Country report and updates: Bolivia

Last revision: 26 May 1998
26 May 1998

1 Conscription

conscription exists

Bolivia has compulsory military service. [1] [2]

Art. 8, para. f of the constitution states: "Every person has the duty to perform civilian and military service that the nation requires for its development, defence and conservation." Art. 313 states: "Every Bolivian is obliged to perform military service in accordance with the law." [3]

The current legal basis of conscription is unknown.

Parallel to compulsory military service, a so called pre-military service exist. In 1996, following the issuing of Presidential Decree No. 22157, the armed forces reintroduced pre-military service (Servicio Premilitar) for both boys and girls, which is said to be voluntary. [5]

military service

All men over 19 are liable for military service, which lasts for one year. [3] [4]

It consists of military instruction, territorial works and civilian activities. [3]

pre-military service

Male students who live in cities and are in the fourth form (Cuarto Medio) - the final year of secondary education are liable for pre-military service. It involves military and civilian training at weekends. [3] [5]

In 1998 pre-military service was introduced for young women in border regions. They receive military instruction at college, supervised by their fathers. As this is only a recent development, no further details are known about it. [5]

postponement and exemption

Regulations on postponement of military service - for instance for students - are not clear.

Exemption is allowed in the case of

- the only sons of widows or of parents over the age of 70;

- men who are married or widower and have a family to look after;

- the disabled; and

- miners working underground.

For reasons inherent to the national defence, all exempted should receive 3 months' military instruction, but nowadays this does not happen. [3]

Apparently it is possible to buy oneself out of performing military service for a specified sum of USD 200 to 400. [3]


The legal call-up age is 19 and in practice military service is performed by 19 to 21-year-olds. However, small groups of boys aged 17 to 19 perform military service too. Usually they are abandoned children or children recommended by officials who live a military life in the barracks, where they perform domestic tasks or join the band. [3]

Two call-ups occur annually - one in January and another in June or July. There is much radio and television propaganda and posters in the colour of the national flag are displayed depicting tanks and youths "happily" performing military service. The conscripts in the advertisements are mestizos. No white young people are ever shown, suggesting they are not liable for military service. [3]

Following every call-up the barracks are opened up for 15 to 20 days to receive the new recruits. As a rule they are, immediately on arrival, given a hair cut, supplied with a uniform and then despatched to various parts of the country. There is no lottery to select recruits. [3]

Although there is now less press-ganging of youths in the streets and parks, it still happens at call-up time. People unable to produce the required military booklet (libreta militar) are taken by force to the barracks. [3]

After performing military service conscripts receive this military booklet. Besides, the armed forces will sell it for prices from USD 200 to 400 to conscripts who are permitted to postpone service, who are exempt or whose services are not needed. Possession of a military booklet is a legal requirement for obtaining a passport or for entering university. Evidently there is a black market in military booklets: there have been cases of individuals having booklets bearing identical numbers and codes. [3]

Conditions in the armed forces are very bad and more and more human rights abuse cases are coming to light. Between 1993 and 1996 at least seven conscripts died in unexplained circumstances. [3]

2 Conscientious objection

The right to conscientious objection is not legally recognised and there are no provisions for performing unarmed military service. [3]

A small group called Unidad de Cambio Generacional (UCG) denounces the human rights abuses in the armed forces and calls for the right to conscientious objection. So far no conscripts have publicly proclaimed the first COs in Bolivia. [3]

3 Draft evasion and desertion


No information available.


In most cases the armed forces do not use imprisonment as a punishment, but those who do not obey call-up are liable to face administrative penalties and psychological threats. They do not receive a military booklet and therefor cannot become university graduates or go abroad. [3]

Draft evasion is widespread. As many as 80,000 youths did not obey the first call-up and try to get exempted for bad health, domestic considerations, studying abroad and disability. They try to exert influence or be allowed to postpone military service in order to complete vocational training - but few succeed. [3]

Deserters are usually physically and morally punished by their superiors. Only in cases of repeated desertion, they are handed over to the military justice for punishment according to the law. Just how many deserters there are is not known. [3]

The case of Wilson Pucho Ali is typical for the treatment of deserters. In October 1996 he was accused of being a tramp and given electric shocks as he was believed to have lost his rifle and to be about to desert. But despite thorough investigation, so far the case has not been resolved. [5]

6 Annual statistics

The armed forces comprise 33,500 troops, which is about 0.39 percent of the population. There are some 21,800 conscripts in the armed forces. [4]

Every year approximately 84,000 men reach conscription age. [4]

Annually 25,000 to 30,000 conscripts are recruited. [3]


[1] Eide, A., C. Mubanga-Chipoya 1985. Conscientious objection to military service, report prepared in pursuance of resolutions 14 (XXXIV) and 1982/30 of the Sub-Commission of Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities. United Nations, New York. [2] 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. [3] Unidad de Cambio Generacional 1997. Informacion sobre el servicio militar en Bolivia, letter to War Resisters' International, 14 February 1997. UCG, La Paz, Bolivia. [4] Institute for Strategic Studies 1997. Military Balance 1997/98. ISS, London, UK. [5] Unidad de Cambio Generacional 1998. Response to a CONCODOC enquiry. UCG, La Paz, Bolivia.

Recent stories on conscientious objection: Bolivia

09 Oct 2017

Plans for an alternative 'Social Action Service' have been announced by the Bolivian Ministry of Defence. Currently, no substitute to military service exists in the country.

13 Apr 2016

Colombian conscientious objectors have releseased a statement with conscientious objectors in Bolivia. Read it here in English (Spanish version here).

11 Feb 2016

A conscientious objector in Bolivia, José Miguel Orías, has been recognised as a CO by a court in La Paz, provided he fulfills conditions they have stipulated. The Constitutional Court will now review the decision made in La Paz; this will likely happen within the next six months. 

The Bolivian Minister of Defence has previously publicly rejected the possibility of Bolivia recoginsiing the right of conscientious objection to military service, so the Constitutional Court may mirror his opinion.

01 Apr 2008

Bolivia’s ombudsperson, Waldo Albarracín, said this Thursday that if the Senate does not change a draft law on compulsory military service approved by the Chamber of Deputies he will turn to international authorities to denounce the government for human rights violations.

Albarracín, who has observed a number of bureaucratic irregularities which attempt to ‘force through’ the approval of the draft law, declared that the rules constitute a flagrant violation of human rights and children’s rights, making children of 16, 17 and 18 years ol

01 Mar 2006

Bolivia and a Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector reached a "friendly settlement" following a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights by the Bolivian ombudsman. According to Report No 97/05, "Alfredo Díaz Bustos is a Jehovah's Witness whose right to conscientious objection has been violated by the State, directly affecting his freedom of conscience and religion, and that the State has failed to fulfill its obligation to respect and ensure the rights established in the American Convention, to which Bolivia is a party.