that the legality of conscientious objection to military taxation comes about. We have to take into account that if such legislation is passed it might make the situation more difficult for total non co-operators who refuse to have any of their tax money spent in any way on military preparations.
In relation to the pending elections in 1989 for the European Parliament we considered concerted actions in the Western European countries to present a case for recognition of conscientious objection to paying taxes for military purposes. A statement was drafted to candidates standing for election, and a copy is attached to this declaration. Follow-up activities will continue once the Parliament is in session.
The European Ecumenical Assembly in Basel, to be held in 1989, was also discussed and a group of participants from various churches represented at the conference decided to send a letter to the preparatory committee asking them to deal with the subject of tax refusal by conscientious objectors in the draft document for the Assembly. A copy of this letter is also attached to this declaration.
Our participation in the conference has confirmed our commitment to a fundamental and comprehensive opposition to paying for war in any form. We extend our thanks to our Dutch hosts, the Beweging Weigering Defensiebelasting, and return home with renewed vision and enthousiasm for the work ahead.