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          • Year: 2005
          • How to solve the problem of conscripts who avoided military service

          • 26. august 2005. Dr. Jovan Lj. Buturović, Lawyer

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          The number of conscripts who have left the country and are dispersed all over the world is very large. They left for different reasons, but still most often due to the inability to find employment. Many young people, predominantly those with academic degrees, seek advanced education, or opportunities for scientific and research work in other countries. Their ranks include not a small number of those who plan on staying abroad, starting a family there and taking up foreign citizenship. The damage for this country is immeasurable. Their connections with the mainstream are difficult to maintain and are in many cases even prevented.

          The Yugoslav Army Act, passed way back in 1993 and formally still in force, appears to have been drafted so as to prompt as many conscripts as possible to leave the country and remain abroad permanently. That is, in particular, due to its rigid provisions regulating mandatory military service, including e.g. the obligation to start serving by the end of the calendar year when a conscript reaches the age of 27, practically without a possibility to postpone it any further, permissions to travel and stay abroad, and the refusal of diplomatic and consular offices in foreign countries to extend the validity of passports (without a previous approval of the Chief of the General Staff, which he grants only exceptionally, if at all) of those under 27 who have not served their term yet. In that case, their sojourn abroad is considered illegal and implies legally prescribed consequences. These and numerous other provisions of the law seem to be specifically devised to make life miserable for conscripts living and working in foreign parts. Yet, one should not ask them to lose their jobs abroad in order to complete military service in the country, to discontinue their doctoral studies or involvement in important research projects. After all, no one can live off patriotism (except those who have capitalized on it).

          Conscripts who were not inducted by the end of the calendar year when they reached the age of 27 are declared draft dodgers by recruitment bureaus and their obligation to serve is extended until the end of the calendar year in which they reach the age of 35. That, in itself, would not be so bad if it were not accompanied by criminal charges for failing to report for military duty and avoiding military service, under Article 214 of the Criminal Code. The competent prosecutor then requests form the investigative judge to investigate the case. And, since the conscript is not available, the judge issues a detention order, and puts him on a wanted list. To my knowledge, military courts have instituted criminal proceedings against over 2 000 conscripts from the territory of Serbia now living abroad. In all these cases, the wanted posters and detention orders were issued. I am not familiar with the state of affairs now that civilian judiciary have taken over from the military, but since the law has not been changed, civilian courts are obliged to follow the same procedure.

          The problem of conscripts’ military service is not only a legal issue and has grown into a serious political problem. It can’t be that so large a number of people will be put on trial? Meanwhile, statements of certain high officials that there will be no arrests only add to the overall confusion, since no government official, be he a defense or prime minister, or even the president of the republic, does not have the authority to decide whether someone will be arrested or not. That is the prerogative of the judiciary.

          So, is there a way out of this confusing situation? It is not difficult to find, provided there is political will and the solutions are prepared by sufficiently competent people.

          First off, a law on amnesty should be passed as a matter of emergency, to reprieve all conscripts from the criminal offense of failing to respond to military summons and avoiding military service under Article 214 of the Criminal Code, on the basis of which all courts would then discontinue criminal proceedings. That is the only legally proper way to address this problem, but the solution is only temporary. The last amnesty law passed by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 2001, covered all conscripts who failed to respond to mobilization in 1999, and soldiers who deserted from their units. With the adoption of the Constitutional Charter, amnesty is no longer within the competence of the state union, but rather its members. Montenegro adopted the Law on Amnesty of Conscripts from the Territory of Montenegro in 2004. The Serbian parliament should follow suit, and as soon as possible.

          However, amnesty does not solve the problem of military obligation, and the issue of criminal responsibility for draft dodging is thus dealt with on one-off basis, i.e. temporarily. The matter of military service should be regulated by a special law. But, an all-comprising regulation of military obligation, i.e. the adoption of the relevant legislation, takes more time, since it addresses complex issues requiring serious studies and preparations. That is why it would meanwhile be necessary and appropriate to amend the existing law in the part relating to obligatory military service of conscripts living and working abroad, by extending the service deadlines pending the adoption of a comprehensive new legislation. Naturally, this should not prevent those conscripts who so wish to serve their term until such time.

          I think that these solutions would be rational and acceptable both to the conscripts abroad and to this country. And as for the new law on military obligation it should address all relevant issues in every detail and in line with European standards and rules of democratically organized countries.

           

          * Translated by Ljiljana Nikolić

        • Tags: military, reform, soldier, military service, Serbia, regional security, youth
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