Country report and updates: Sudan


There has been a civil war in Sudan since 1983. Since 1989 there is a fundamentalist Muslim government of the National Islamic Front (NIF). The Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) controls a large part of the non-Muslim south of the country. In the 90s the Northern opposition parties, united in the Northern Democratic Alliance (NDA), have also started to fight the government.

1 Conscription

conscription exists

In 1992 the 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 33 are liable for military service. 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 has difficulties enforcing conscription and it doesn't 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 organized. 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 in busses, 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 in 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 and 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, diplomates, university staff and doctors), both men and women, above the age of 33. Since 1992 PDF training is compulsory for all male and female 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 perform a two months' 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]

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, they steal cattle and are involved in 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.

Resistance against conscription seems to be growing, due to the ongoing civil war and the human rights violations which take place during forced recruitment.

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 probably depends on the local commanders involved. For instance, in May 1998, 55 conscripts, who tried to escape from a military training centre, were shot dead. [8] [9]

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, giving 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 History

Compulsory national military service was first introduced in 1972, but it seems that it was never strictly enforced until 1992. [5] [11]

6 Annual statistics

The armed forces comprise 79,700 troops, that is, 0.26 percent 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]


[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] DIRB, 9 January 1990.