2.2.2

Selection Procedure

The actual selection often takes place by means of a lottery. The classic example is the draft in the USA, which is used to determine the order in which those registered will be called up to active service, the total number and hence the proportion of those eligible being set in accordance with the manpower needs of the military. In the lottery, each day of the year is assigned a Random Sequence Number (from 1 to 365, or 366 in a leap year). When the draft is implemented, the first to be called up are those whose 20th birthday falls in the year in question and who were born on thedate which has been allocated the number 1 in the lottery. All others born in the same year follow, in the random order of the numbers assigned to the date of their birthdays. When all eligible persons born in that year have been drafted, those born in the previous year, i.e. those turning 21 in the course of the current year, are called up, similarly in randomised order of birthday dates. Those who turn 19 in the course of the year will be the last group to be drafted. For example, were a draft to be implemented in 2006, those born in 1986 would be the First Priority Selection Group, followed by those born in 1985 and other years back to 1980, then - obviously as a very last resort, as it would entail digging into the capital which would become available in future years - those born in 1987 and 1988. Once the pecking order has been established for a particular year, further groups can be called up at any time as manpower needs require.

In practice, one or two special cases would complicate the sequence. Those registered for the draft may in fact volunteer for induction at any time; volunteers will always be taken first. Those who have been granted postponements, exemptions or deferments which have now expired will also be called upon before new recruits in their age cohort. Certain categories of deferment bring extended liability to the age of 34; those becoming liable as a result will be called up in age order before the draft is extended to the 18/19 cohort.

The Draft

The draft in the USA is in fact the lottery which is used to determine which of the eligible recruits is selected. The noun draft is derived from the verb draw - in the sense of drawing lots. In turn, in American usage, it led to the coining of a new verb to draft, meaning to conscript by lottery, which became globalised as yet another synonym for any type of obligatory recruitment.

Rarely are the rules and arrangements spelt out in such detail. Nor, of course, is the linkage to dates of birth universal. The lottery may be altogether simpler. In Mexico, recruits are reportedly required to draw a ball; whether it is black or white determines their fate. In Denmark the practice of recruits drawing their own number was, the story is told, abandoned some years ago when a potential recruit disrupted the system by eating his ticket.[1]

The responsibility may be delegated - to a community to present a certain number of recruits or to a recruiter to find them. Sometimes used by Governments ( e.g. Bhutan),[2] the former method has often been used by armed opposition groups which wish to impose a form of conscription on their client populations. Brett and McCallin,[3] quote Cambodia, Lebanon, Liberia, and Myanmar; there is no evidence that the situation in the last-named has subsequently changed.

Not all States have a registration system. Even those which do may lack effective means of checking who ought to have registered, so that the requirement may be largely ignored. As Rojas[4] explains with reference to Paraguay: Even though the Armed Forces' manpower needs are relatively small in comparison with the population of youths at the age of eligibility for obligatory military service, the full number of vacancies is never covered by those who register of their own free will especially for units operating in remote areas where conditions for the troops are harder. This - combined with the lack of any record held by the authorities of the addresses of all residents in the country whereby a mechanism of notification of recruitment might be put in place - is the reason why the Military and Police authorities have recourse to spot checks in the street of military documentation and the use of physical force to make up the annual shortfall in willing recruits.

In such circumstances, two responses are possible. One is to focus on the group in the population which can be readily identified; those completing secondary education. Where conscription does exist in Africa this is often the only or principal means whereby it is enforced. The conscription of other sectors of society is often more random. In the five conscript testimonies from Eritrea reported by Connect eV,[5] the ages at the time of recruitment are in exact inverse order to the level of education reached, from the girl who managed to complete school leaving examinations at the age of 15 to the young man who had left school after the fifth form and who had turned 20 before he was called up - this seemingly independent of the dates involved, which were scattered over the five year period from 1996 to 2000. In Eritrea final school examination results are withheld, meaning that University entrance examinations cannot be taken, until after military service. Under a 1997 decree, a similar practice was actively enforced in Sudan, at least until 2003.[6] The focus on school leavers is however not unique to Africa; certainly prior to the legislative reform in 1998 which raised the minimum recruitment age, it was the main means of conscription in Colombia. Meanwhile it might be noted that in the Central African Republic there is a hint that no attempt is made to impose conscription on any except government employees.[7]

The other response, traditionally found in Paraguay and elsewhere in Latin America, but also Ethiopia certainly prior to 1992,[8] Eritrea and Angola[9] to the present day, is to enforce recruitment by random checks of documentation in the street. In Paraguay, under Article 34 of Law 569/75, The police authorities of the Republic and the Military Police attached to the Directorate of the Service of Recruitment and Mobilisation (DISERMOV) are authorised at any time to require any citizen aged between seventeen and fifty years to produce his certificate of enlistment or deferment, in order to enforce this law. DISERMOV has traditionally interpreted this article as entitling it to effect the immediate recruitment of those apprehended for lack of the appropriate documentation. Rojas[10] reports that in most cases which had been the subject of complaints, the victim had thereafter been held incommunicado. Furthermore in so far as any legal process was gone through after detention, it was undertaken by military tribunals, with no review by civil courts, even though the charge against the defendants was technically that they had failed to take the military oath of allegiance, meaning that by definition they were still civilians.

