- A genuinely civilian substitute
service for conscientious objectors is not available.
- Estonia does not recognise the
right to conscientious objection for professional soldiers.
Conscription is enshrined in article
124 paragraph 1 of the constitution, according to which “Estonian
citizens have a duty to participate in national defence on the bases
of and pursuant to procedure provided by law”.
It is further regulated by the 2000 Defence Forces Service Act.
The duration of the compulsory
military service is 8 or 11 months, depending on the education and
the position in the Defence Forces.
After completion of military service, conscripts may be called up for
reservist duties every five years.
Only approximately 1,500 of a total
of 3,800 Armed Forces personnel are made up of conscripts.
Defence Forces Service Act 2000 also includes regulations for
“contract service”. Estonian citizens only who are at minimum 18
years old can apply to join the Estonian Defence Forces (Article 79).
According to article 83, a contract can either be for a fixed term,
Conscientious objection for conscripts
The right to conscientious objection
is enshrined in article 124 paragraph 2 of the Estonian constitution,
which states that “a person who refuses to serve in the Defence
Forces for religious or moral reasons has a duty to perform
alternative service pursuant to procedure prescribed by law”.
According to article 3 paragraph 6
of the Defence Forces Service Act, “refusal to serve in the
Defence Forces on religious or moral grounds does not release the
person concerned from performance of the duty to serve in the Defence
Forces”. However, according to article 4 paragraph 2 of the
same law, “alternative service shall be conducted pursuant to
the procedure provided for in this Act and legislation issued on the
The application procedure is
outlined in article 72. According to this article, the Defence Forces
Agency decides on an application for conscientious objection. To
“verify the justification”, the “Defence Forces Agency
shall: 1) collect explanations from the person eligible to be
drafted and those closest to him; 2) make inquiries of the place of
study or work of the person eligible to be drafted and of the
religious organisation specified by him.”
also possible to request further documents or to call the applicant
for an interview. If an application is rejected, an appeal either to
the Defence Forces service commission or to a court is possible.
According to article 73 of the
Defence Forces Service Act, “persons in alternative service
shall serve in structural units determined by the Government of the
Republic which are in the area of government of the Ministry of
Internal Affairs or the Ministry of Social Affairs and which are
engaged in rescue, social care or emergency work”. Read
together with article 3, however, the character of substitute service
After completion of substitute
service, COs "shall be registered in the register of persons
liable to service in the Defence Forces" (Article 78).
Consequently, COs may still have to serve in the armed forces as
reservists. Article 78 states that reservist duties should not
violate the guarantees that are laid down in Article 76 paragraph 1,
which suggests that reservist duties of COs may entail unarmed duties
within the armed forces.
The length of substitute service is
This is twice the length of military service.
In 2003, the United Nations' Human Rights Committee stressed its
concern “that the duration of alternative service for
conscientious objectors may be up to twice as long as the duration of
regular military service”, and pointed out that Estonia “is
under an obligation to ensure that conscientious objectors can opt
for alternative service, the duration of which is without punitive
In practice, there are not many
applications for conscientious objection. During the period of
1995-2001, only in 1996 11 conscientious objectors served their
substitute service in the Tallinn Military Rescue Company (under the
Estonian Rescue Board).
According to the third periodic
Estonian state report to the Human Rights Committee, in 2005, there
were no persons in substitute service; in 2006 there were 2 such
persons and in 2007 11 of 65 applications for substitute service were
No more details about the conditions or place of service are known.
Conscientious objection for professional soldiers
The right to conscientious objectors is not recognised for
According to article 109, “a regular member of the Defence
Forces is required to give at least two months’ advance notice of
his or her wish to terminate the contract.” However, according
to article 120, “the active service contract of a regular member
of the Defence Forces shall not be terminated and he or she shall not
be released from active service during a state of emergency or a
state of war. In the event of mobilisation, all regular members of
the Defence Forces are deemed to be mobilised in the Defence Forces
as of the declaration of mobilisation”. This in fact makes it
impossible to leave the Armed Forces in times of war or emergency,
when a conflict of conscience is most likely to arise.
Draft evasion and desertion
Draft evasion and desertion are punishable under the criminal code.
According to article 2151
of the Defence Forces Service Act, “Failure by a person eligible
to be drafted to report for compulsory military service is punishable
by a fine of up to 300 fine units or by detention”.
Failure by a reservist to
participate in training exercises can be punished by a fine of up to
300 fine units or by detention, according to article 2152.
According to article 439, desertion,
defined as “unauthorised departure from a military unit or any
other place of service with the intention to evade service in the
Defence Forces” is punishable by 1 to 5 years’ imprisonment
in peacetime, and 2 to 10 years' imprisonment during a state of
emergency or war.
Article 440 deals with draft
evasion, or “evasion of service in Defence Forces”.
According to this article, “a person who evades service in the
Defence Forces by causing an injury to himself or by having an injury
caused to him by another person, or by simulating an illness,
falsifying documents or using any other fraud shall be punished by 1
to 5 years’ imprisonment.
“The same act, if committed
with the intention to evade performance of duties related to service
in the Defence Forces, is punishable by up to 3 years’
“An act provided for in
subsection (1) or (2) of this section, if committed during a state of
emergency or a state of war, is punishable by 2 to 10 years’
No information on practice is available.