Military Conscription Worldwide

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By CJ Hinke
Excerpted from Free Radicals: War Resisters in Prison by CJ Hinke, forthcoming from Trine-Day in 2016.

Incredibly, in the 21st-century, roughly half of the world’s nation-states practice military conscription. According to Wikipedia, the countries on this list may still be enforcing military conscription.

In all cases, registration is required but military service may not be; this practice would certainly yield a number of draft refusers. In some cases, other forms of national service are compulsory which also generate principled refusal.

Starred * countries list provisions for alternative service or conscientious objection which exemption would also result in absolutist refusers; in some cases, the right to conscientious objection is constitutional. Failure by governments to provision conscientious objection or alternative service contravenes United Nation conventions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 18) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 18), to which almost all these nation-states are party.

The 1978 UN General Assembly was explicit in its Resolution 33/165 which recognized “the right of all persons to refuse service in military or police  forces.” In 1981, UNHRC again supported conscientious objection in its Resolution 40 (XXXVII). In 1982, this was restated in Resolution 1982/36.

The United Nations’ Declaration on Human Rights Defenders A/RES/53/144 was begun in 1984 and formally adopted in 1998 by the General Assembly on the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Furthermore, the UN Human Rights Commission on March 5, 1987 in Resolution 1987/46 resolved that “conscientious objection has to be considered as a legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of conscience and religion.” This was reaffirmed in UNHCR Resolution 1989/59, stating “all Member States have an obligation to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms and to fulfill the obligations they have undertaken under the various international human rights instruments, the Charter of the United Nations and humanitarian law” and “called upon Member States to grant asylum or safe transit to another State” for conscientious objectors. UNHCR’s 1991 Resolution 1991/65 recognised “the role of youth in the promotion and protection of human rights, including the question of conscientious objection to military service.”

The UNHRC’s 1993 Resolution 1993/84 was also explicit in reminding Member States of the previous UN resolutions.

This was reiterated in 1995 by UNHCR Resolution 1995/83 recognising “the right of everyone to have conscientious objections to military service as a legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”

UNHCR did so again in 1998 by UNHCR Resolution 1998/77 which restated “that States, in their law and practice, must not discriminate against conscientious objectors in relation to their terms or conditions of service, or any economic, social, cultural, civil or political rights,” reminding states with a system of compulsory military service, where such provision has not already been made, of its recommendation that they provide for conscientious objectors various forms of alternative service which are compatible with the reasons for conscientious objection, of a non-combatant or civilian character, in the public interest and not of a punitive nature,” and “emphasizes that States should take the necessary measures to refrain from subjecting conscientious objectors to imprisonment and to repeated punishment for failure to perform military service, and recalls that no one shall be liable or punished again for an offence for which he has already been finally convicted or acquitted in accordance with the law and penal procedure of each country.”

In 2001, the Council of Europe stated “The right of conscientious objection is a fundamental aspect of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” before the UN Human Rights Council. In 1960, every nation-state member of the European Union conscripted for military service with the sole exceptions of Andorra, Iceland, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco, and San Marino. Conscription has now been abolished in 25 EU countries, leaving 15 states still enforcing military conscription. Azerbaijan, Belarus,  Greece, and Turkey provide no alternative service for COs.

In 2002, UNHRC adopted Resolution 2002/45 which called upon “States to review their current laws and practices in relation to conscientious objection to military service” according to Resolution 1998/77 and to consider the information outlined in the report of the High Commission.  In 2004, UNHCR adopted Resolution 2004/35 for the protection of conscientious objectors and, in 2006, UNHRC Resolution 2/102 was seconded by 33 UN Member States. In 2006, UNHCR issued Analytical Report 4/2006/51, “Regarding Best Practices in Relation to Conscientious Objectors to Military Service.”

In 2012, the UN Human Rights Council tabled before the UN General Assembly Resolution 20/12, “Promotion and protection of all human rights”…“including Conscientious objection and seconded by 34 UN Member States, many of them conscripting nations. This direction was most recently repeated by UN Human Rights Council’s 2013 Resolution 24/17, referring to UNHRC’s 2012 Resolution 20/12.

