2.4.4 Exemptions and deferments

The procedures regarding conscientious objection are discussed in detail in Section 4, but it is must be stressed that conscientious objection is just one of many grounds for exemption from military service which are recognised by different states. Some examples, culled at random, are given in Table 6.

To the list of minority exemptions might be added that of Jehovah's Witnesses, who are completely exempt from all military or equivalent service in a number of countries, certainly including Finland, Israel, the Netherlands, and Sweden. Although granted at the level of the group rather than of the individual, these exemptions are however clearly based on an appreciation that conscientious objection to military service is a manifestation of the faith practised by Jehovah's Witnesses, and is, therefore, a form of recognition of conscientious objection. 

In some other countries (e.g. Poland and Russia) Jehovah's Witnesses benefit from a willingness to classify, and thus exempt, active members as ministers of religion, similar to that negotiated on behalf of Roman Catholic clergy and students in concordats concluded by the Vatican with a number of States. Such exemptions are not based on implied conscientious objection - indeed in Poland, the Catholic church has traditionally supported the view that Catholics cannot be conscientious objectors.

Elsewhere, exemptions as ministers of religion are not made available to Jehovah's Witnesses. In the course of 2000 and 2001 a total of 33 ordained ministers of the Jehovah's Witnesses claimed such exemptions in Romania; the first 14 received suspended sentences for failure to perform alternative service; the remainder were acquitted on the basis that no such offence is stipulated in the penal code - an interpretation which was upheld by the Supreme Court in October 2001, and again in overturning the convictions of the original 14 in May 2003. The fourteen have subsequently filed applications with the European Court of Human Rights with specific reference to the failure to grant them the exemptions available to clergy of other denominations, which join the applications on the same grounds Philemon Löffelmann v. Austria and Markus Gütl v. Austria. (As a recognised confessional community, Jehovah's Witnesses in Austria do not enjoy the same status as a fully recognised religion.)[1]

It would require enormous innocence to be surprised that in many places the wealthy are in practice often able to buy themselves, or usually their sons, out of obligatory military service. What is more remarkable is the evidence of how widespread it is for payment in lieu of military service to be incorporated in legislation. 

Switzerland levies an annual tax of 2% of earned income, subject to a minimum of Fr.150 (approximately $100), on all male citizens who for whatever reason have not performed obligatory military service until they reach the age of 50, the maximum age for reserve liability; a similar situation applies in Colombia, where under the Military Service Act (48/1993) the permanently disabled and indigenous peoples were exempted at all times, but Article 28 states: Certain special exemptions are granted during peacetime only and require the payment of a tax in lieu of military service This list of exemptions includes that of those persons who are partially or completely unfit for service.

In Ecuador citizens not chosen in the ballot have to pay a compensation fee in order to receive the military certificate. A similar provision in Article 77 of the National Defence Service Act in Bolivia was part of the complaint brought before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of Alfredo Diaz Bustas; the friendly settlement, confirmed on 27th October 2005, included an agreement by the Ministry of Defence to present the service document free of charge, without requiring for its delivery payment of the military tax stipulated in the National Defense Service Act, or the payment of any other amount for any reason or considerations of any other nature, whether monetary or not.[2]

In Iran, exemption is available, on payment of a fee, to those who have completed military training with the Basij paramilitary youth movement.[3]

There is a longstanding Turkish provision whereby citizens living abroad can commute their military service to one month of training on payment of a sum which was originally set at DM 10,000. There were similarly reports in the early 1990s that in certain circumstances Syrian citizens living abroad could qualify to be excused military service on payment of a fee which, depending on the details, varied between $1000 and $5000.[4] And more recently a 2% tax levied on the incomes of Eritrean citizens living abroad was specifically designated as a military tax.[5]

The Mongolian Law on Civil Military Service Duties and Legal Status of the Military Servicemen, states: The form of an alternate military service can be monetary contributions as a substitute for personal active service defined by law. Conditions for allowance of substitution payment are defined by the State Great Khural and the amount of payment is annually defined by the Government.6

In Article 15 of Law 7987/1995 Albania institutionalised the purchase of exemption from military service at a rate to be set from time to time by the Government. At the beginning of 2005 this rate was 300,000 lek (approximately $3,000). Georgia instituted a similar system in 2002. In time of peace, exemption from military service may be purchased for 2000 lari (approximately $900); postponement annually costs one tenth of that sum. Those thus exempted are classified as reservists and may be called up only in times of general mobilisation. 

These moves were mirrored in several Central Asian republics. In 1999, in the context of plans to professionalise the armed forces, the Minister of Defence of Kazakhstan was referring to the possibility of conscripts being exempted all except a short period of weapons training on payment of a certain charge. Towards the end of 2002 the Kyrgyz parliament approved a draft law which would have enabled conscripts to buy out of the obligation, but this was apparently vetoed by the President. In Uzbekistan, a Law on Service in the Armed Forces Reserve, promulgated in April 2003, incorporates features of both the Georgian and Turkish precedents. Within a self-funding mobilisation /conscription reserve, for a payment of 25 times the minimum wage (approximately $140), conscripts will be certified as having duly performed their military service after a period of probably one month's training.[7]

  • [1] General Counsel of Jehovah's Witnesses, response to OHCHR questionnaire 2003
  • [2] Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Report Number 97/05, 27th October 2005, paragraph 16b.
  • [3] Child Soldiers Global Report 2004 (Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, London)
  • [4] Horeman, B. and Stolwijk, M. (1998), Refusing to Bear Arms, War Resisters International, London.
  • [5] Connection eV Germany, War Resisters International and Eritrean Anti-Militarist Initiative Eritrea: Conscientious Objection and Desertion London (WRI) April 2005
  • [6] Myagmarjav, G. and Nergui, B., Formation of the legal environment of Mongolian civil-military relations (Chapter 3 in Palamdorj, Sh. and Fluri, P., Democratic Oversight and Reform of Civil-Military Relations in Mongolia: A Self-Assessment, Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of the Armed Forces, November 2003.
  • [7] Child Soldiers Global Reports 2001 and 2004 (Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, London)