Country report and updates: Algeria

Last revision: 30 Jun 1998
30 Jun 1998

Since 1992 there has been armed conflict in Algeria between the armed forces controlled by the government and several armed insurgent groups. Conscripts have not only been killed during armed confrontation, but many have been killed when they were not on active service or even after having completed military service. From 1994 onwards more and more civilians have been attacked and slaughtered by armed insurgent groups and death squads.

1 Conscription

conscription exists

In 1969, a few years after Algeria achieved independence, national service was introduced. [5]

National service, which includes a six-month military training for all, is prescribed in the 1974 National Service Act (Code du service national (CSN)). This act was modified several times. [5] [10] [19] [21]

For consistency, whenever the term 'military service' is used, it refers to the Algerian National Service.

military service

All men aged 19 to 30 are liable for military service. [19] [16] [21]

Women are not liable for military service; they are not even allowed to serve in the armed forces voluntarily. [5]

Military service lasts for 18 months: a six-month basic military training and a twelve-month period of service. [5] [20] [21]

Officially, in this 12-month period conscripts have to perform economic, administrative, social or cultural tasks or they must perform national defense tasks. [21]

In the past, there have been civilian projects (e.g., road-building or reforesting) in which conscripts were used as manpower, though it is not likely this was a voluntary choice. Nowadays, with the present state of emergency, the number of conscripts performing civilian tasks is nearly nil. Only a few of those who have completed their vocational training are allowed the privilege of performing administrative tasks in public administration. [5] [10]

On completion of military service, conscripts are liable for a further 6 months' service as reservists. [6] [8]

For the first five years, reservists may be immediately recalled. After that period, they belong to the reserve forces until they are 50. [21] [20]

Due to the state of emergency, reservists are likely to be recalled. Twice up till now - in 1995 and in 1996 - reservists have been recalled. In March 1996, 10,000 reservists who had completed their military service between 1988 and 1992 were recalled and the military service duration of 15,000 reservists was prolonged indefinitely. [4] [21] [12]

postponement and exemption

Postponement may be given to students for the whole length of study until the age of 27 based on lists provided by universities. [5] [21]

Exemption is possible for medical or psychological reasons, for those with a brother who is serving and in case of

- sole breadwinners of families;

- sole supporters of an ill or under-age brother or sister;

- sons of 'heros and martyrs of the independence war' (arts. 90 to 104 CSN). [21]


The process of registration and call-up was renewed in December 1994, applying to all males born after 1 November 1959. [14]

Every year all concerned must register for military service on a fixed date in January or February. The registration date is announced in the media one month in advance. Those of conscription age receive a written call-up to present themselves in one of the four recruitment selection centres (Alger, Mouzaia, Oran and Constantine) where their ability to serve is examined. Three times per year - in January, May and September - a written call-up is issued by the recruitment offices and sent to the communal peoples' assemblies, which must hand them out to those fit to serve at least 15 days before the incorporation date. If the conscript is absent, the call-up may be handed out to the parents or even to the president of the communal people's assembly. [21]

At the start of 1996, the National Service Directorate issued a general call-up. Conscripts were given three months to bring a civil status document and register with the municipality where they live. [14]

According to earlier radio reports, a National Service cell was to be created in each commune. Its role is to carry out a census through the year, and to monitor such issues as exemption and postponement for students. On presentation of their identity documents (in which their position towards national service is noted), young men will be issued a census certificate (if under 20) or a postponement or national service certificate (if over 20). [14] [9]

On completion of the six-month basic military training, conscripts may sign a contract to become a professional soldier. [21]

militia recruitment

Alongside the armed forces, community guards (Gardes Communales) and self defence groups (Groupes d'Auto-Defense) have been set up in local comunities by the authorities to help the army fight against the 'islamic terrorists'. But the recruitment and training procedures of these local militia are unclear. [17]

2 Conscientious objection

There is no legal provision for conscientious objection and no substitute service. Any individual claiming to be a CO will be considered a draft evader (insoumis).