The HRC also published its “Guidelines on International Protection No. 10” regarding refugee claims by conscientious objectors and deserters. Hundreds of conscientious objectors from dozens of countries have applied for asylum in third countries using Article 1A (2) of the 1951 UN Convention and/or the 1967 Protocol on the Status of Refugees.

An informative multi-page overview of United Nations efforts for conscientious objection, by convention and by country, may be accessed here.

Amnesty International lists all worldwide CO prisoners as its “prisoners of conscience.”

Are any politicians listening or is this all just lip-service?

Criteria for definition of draft “evasion” include the rich who pay substitutes to do their military service. All countries which have armies also have deserters from military service. Aiding or hiding deserters is also a criminal offence.

All countries have small numbers of Jehovah’s Witness and other sectarian refusers. Politicians prey on the young and weak. We support all means of refusing military service both public and covert.

Countries marked with a check √ are listed on the War Resisters’ International “World survey of conscription and conscientious objection to military service.”

I have included countries where conscription remains in law but at present is not enforced. These statistics, where available at all, may not accurately reflect the actual numbers of refusers; statistics range from 1993-2005. In many cases, resident foreigners are also eligible for conscription, notably the USA.

I have not included “press-gang” forced enlistment by rebel paramilitaries. The practice is widespread in countries where such conflicts exist.

Please note that no information has been recorded for many countries. The author calls on readers to provide any further information to make this survey more complete.

This is the 21st century’s Wall of Shame, the real rogue states enslaving young men for war.

