Country report and updates: Sudan



South Sudan seceded from the Republic of Sudan in 2011. Prior to this, since 1983 there was a civil war in Sudan, fought between the Sudanese army and the Sudan People Liberation Army (SPLA). The civil war ended with the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement in 2005, and a referendum on self determination for the South of Sudan. There are disputed border territories and areas of conflict between Sudan and its neighbours including South Sudan (in Abyei, and Heglig) and Egypt to the North (in Hala'ib Triangle).

1. Conscription

conscription exists

In 1992 the National Islamic Front (NIF) government introduced conscription with the 1992 National Service Law. According to art. 4 "The National Service aims (...) to implant the spirit of jihad (...) and to consolidate the spirit of giving and loyalty and belonging to the group and the homeland and the religion (...)." [5]

Parallel to national service is service in the Popular Defence Forces, a militia that is intended to support the armed forces in the civil war.

military service

All men between the ages of 18 and 45 are liable for military service ( the minimum age for service was extended from 33 to 45 as part of the updated Sudan Military Service Act in 2013). The length of military service is 24 months, 18 months in the case of high school graduates, and 12 months in the case of university and college graduates. [5]

According to the law, women are also liable for military service, but they are not called up in practice. [6] [7]

postponement and exemption

Postponement is possible for sole breadwinners and for those working for the government. [7]

It is believed that postponement is also possible for students at present. From 1996 to 1998 university and college students could not postpone their military service. Reportedly, the government decided in April 1998 that students were in future not to be called up until completion of their studies. [9]

Exemption is possible for medical reasons, and for members of the police and security forces. [7]

(forced) recruitment

The 1992 National Service Law was introduced in an attempt to meet increasing personnel needs of the armed forces. The government had difficulties enforcing conscription and it does not have enough money to maintain a sufficient infrastructure, number of barracks and training facilities. [7]

After the introduction of the 1992 law, not many young men were actually recruited. In May 1995 the Ministry of Defence stated that since 1992 only 26,000 conscripts (out of 2,500,000) had reported for military service. It is not quite clear how the call-up was organised. In 1993 it was reported that the 1964 to 1972 year classes had been called up via media announcements. [6] [7]

As the regular call-up failed to supply the requisite number of recruits, the government has turned to forced recruitment. Since 1995 there have been many reports of press-ganging men on buses, in markets, sports grounds, cinemas and other public places. The armed forces have established control posts in Khartoum, especially in poor areas. Men have been arrested and immediately brought to training centres. [3] [5] [6] [8] [9]

In 1997, the government announced a general mobilisation and, according to the government, by June 1998 82,000 students had been recruited. Students in secondary schools were told to get their diplomas in military centres and were then handed over to the armed forces. According to a university professor in June 1998, young men are actually afraid to apply to universities as they are afraid to be conscripted. [8]

During conscription campaigns, the legal recruitment age is often not respected, although the Sudanese government has often condemned the SPLA's practice of underage recruitment. There have been many reports of children being forcibly recruited, sometimes boys as young as 12. Some children have been recruited at facilities for street children. [2] [10]

Popular Defence Forces

In 1990 the Popular Defence Forces (PDF) were created. This is a militia under army control and modelled on Iran's Revolutionary Guard. Its legal basis is laid down in the 1989 Popular Defence Forces Law. [2] [5]

PDF training involves military training, civil defence training, patriotic and cultural education (1989 law, art. 14) and is considered to be an instrument of religious indoctrination. [5]

PDF training is compulsory for all government employees (such as civil servants, judges, diplomats, university staff and doctors), both men and women, above the age of 33. Since 1992 PDF training is compulsory for all men and women in higher education institutes. Female prisoners may apparently obtain release if they attend PDF training for 45 days. [5]

The length of PDF training ranges from 45 days to two months. It can be on a part-time basis. Students usually have to attend a two month long training in the summer break. [5]

Reportedly, women may be released from PDF training after 45 days. [6]

The legal minimum enlistment age for the PDF is believed to be 16, but this is not being adhered to and many younger children have been recruited by the PDF. [5] [10].

Notably, age has not been an important factor in military service recruitment. The maximum age for service, training, mobilisation and recruitment are left at the discretion of each group within the PDF. There are reports of recruiting individuals past the age of 60. [11]

Those joining the PDF are urged, for religious reasons, to 'volunteer' for combat duty in the south. In 1995 many secondary school students were recruited by the PDF to fight in the south. [10]

In addition, there are so-called 'tribal PDF militias', that are aligned to the government. Ever since the start of the civil war in 1983, tribal militias have been used by the armed forces' counter insurgency strategy against the SPLA, and they were formally legalized under the 1989 law. The government has also created new tribal militias. The tribal militias are under army control, but relations between the armed forces and tribal militias remain tense. Tribal militia often act with impunity, steal cattle, and are involved in the slave trade in western Sudan. [6]

Their recruitment methods are not known.

2. Conscientious objection

The right to conscientious objection is not legally recognized. [7]

There are no known cases of conscientious objection.

