According to the European Convention on Human Rights, article 4.3.b related to Prohibition of slavery and forced labour, “any service of a military character or, in case of conscientious objectors, service exacted instead of compulsory military service” is not included in the term “forced labour”. Thus, Armenia as a member of the Convention it is not infringing the international legal framework when designing the new law on compulsory military service.
Despite this fact, it is remarkable that conscription goes against the current trend in military recruitment. Starting by Belgium in 1994 and finishing with Germany in 2011, already 15 countries substituted Military Draft by professional armed forces; Spain, France, Portugal, Hungary, Italy, Czech Republic, Bosnia, Macedonia, Romania, Croatia, Bulgaria, Poland and Albania.
At the same time it is notable that Armenia cannot be compared with the above mentioned countries, considering geopolitical and other circumstances.
Although it may look like it is just a trend of Western Europe, it is remarkable the example of Lebanon which has abolished mandatory military service for men in 2007. The country is subject to constant risk because its neighbors have wars currently open and in addition both Syria and Israel have ongoing conscription, the latest even for women. However, such a danger has not prevented Lebanon from replacing compulsory military service with professional armed forces. For already ten years is that the country has the second largest army per capita recipient of foreign military aid, after Israel.
Until 2007, all Lebanese men were required to do 1 year of military service through age 18+. Trainings were only done whenever the young’s had free-time or time off school including summer vacations and holidays. There was also training done alongside high school. On May 4, 2005, a new conscription system was adopted, making for a six-month service, and pledging to end conscription within two years. As of February 10, 2007 mandatory military service no longer exists in Lebanon.
Another fact of interest related to Conscription, most democratic countries offer the option of an alternative service, social service or “Zivildienst” as it is the case of Austria and Switzerland, but also Russia, Greece, Estonia, Finland, Denmark and Cyprus. In addition, they offer the right of Conscientious Objection to bearing arms. That right is recognized by all the members of the Council of Europe except from two states: Turkey, Azerbaijan.
Thus, after the ratification of the new law, Armenia will join the seven countries in East Europe and Caucasus that keep Conscription nowadays; Syria, Jordan, Israel, Iran, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Ukraine.
José Nicolas Dominguez Mendoza
EVS Volunteer at the Armenian Lawyers’ Association