The right to conscientious objection has also been recognised in the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. Recently, the legal right to act in accordance with one's conscience has been placed on the statute book by the Government through the Human Rights Act 1998.
In the First World War, about 16,000 British men were recorded as conscientious objectors after conscription started in 1916, In the Second World War, there were 61,000. Conscription was abolished in 1960, so all British soldiers are now volunteers – although in 1991 Vic Williams a soldier was jailed for 14 months for desertion and conduct prejudicial to the good order of discipline, after he went absent without leave during the Gulf War. Vic Williams said he left the regiment because he did not believe that a military solution to the Gulf crisis was justified, and because he had decided that his conscience could not allow him to take part in any such action. He had served in the British Army for five years as a trained radar operator before his departure, and had a clean conduct record. Before giving himself up to the police at the end of the Gulf War in early March, Vic Williams made public statements opposing the war for oil in a Hyde Park demonstration and on a BBC television programme . Amnesty International at the time considered him to be a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned because he acted in accordance with his conscientiously held beliefs.
He began serving his prison sentence on 2 October 1991. The above video is of Roy Bailey singing “The Ballad of Vic Williams.”