In 1997, mothers held a peaceful demonstration to protest against the conscription of their sons, which was suppressed by the security forces. [8]

In 1998, a religious leader of a mosque in Khartoum blamed the government for turning military service into 'an ugly monster'. [9]

3. Draft evasion and desertion


Avoiding military service is punishable by two to three years' imprisonment (National Service Law, art. 28). [7]


Draft evasion and desertion seem to be widespread. In May 1995, the Ministry of Defence stated that since the introduction of the 1992 National Service Law only 26,000 conscripts (out of 2,500,000 liable) had reported for military service. Only about half of them had completed their military service. [6]

Actually, military service seems to become increasingly popular due to the ongoing civil war, the brutality of forced recruitment and the risk of being sent to fight in the south of the country. The Ministry of Defence denies that conscripts are sent to serve in the south of the country but maintains they volunteer to do so. For instance, in 1995 the government stated that 1,850 conscripts had volunteered to serve in the war areas in the south. [6].

The government has devised several methods of monitoring draft evasion and desertion.

Those who respond to a call-up receive a booklet containing all details about military service, the date of call-up and completion of military service, and the possible reasons for postponement or exemption. [7]

According to the 1992 law, those called up for military service are not allowed to follow an education or get a job. Men of conscription age are forbidden to leave the country for any reason (art. 20). They are not allowed to receive diplomas of graduation from schools, colleges or university (art. 22). Doctors will not be licensed to practice unless they meet national service requirements. [5] [6] [7]

As stated above (see: recruitment) the government turns to forced recruitment such as press-ganging. Evidently draft evaders and deserters may also be tracked down in this way and sent straight into the armed forces.

Not much is known about the punishment of draft evaders and deserters.

According to one source, deserters, and those helping deserters, risk detention, ill-treatment and torture; those who have left the country and avoided military service risk interrogation and detention on return. Being sent to the war areas in the south might also be a possible punishment for draft evaders and deserters. [6]

Punishment depends on unit commanders involved. For instance, in May 1998, 55 conscripts, who tried to escape from a military training centre, were shot dead. [8] [9]. Since there is no judicial independence (from the state military and government), serious charges amounting to treason, conspiracy or threatening the national security are administered against evaders of military service. [11].

The General Provisions section of the 2013 military service guideline lists several procedures against those who object to military service, or fail the call to military service, such as:

  • communicating with their places of work to freeze their jobs

  • communicating with their places of work to terminate their employment

  • pursuing them by raiding their homes and places of work

  • enacting legal procedures against them

  • publishing their names in local newspapers

  • filing cases against them at the State Security Prosecution for crimes against national security.

4. Forced recruitment by the SPLA

The SPLA is known to recruit children at an early age. Starting in the mid 80s, boys were enticed with the promise of education to make the journey from their homes to Ethiopia, where the SPLA was based at that time. The SPLA maintained separate camps for boys near refugee camps in Ethiopia, and gave them military training. The SPLA continues to keep boys in separate camps where they are given military training. At one stage the SPLA reportedly had a special army unit, made up of 14 to 16 year old boys. [10]

5. Inhumane conditions in military service training camps

Since the inception of military service in Sudan, several reports of maltreatment of recruits have come to light.

Students were shot when they attempted to flee from the Ailafoon military camp, east of Khartoum, in 1998 to join their families for Eid holidays. The estimated number of of victims varied from 30 to 200 according to different sources. Some of those fleeing the camp drowned when the boat they boarded to cross the Nile river capsized. [12][13][14]

In 2006, several incidents took place in different army camps where recruits protested against harsh training routines and mistreatments at the hands of the officers. [15]

In 2012 a national service recruit was hanged to death by the officers in Hantoub camp. [16]. In the same year national military service recruits were shot in a Darfur camp after protesting against maltreatment and food quality. Two students sustained critical injuries. The same source reports the murder of another student in a separate military service camp in Wad Madani. [17].

In 2014, riots triggered by degrading treatment at the hands of officers in a military service camp in Western Kordofan resulted in police intervention, who fired tear gas at the students. [18]

Military service recruits undergo aggressive indoctrination encouraging racially and religiously motivated violations in active fronts. The students then take part in fighting on active fronts alongside the army and PDF units [19] [20].

Disease outbreaks are prevalent in training camps, and are exasperated by a lack of access to proper medical care.

6. History

Compulsory national military service was first introduced in 1972, but it seems that it was never strictly enforced until 1992. [5] [21]

7. Annual statistics

The armed forces comprise of 79,700 troops, (0.26% of the population). Every year, about 300,000 men reach conscription age. There are 20,000 conscripts in the armed forces. The paramilitary Popular Defence Force is 15,000 strong. The SPLA is estimated to comprise between 20,000 and 30,000 troops. [4]

8. Reserves

The Reserve Service Act of 2013 grants the Minister of Defence authority to summon into service anyone under the age of 60 to serve in the army [22].

9. Crimes and violations by the armed forces

Several other forces operate alongside the army in conflict areas of Sudan; both the Janjaweed and the Rapid Support Forces are fighting in Darfur, South Kordofan and the Blue Nile states. These forces have participated in human rights violations including torture, rape and regional violence.