Professional serving members of the armed forces have no right to discharge if they have conscientious objection. If they do not wish to renew their contract, they have to announce this one year in advance. If they ask for discharge, they often face accusation of having given way to the pressure of the islamic movement and not being credible anymore. In the worst cases they are accused of desiring to join the armed insurgent groups and may be interrogated and even tortured. [21]

3 Draft evasion and desertion


Draft evasion and desertion are punishable under the 1971 Military Penal Code (Code de Justice Militaire (CJM)).

According to art. 40 of the Military Code, a state of emergency is equivalent to a state of war. Algeria has been in state of emergency since 9 February 1992. This means that since 1992 the punishments as applicable in wartime prevail. [1] [21]

Concerning penalties for draft evasion and desertion, no distinction is drawn between conscripts and professional soldiers. For officers the penalties are heavier. [21]

Draft evasion and refusal to perform military service (insoumission) is punishable by 3 months' to 5 years' imprisonment in peacetime. In wartime the penalty is from 2 to 10 years' imprisonment, and the convicted individual may lose all rights mentioned in art. 8 of the penal code. Officers may be dismissed. Insoumis are those called up who have not reported to the military within 30 days of a call-up notice (art. 16 CSN). [1] [16] [21]

The penalties for desertion are prescribed in arts. 255 to 270, depending on whether the deserter fled within the country, went abroad, or deserted to the enemy, and whether the deserter was alone or in a group.

Desertion within the country is punishable by 6 months' to 5 years' imprisonment in peacetime; 2 to 10 years' in wartime (art. 256). If more than two men desert together this is considered desertion with conspiracy and punishable by one to 6 years' imprisonment in peacetime; 5 to 15 years' in wartime (art. 257).

Desertion abroad is punishable by 2 to 10 years' imprisonment in peacetime; 10 to 20 years' in wartime (art. 258-264). In aggravated circumstances - for instance in case of desertion with conspiracy, desertion of officers, or if the deserters carried arms or ammunition - the penalty may be up to life imprisonment.

If deserters flee to an armed group or to the enemy the maximum punishment is execution (arts. 266 to 269). [1] [16] [21]

Those who incite others to desert may be punished by 6 months' to 5 years' imprisonment in peacetime; 5 to 10 years' in wartime (art. 271).

Those who hide deserters or try to keep them away from prosecution may be punished by two months' to two years' imprisonment (art. 272).

Self-mutilation (in order to be unable to serve) is punishable by one to 5 years' imprisonment in peacetime; 5 to 10 years' in wartime (art. 273).


Reservists who are recalled and cannot be localised by the authorities - for instance because they have not notified them of their change of address - may be considered as insoumis and punished accordingly. [21]

Due to the widespread violence against conscripts, military service is very unpopular and desertion and draft evasion often occur. Furthermore it has been reported that entire units have deserted the armed forces to join the armed islamic groups. [11]

The authorities are believed to search for and prosecute draft evaders and deserters, but it is not known to what extent. [16]

On job applications in the public or private sector, men must show a certificate of their current position regarding military service.

Conscripts and those of conscription age find themselves in an impossible situation. On the one hand the armed islamic groups threaten them with death in order to either prevent them joining the armed forces or to provoke them to desert. On the other hand, if they desert or refuse to perform military service, they face long prison sentences. [3] [13]

In 1996 the Islamic Armed Group (GIA) issued a bulletin in Al-Ansar, stating that they will kill any young man who is between the ages of 19 and 22, and not near his home, as he will be considered a military conscript. The communiqué also stated that the GIA has warned young men not to perform military service, and that they will burn or seize the vehicles of people providing transport to these young men. [15] [18]

It has been reported that deserters and conscripts attempting to desert have been executed, and army generals have even proceeded to execute family members of deserters, including parents, women, children, and cousins in order to stop desertions. [2] [11]

Many conscripts seek refuge to avoid the violence and flee abroad.

