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Service Civil International

First SCI International Constitution, 1949

by Heinz Gabathuler (May 27, 2017)

Not long ago, I received a request from a European SCI branch, asking me for the "first international constitution (1920)".

As everyone is aware that 1920 has been the year in which it all started (therefore we will soon be able to celebrate 2020!) the request somehow seems logical. But on the other hand, Pierre Ceresole and the friends who had organised the first international voluntary service for peace in a devastated French village two years after the end of the First World War surely had other priorities than to draft a constitution before even starting with practical work.

It was actually until the end of the Second World War that SCI was not much more than a loose network of friends and local organisations, co-ordinating voluntary services in a handful of European countries (plus one in India, in the mid-1930s). In Switzerland, SCI had the status of a voluntary association, having a constitution from the late 1920s on, but no official registration was needed. In France, SCI had officially been registered in 1936. The earliest constitution of IVS Great Britain probably dates of 1932 – following a first service that took place in Wales in the year before.

It was the defeat of fascism in Europe and the need for reconstruction after 1945 that gave a new boost to SCI activities in more countries than before, such as Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, and Austria. Already in December 1945 a first International Delegates Meeting took place in London – of course without a constitution. It then took a few more Delegates Meetings until the International Constitution could be decided in April 1949 in Bièvres near Paris.

The Constitution has been amended and revised several times since then. It is not a big surprise, however, that the aims have not been altered much. Providing not just an alternative to military service, but eventually replacing it has been and is the core aim of the movement – a great and far reaching ambition which clearly contrasts the modest and humble appearance of most of its representatives. And SCI, already in these times, distanced itself from any attempt to "compete with ordinary labour" and from strikebreaking – thus being sensitive on the fact that voluntary service is not just serving peace but may also have ambiguous or even negative labour market effects. Also from the beginning we find statements of non-discrimination for "race, religion, nationality" whereas in 2017 we still lack such a statement for sexual orientation…

What has been changed much, is the governance structure of SCI International. This has been an absolute necessity, taking into account the huge growth in activities and in national branches the organisation has experienced in the last 70 years.


Heinz Gabathuler, International Archives Coordinator


This first, and all other, versions of the International Constitution, have been filed under 40050.1 in the International Archives.

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