Serbia: Numbers of conscientious objectors grow - change in regulations

Serbia: Numbers of conscientious objectors grow - change in regulations

As the numbers of applications for conscientious objector status continue to grow in Serbia and Montenegro, the authorities respond with new regulations for conscientious objectors, which are even less in compliance with international standards then the present regulations.

Ivana Petrovic reports for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting: "According to recent data from the defence ministry in February, 8,500 recruits opted to serve their country in civilian form this year.

Another 7,500 are on the waiting list to do the same, mainly because there are not enough vacancies for them at the various licensed institutions. None seem put off by the fact that civilian army service lasts for 13 months – four months longer than regular army service.

In fact, the trend is growing. The number expressing interest in serving the army in civilian form was 3,000 higher this year than last year. But amid complaints that the system was being abused, the military authorities have recently tightened the criteria for those wanting to serve as civilians.

Moves are afoot to tighten the restrictions further, by striking most cultural institutions, such as the National Theatre and libraries, off the list of places where recruits may serve. Dragan Paskas, chief of staff of the Army of Serbia and Montenegro, said that since the new system was introduced, some units had become deplorably understaffed.

Paskas said the army had become short of about 10,000 regular recruits, which he said was unfairly burdening the existing soldiers. The disgruntlement of many officers with the idea of recruits serving the fatherland by donning makeup and taking to the stage is hardly surprising.

Serbs for generations saw their country as a nation in arms. Only 20 years ago, it was hard to imagine youngsters saying they were unwilling to hold a rifle. In 1995, only 0.01 per cent of those called up for national service listed themselves as conscientious objectors and in 2002 the figure was 0.06 per cent.

But by 2004, this number had soared to almost 25 per cent, just after the civilian alternative to traditional army service was introduced. Danijel Nikolic, son of an army officer, is typical of a new generation that has rejected traditional military values. 'I don't like firearms,' he told IWPR."

In response to these developments, the government of Serbia and Montenegro published new regulations for conscientious objection, which further restrict the right to CO. The most important changes are:

  • every applicant for conscientious objection will in the future have to appear in front of a commission for a personal interview;
  • appealing against a decision for conscientious objection will no longer delay a call-up. This means conscientious objectors can be called up for military service while a decision on their appeal is still pending;
  • During the first third of military service there is not right to apply for conscientious objection any more;
  • The substitute service will be monitored by the same body that also monitors military service;
  • Conscientious objectors can no longer request to serve their substitute service according to their education and interests;
  • All cultural institutions and NGOs have been deleted from the list of recognised service places for substitute service. Only institutions financed out of the state budget are now allowed to receive conscientious objectors.
Sources: IWPR Balkan Crisis Report No 543, 25 February 2005, Email Igor Seke, 4 February 2005