Even when such methods of recruitment are to some extent sanctioned in law, they frequently degenerate into the random seizures of young people, which in English tend to be referred to as press-ganging, casting back to the practices of the 18th Century British navy, but which are notorious under different names in different cultures arreo in Latin America, afesa and giffa in the Amharic and Tigryna languages of the Horn of Africa, rusgas in Angola.

Bolivia acknowledged in its initial report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child that although the minimum age for performing military service is 18, when the annual intake into the armed forces cannot be made up on a voluntary basis, compulsory recruitment is indiscriminate, an occasion for forcibly recruiting poor adolescents, including some as young as 14, by means of organised sweeps.[11] In Tajikistan allegations that recruiting officers sometimes resorted to random abductions were still being repeated in 2003. In Yemen, both sides in the civil war of 1994 were accused of widespread forced recruitment, and in the absence of information about formal recruitment procedures, reports based on confidential sources within the country hint that legal recruitment still relies on similarly random methods.

As time has gone on an increasing number of Eritreans have gone into hiding either before or after receiving their call-up papers. Many of the forced recruitment operations were targetted individually against such evaders and others in hiding who had deserted from the armed forces. Those conducting the operations were themselves at least sometimes unwilling conscripts acting under duress. One such gives a graphic description of the process:[12] In some cases we got addresses of persons who had disappeared from particular units. Sometimes we also surrounded entire quarters and (checked) every house. At first the quarter was surrounded. Then we went from house to house and got all out on the street, everybody. Everyone was checked. If someone was a student, he/she had a student card and was allowed to leave. If someone was an adult and a worker you looked for his worker card. If he or she had nothing to show, he/she would be brought to a military unit. Some stayed with their children. We had to take them out of their family and take them from their children. ... Some were ill. We took them too and brought them to their division. There they were put in prison. Some of the sick persons died.


  • [1] Horeman, B. and Stolwijk, M. (1998), Refusing to Bear Arms, War Resisters International, London.
  • [2] Horeman, B. and Stolwijk, M. (1998), Refusing to Bear Arms, War Resisters International, London.
  • [3] Brett, R. and McCallin, M. (1998), Children: the invisible soldiers (2nd edition), Rädda Barnen (Swedish Save the Children), Stockholm, page 48
  • [4] Rojas, F. (2001), El Servicio Militar Obligatorio en Paraguay: entre la contestación social y la inercia de las instituciones del Estado autoritario, paper delivered to the Panel on Military Service, Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, REDES 2001 (Research and Education in Defense and Security Studies), Washington DC May 22-25, 2001. A pesar de que la cantidad requerida por las Fuerzas Públicas es relativamente baja en comparación con la cantidad de jóvenes en edad de prestar SMO, nunca las plazas son cubiertas en su totalidad con los que se alistan voluntariamente, especialmente en unidades que por su lejanía, ofrecen condiciones más difíciles para la tropa. Este hecho -sumado a la inexistencia de un padrón donde el Estado pueda ubicar el domicilio de todas las personas residentes en el país para implementar un mecanismo de notificación del reclutamiento- motiva que las Fuerzas Militares y Policiales recurran al control en la vía pública de la documentación militar y al uso de la fuerza física para reclutar la cantidad que anualmente queda vacante por causa de los remisos.
  • [5] Connection eV Germany, War Resisters International and Eritrean Anti-Militarist Initiative Eritrea: Conscientious Objection and Desertion London (WRI) April 2005
  • [6] Child Soldiers Global Report 2004  (Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, London)
  • [7] see Horeman, B. and Stolwijk, M. (1998), Refusing to Bear Arms, War Resisters International, London.
  • [8] Brett, R. and McCallin, M. (1998), Children: the invisible soldiers (2nd edition), Rädda Barnen (Swedish Save the Children), Stockholm
  • [9] Matondo, E., Focus on Angola – Recruitment Practices and Grave Human Rights Violations, Paper delivered to parallel meeting on conscientious objection during the 61st Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, Geneva, 30th March 2005.
  • [10] Rojas, F. (2001), El Servicio Militar Obligatorio en Paraguay: entre la contestación social y la inercia de las instituciones del Estado autoritario, paper delivered to the Panel on Military Service, Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, REDES 2001 (Research and Education in Defense and Security Studies), Washington DC May 22-25, 2001.
  • [11] Periodic Report of Bolivia to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Document CRC/C/65/Add.1, 1 December 1997, Paragraph 154.
  • [12] Connection eV Germany, War Resisters International and Eritrean Anti-Militarist Initiative Eritrea: Conscientious Objection and Desertion London (WRI) April 2005