The Dupuis affair

Marco Pannella
Notizie radicali

ABSTRACT: The author criticizes the judgement of the Brussels Council of war sentencing Olivier Dupuis, conscientious avower, to 24 months of prison, automatically applying a procedure used with all deserters and Jehovah's Witnesses: this is not an action of justice, but an action of order and political opportunity.
(Radical News n. 22 of 27th January 1986)

Trusting that it will continue to decree national indignity, and to expel deserters from the army, the military justice seems to refuse both to apply a penalty ranging between the maximum and the minimum penalty (from two months to two years) and to take extenuating circumstances or the possibility of granting probation into consideration. This jurisdiction is the denial of the fundamental principle according to which any penal responsibility is of a personal nature and order. The Council of war thus sentenced Olivier Dupuis to 24 months of prison, and some experts are sure that the Court of Appeal will confirm this sentence. (Deserters should be sentenced to 24 months, this way the length of the penalty would not be inferior to that of the military or civil service. But isn't this just another attempt to cheat the law? This technique, according to which the deserter is exempted from service once he has served his sentence, proves that this is not an action of justice, but one of order and political opportunity).
Granted that this would be detrimental in the specific circumstance, it must however be said that this peculiar law (to say the least), is the consequence of the fact that the main part of the defenders are "Jehovah's Witnesses", whose line of defence consist in...not defending themselves. This is the ideology of this church, which seems to appreciate this state-subsidized ideal seminary, that suitably prepares its "soldiers of God" to resist worldly temptations. A rather poor explanation. An automatism versus another automatism? Or is it not a sort of cordial agreement between two clergies: State clerics on the one side and clerics of conscientious objection on the other side? After all, either we assert that these youngsters are incapable of reasoning, for the very fact that they belong to this church - but this must yet be juridically proved - and in this case, they cannot be sentenced; or else, they are responsible. Associated in the same organization, united in the same faith, they are nonetheless individuals, each with his own story, his own character, his own intentions, and so on; and the penalties should be established in consideration of these differences.
The Council of war apparently refuses to view Olivier Dupuis as an anonymous person, an almost nonexistent character of a prearranged and pre-judged script. And nonetheless...Breaking off with a long- established political tradition, Olivier Dupuis, a conscientious avower and not a conscientious denier or simply an objector, takes part in the ritual of justice in the name of the same values that are presumably the basis of the military choice itself, thus paying homage to his judges all while challenging the roots of military justice. Advocating a dialogue on security and on the defence of a country or a population, Dupuis denounces the deception ("have 1914 and 1949 taught us nothing?") of the strategies of the type of the Maginot line, both for missiles and for so-called conventional weapons, and also for the traditional organization of the army, whose discipline supposedly represents its strength. He believes he cannot accept civil service either, as he considers it an inadequate answer to the duty of defending the territory and the State: defence of democracy, which he considers the fundamental weapon with which to resolutely, aggressively oppose the "enemy", the totalitarian systems that represent a structural threat to peace. It is necessary, says Dupuis, to attack them now and always, to destabilize them, depriving them of their monstrous strength, fed on the denial of the rights of the citizens of totalitarian States, rights that are guarantied by texts that are the equivalent of laws, for us as well as for them. Dupuis also assumes all responsibilities for his refusal of civil service, which he considers discriminating and penalizing from the point of view of work, dignity and equality.
A subject to European law, his action is that of a militant federalist, who claims the respect of the European Parliament's resolutions on conscientious objection and against mass starvation. Can these be considered the lucubrations of an intellectual? A leader of the Radical Party, Olivier's curriculum is imposing. He enacts his beliefs with such conviction and intelligence as to exclude his being a braggart. Responsible for the organization of precise, direct non-violent actions - not void, however, of dangers for his person - in the East as in the West, in Turkey as in the U.S., Dupuis has experienced the prisons of Prague (with the prohibition of returning there for five years) and of Yugoslavia, where he also has the prohibition of setting foot. We should also mention a hunger strike that lasted several weeks, in favour of the North-South draft bills, against starvation and in favour of a peaceful use of the food weapon. This is why he demonstrated against the U.S.-USSR agreements, following which Moscow was provided with thirty million tons of cereals. Also, it is thanks to him that a petition concerning European rights and mass starvation was signed by 13,000 European citizens: a petition which is currently being discussed at the European Parliament.

Is Olivier Dupuis incorrigible? A pure and uncompromising man? For that which concerns his non-violent and political principles, yes. But it is in precisely in the fact of being irremovable in his principles that he intends to win his trial before the military justice, following the "main road of democracy" of the procedure and the discussion of the reasons for his condemnation. It is with this sort of democratic attitude that he questions the legitimacy of military courts, and the fact that members of the military personnel are forced to become judges, which is neither their mission, nor their profession, and this without having the independence they claim.

Olivier therefore wants all the possibilities envisaged by the law to be examined, especially the question of extenuating circumstances and those concerning probation. In conclusion he intends to test military justice, with confidence and with deep respect for those who will judge him. From his prison of St. Gilles, he writes to us that he will examine the sentence in detail, to look for positive signals allowing him, if the case calls for it, to express his gratitude. So will it be the maximum penalty? No probation, no extenuating circumstances? Or, on the contrary, two years minus twenty days, with extenuating circumstances and probation? And which government would dare issue a decree of "national indignity", which the State Council would no doubt cancel?
It seems probable that the trial in progress against Olivier Dupuis will not be the last of its kind. After a sentence, will he still have to face his military obligations? Unless he himself finds reasons enough in the events to carry out his service: this is always possible, in theory at least, given the intellectual and moral itinerary of a radical such as Olivier Dupuis.