4 Recruitment by GIA and other armed insurgent groups

There are three main armed insurgent groups in Algeria.

The Armed Islamic Movement (MIA) was formed in 1990 to fight for an islamic state.

The Armed Islamic Groups (GIA) were formed in 1992 and consist of semi-autonomous groups led by emirs. They have been the most violent and are estimated to be 3,000-strong.

The Islamic Salvation Army (AIS), the armed branch of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), was formed in 1994 and attacked military and strategic targets until they declared a unilateral cease-fire in September 1997. [22]

According to human rights organisations, it is very difficult to obtain reliable information. There are many different armed groups, on the side of the government as well as on the side of the islamic opposition, and there is no available information about the recruitment practice of the different groups. But there are numerous cases of pressure on conscripts to enlist in the armed islamic groups. [7]

Research of the Psychology Institute in Algiers has shown that the young men fighting for the armed insurgent groups are hardly driven by religious motives. Their main reasons were frustration and the impossibility of starting a family because of unemployment and housing problems. [2]

6 Annual statistics

The armed forces comprise 124,000 troops, including 75,000 conscripts (60 percent). They form 0.4 percent of the population. There is a 150,000-strong reserve force. [20] [5]

The self-defence groups are estimated to consist of 60,000 people. [22]

Every year approximately 330,000 men reach conscription age (19), but only 20 percent of them are actually called up. [20] [5]


[1] Juris-Classeur Algerien, 22 April 1971, quoted by UNHCR 14 April 1995. [2] De Volkskrant (Dutch newspaper), 2 February 1994. [3] Amnesty International 1994. Algeria: Repression and violence must end. AI, London, UK. [4] Reuters World Service, 23 March 1994. [5] Abecassis, L., P. Duong, S. Perrier, N. Watt, 1994. Conscription Militaire ou Service National a Option Civique, rapport de l'enquête préliminaire effectuée auprès d'une vingtaine d'Etats membres de l'UNESCO. CCIVS - UNESCO, Paris. [6] War Resisters' International 1994. Letter to the UNHCR, London, 9 June 1994. [7] Jeune Afrique no. 1737, Paris, 21 April 1994. [8] Le Monde (Franch newspaper), 19 August 1994, quoted by UNHCR 14 April 1995. [9] Liberation (French newspaper), 13 December 1994, quoted by UNHCR 14 April 1995. [10] Gouault, J. 1995. Service National, quelle options? Serie POUR Avec. GREP Editions/UNESCO, Paris. [11] Hoche, Christian 1995. 'Hétacombe à huis clos', in: L'Express International, no. 2269, 5 January 1995. Paris, France. [12] Immigration and Refugee Board 1996. Algeria: political and human rights update. IRB, Ottawa, Canada. [13] Amnesty International 1996. Fear and silence: A hidden human crisis. AI, London, UK. [14] BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 13 December 1994 & 25 January 1996. [15] Agence France Presse and Al-Hayah, 14 Febraury 1996. [16] Ministry of Foreign Affairs 1996. Ambtsbericht, Situatie in Algerije, 11 July 1996. Den Haag, Netherlands. [17] Amnesty International 1997. Amnesty International Report 1996. AI, London, UK. [18] US State Department 1997. Country report Algeria. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Washington DC. [19] UN Commission on Human Rights, 1997. The question of conscientious objection to military service, report of the Secretary-General prepared pursuant to Commission resolution 1995/83. United Nations, Geneva. [20] Institute for Strategic Studies 1997. Military Balance 1997/98. ISS, London, UK. [21] Amnesty International Swiss Section 1997. Algérie: La législation sur le service national. AI, Bern, Switzerland. Index AICH: MDE 28/900/97. [22] De Volkskrant (Dutch newspaper), 6 June 1998.