On 23 March 2010, the National Assembly of Serbia passed a new Amnesty Law, which will allow many Serbian expatriates to return to Serbia without fear of being arrested. According to the law, all citizens who have avoided military duty or service, or willfully left the Serbian Army from 18 April 2006 until the new law comes into force, will be granted amnesty.
The law covers the following offences of the Penal Code of Serbia: Article 394 (Evasion of Military Service), Article 395 (Evasion of Registration and Inspection), Article 396 (Failure to Provide Material Resources), Article 397 (Evasion by Self-disablement and Deceit) and Article 399 (Absence Without Leave and Desertion).
According to the law, offences committed since 18 April 2006 until the day the new law comes into force fall under the amnesty. In case criminal proceedings have already been started, they will be stopped.
Already in October 2009, the Armed Forces Act and the Civilian Service Act had been changed. According to the article 29 of Armed Forces Act, military service is performed until the year in which a recruit turns 27.
Serbian Justice Minister Snezana Malovic told parliament: "We have about 40,000 conscripts living abroad and annually about 5,000 are seeking to postpone or avoid service". "Most such conscripts are in constant fear of arrest whenever they come to Serbia".
Serbia wants to reform its 38,000-strong military to NATO standards and make it professional, better equipped and mobile.
It also wants to cut military expenditures, set at 2.15 percent of gross domestic product in 2010, and sell or destroy obsolete weaponry and equipment inherited from the now-defunct Yugoslav People's Army.
The Defence Ministry said earlier this year that it would fully professionalise the army by mid-2011 and abolish compulsory conscription of all able-bodied males older than 18.
Sources: emg.rs: Amnesty law adopted, 24 March 2010; Criminal Code of the Republic of Serbia, English translation by the OSCE mission to Serbia and Montenegro, February 2006; Amnesty Law of 23 March 2003 (in Serbian); Reuters: Serbia set to pardon thousands of draft dodgers, 9 March 2010; CO-Update No 54: Serbia: an end to conscription?, February/March 2010