√ Abkhazia
√ Albania* – Repeat prosecutions
√ Algeria
√ Angola
√ Armenia* – 16,000 evaders; Jehovah’s Witness prosecutions upheld by EU Court of Human Rights (2009)
√ Austria*
√ Azerbaijan* – 2,611 (2002) in prison
√ Belarus* – 30% refuse conscription; 1,200-1,500 evaders/deserters per year; 99% of conscripts feign illnesses, go into hiding
√ Benin
√ Bhutan
√ Bolivia – 80,000 evaders; Draft exiles & refugees abroad
√ Bosnia*
√ Brazil*
√ Bermuda*
√ Burundi
√ Cape Verde
√ Central African Republic
√ Chad*
√ Chile – 10,000 nonregistrants
√ China
√ Colombia* – 50% draft evasion; Forced enlistment, COs charged with desertion; Military & police disobedience & desertion 6,362 serving
√ Congo*
√ Cuba
√ Curaçao & Aruba
√ Cyprus
√ Denmark* – 25 draft refusers per year
√ Dominican Republic
√ Ecuador – 10% of conscripts desert
√ Egypt – 4,000 draft evaders
√ El Salvador* – Draft exiles & refugees abroad
√ Equatorial Guinea
√ Eritrea – 12 draft prisoners, secret trials, indefinite detention, torture; No medical care, deaths in custody; Prison & summary execution for fleeing the country; Forced enlistment, indefinite service; Revokes citizenship, business & driver’s licences, passports, marriage certificates, national identity cards, denial of exit visas; Three Jehovah’s Witnesses in prison without charge or trial 14+ years
√ Estonia*
√ Finland* – 3 absolutist prisoners
√ Gabon
√ Georgia* – 2,498 deserters
√ Germany*
√ Ghana
√ Greece* – Hundreds of public draft refusers, Gulf Wars objectors; Repeat prosecutions; After prison, five years suspension of civil rights: denied voting, election to parliament, work in civil service,
obtain passport or business licence; Numerous draft exiles abroad
√ Guatemala – 350 COs, 75% of conscripts desert, frequent extrajudicial executions
√ Guinea
√ Guinea-Bissau
√ Herzegovina* – 1,500 COs
√ Honduras – 29% draft evaders, 50% deserters
√ Indonesia
√ Iran – Numerous draft and deserter exiles, may not return until after age 40
√ Iraq – Capital punishment for desertion, amputation of an ear,  branding of the forehead
√ Israel – Exponential number of refuseniks against war of Palestinian occupation; Draft refusal starts in high school; COs face military courts-martial, repeat sentences; Women may be COs but not men; Numerous draft evaders, draft exiles & refugees
√ Ivory Coast
√ Jordan
√ Kazakhstan – 40% draft evaders, 3,000 deserters
√ Kuwait – Widespread draft evasion
√ Kyrgyzstan
√ Laos – Widespread draft evasion
√ Latvia*
√ Lebanon
√ Libya
√ Lithuania*
√ Madagascar
√ Mali –
Widespread desertion
√ Mauritania
√ Mexico
√ Moldova* – 1,675 COs, hundreds denied
Mongolia
√ Montenegro* – Widespread draft evasion, 26,000 evaders charged; 150,000 draft exiles
√ Morocco – 2,250 deserters, five officers executed
√ Mozambique – Forced enlistment, mass desertion
√ Myanmar*
√Nagorny Karabakh
√ Netherlands* – Refusals of duty to Afghanistan
√ Niger
√ North Korea – Death penalty for draft evasion and desertion
√ Norway* – 2,364 COs, 100-200 absolutist refusers
√ Paraguay* – Forced enlistment; 6,000 COs, 15% of conscripts
√ Peru – Forced enlistment
√ Philippines – Two historical nonregistrants; Forced enlistment by rebel paramilitaries
√ Poland* – Roman Catholics denied CO status (Poland is 87.5% Catholic)
Qatar – Reintroduced conscription in 2014
√ Russia* – 1,445 COs annually, 17% rejection; Supreme Court protection (1996); Buddhist, Jehovah’s Witnesses excluded; 30,000 draft evaders and 40,000 deserters; Draft exiles & refugees
√ Senegal
√ Serbia* – 9,000 COs; 26,000 draft evaders and deserters; 150,000 draft exiles abroad
√ Seychelles
√ Singapore – Hundreds of Jehovah’s Witness refusers, 12-24 months military detention; Repeat sentences; Absolutist refusers fined and sentenced
√ Slovenia*
√ Somalia – COs considered deserters
√ South Korea – 13,000 CO prisoners, 400-700 per year; 5,000 draft refusers, repeat sentences; Draft refugees & exiles abroad
South Sudan
√ Spain* – Dozens of public draft refusers, opposition to Gulf Wars
√ Srpska* – Widespread draft evasion & desertion
√ Sudan – 2.5 million draft evaders, forced enlistment, including universities; Men of conscription age prohibited from travel abroad
√ Switzerland* – 2,000 COs per year; 100 absolutist refusers per year, 8-12 month sentences; Trials by military courts-martial
√ Syria – Jews are exempt
√ Taiwan
√ Tajikistan – Widespread draft evasion and desertion
√ Tanzania
√ Thailand – 30,000 draft evaders, incidences of public draft refusal
√ Transdniestria*
√ Tunisia* – Forced enlistment, widespread desertion
√ Turkey – 74 public draft refusers, repeat sentences; COs considered deserters; Disparaging military or “alienating public from military service” a crime; 60,000 draft evaders per year; Objectors imprisoned as deserters; Draft refugees & exiles abroad
√ Turkish Occupied Territories – 14 declared COs
√ Turkmenistan – Significant draft evasion, 20% desertion, 2,000 deserters; Beatings, threats of rape
√ Uganda – Forced enlistment, including child soldiers; Widespread desertion
√ Ukraine* – Only religious COs: Seventh Day Adventists, Baptists, Adventists-Reformists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Charismatic Christians; 2,864 COs; Incidence of public absolutist refusal; 10% compliance, 48,624 draft evaders; Draft refugees abroad
United Arab Emirates – Reintroduced conscription in 2014
United Kingdom – Royal prince calls for military conscription in May 2015
√ USA* – Tens of millions of draft evaders fail to register, fail to report address changes; Thousands of absolutist refusers; only 20 prosecutions, sentenced from 35 days-six months; Conspiracy charges for those who aid, abet, counsel; Five years prison, $250,000 fine; Military refusers and deserters; Deserters charged with wartime offence; Draft and deserter exiles
√ Uzbekistan*
√ Venezuela – Forced enlistment, widespread draft evasion and desertion; 34 public absolutist refusers, 180 CO deserters per year
√ Vietnam – Widespread draft evasion and desertion
√ Western Sahara
√ Yemen – Significant draft evasion and desertion
√ Zimbabwe*

The numbers of draft refusers, where known, vary widely among the countries. In some, there may be only a handful. This handful also deserve to be protected—you could be one of them! In every country practicing military conscription, there are draft refusers and draft prisoners. Wherever a country maintains an army, from the most liberal of countries to the most repressive, there are conscientious objectors and deserters.

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