The Janjaweed and the Rapid Support Forces report to the central command of the Sudanese National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS). Notably, the RSF appears to have been created out of the Janjaweed militias [23]. A comprehensive analysis of RSF origins and the NISS network was conducted by the Enough Project in 2014. The report conclusively stated that Sudan never complied with the UN security mandate on disarming the Janjaweed but rather changed the group name to RSF [24].

RSF and Janjaweed militias under the NISS participated in suppressing reprisals within Khartoum, in addition to fighting different conflict areas in South Kordofan, Darfur and the Blue Nile states. The Janjaweed militias were complicit in attacks against UNAMID in 2012 [25]. These forces attack and rob civilians, pillage property, use rape as a weapon of war, and commit acts of violence throughout Sudan [26].

According to the Global Centre For the Responsibility to Protect, populations in South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur continue to face mass atrocity crimes perpetrated by the Sudanese Armed Forces and affiliated armed groups [27].

In addition to the PDF, RSF and the Janjaweed under the NISS. The government uses a group know as the Rabatta to quell demonstrations within universities from spilling into the streets. The Rabatta - also students - are armed with knives, machetes, iron rods or light weapons. They attack anti-government students in their university dorms, lecture halls and public places within the universities. Students are killed in these attacks. The Rabatta played an instrumental role in infiltrating the 2012 demonstrations [28] [29]. Whilst the Rabatta are not bankrolled as such, they enjoy privileges such as preferential treatment/promotions in employment opportunities or work and overall impunity from the law based on their NCP affiliation.

In 2014, A Darfuri student was killed and another sustained critical injuries after an attack by the Rabatta in the University of Khartoum following a debate and a demonstration that was quickly disrupted [30].

In 2015 the Rabatta assassinated a North Kordofanian student in the East Nile University after abducting him following anti-government campaigns activity [31].


[1] Amnesty International 1991. Conscientious objection to military service. AI, London.

[2] Woods, D.E. 1993. Child Soldiers, the recruitment of children into the armed forces and their participation in hostilities. Quaker Peace and Service, London.

[3] DIRB, 13 October 1995.

[4] Institute for Strategic Studies 1997. Military Balance 1997/98. ISS, London.

[5] Human Rights Watch/Africa 1996. Behind the red line: Political Repression in Sudan. HRW, New York.

[6] Amnesty International (Dutch Section) 1996. Letter to Staatssecretaris van Justitie, Amsterdam, 20 September 1996.

[7] Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs 1993. Ambtsbericht, 23 June 1993. BuiZa, 's-Gravenhage.

[8] NRC Handelsblad (Dutch newspaper), 4 June 1998.

[9] NRC Handelsblad (Dutch newspaper), 9 April 1998.

[10] Human Rights Watch 1996. Children in combat. HRW, New York.

[11] RefWorld, SDN103746.E,,,IRBC,,SDN,,4f15182d2,0.html.

[12] Sudan Update Volume 9 Number 5’ 1998, University of Pennsylvania – African Studies Center website, 15 May

[13] Group Against Torture in Sudan, Ailafoon massacre: 8 years later, 2006

[14] Government acknowledges 52 students died in drowning’ 1998, Associated Press Newswires, 14 April

[15] Al-Watan [Khartoum, in Arabic]. 15 May 2006. "Sudanese Students Protest Against Mistreatment at National Service Camps." (BBC Monitoring Middle East/Factiva)

[16] Sudaress [in Arabic] 31 May 2012 Hanging of a student in “Sudanese Glory” training camp in Hantoub.

[17] Sudaress [in Arabic]. 03 June 2012 Student Demonstrations: Arson at the military training camps, stores and kitchen

[18] Alrakooba [In Arabic], 24 May 2014Protests at military service camp in Alnohood.

[19] Hurriyat Sudan [in Arabic] 12 May 2013, NCP preparing to deploy military service recruits to operation areas.

[20] Aljazeera, 02 July, 2013, Sudan's students drop books for guns, .

[21] DIRB, 9 January 1990.

[22] Sudan Tribune, 4 July 2013, Sudan parliament approves military reserve law,

[23] Sudan Tribune, by Eric Reeves, 01 March 2014, Janjaweed in Darfur Reconstituted As the “Rapid Response Force”,

[24] Enough ! Akashya Kumar and Omar Ismael, June 2014, Janjaweed Reincarnate: Sudan's New Army of War Criminals.

[25] Eric Reeves, 30 October 2012, Violence in Hashaba, North Darfur: A brutal portent, another UN disgrace.

[26] Human Rights Watch, 15 December 2015, Sudan: Soldiers, Militias Killing, Raping Civilians, Urgent Need for UN, AU Investigation in Blue Nile, Southern Kordofan.

[27] Sudan profile in the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect,

[28] CNN, 30 June 2012, Hundreds tear gassed amid clampdown on Sudan protests,

[29] Sudan Tribune, 16 July 2012, Sudanese police clash with Khartoum University students.

[30] Girifna, 12 March 2014, Darfuri Student Killed at Khartoum University,

[31] Hurriyat Sudan [in Arabic], 03 January 2015, Strong Indicators on Assassination of the Student Altayib Saleh