5.3

Where can Alternative Service be Performed?

Employing organisations and allocation to placements

...in the public interest...

(Commission on Human Rights Resolution 1988/77, OP4)

Many alternative service placements are in the public sector, but a number of States allow private non-governmental, humanitarian or other non-profit organisations to participate. The not-for-profit stipulation is specific in the legislation in the USA,[1] but usually implicit elsewhere. In both Romania and Moldova, however, there is some ambiguity. The relevant legislation in Romania refers to public institutions, independent administrations and trade companies,[2] while that in Moldova uses the words enterprises, institutions and organisations.[3] In Moldova also, under Article 26 of the same Law, the alternative service scheme is funded by a 25% levy on the earned incomes of those performing alternative service; a similar situation apparently applies in Uzbekistan.[4] In both cases this has been sometimes interpreted as indicating that at least some of those admitted to alternative service were permitted to remain in their usual job; in other words this was, very thinly disguised, yet another provision allowing the buying-out of the military service requirement. However the Moldovan Government has indicated only that alternative service placements are created by the local administration[5] The most recent legislation in Uzbekistan, furthermore, was introduced as setting the pay for those performing alternative service at 80% of that for those performing military service.[6]

The funding of alternative service is in fact often a contentious issue. It is easy to assume that the costs of an obligatory substitute for military service will be met from the military service budget. This argument is, perhaps understandably, not well received in ministries of defence - there is indeed a certain irony in the concept that the stipends of conscientious objectors performing alternative service should be a charge on the defence budget - and a number of States require those organisations offering placements to conscripts performing alternative service to provide all (Croatia, the USA) or part (Austria, Germany) of their remuneration. Even when the employing organisation is within the public sector, this can act as a disincentive to offer alternative service placements.

There seems moreover to be considerable variation in the degree to which the authority responsible for alternative service takes the initiative in searching for potential employers or whether it simply responds to their approaches. In the Bosnian Federation, for example, a public call for establishments to apply for recognition was made once a year.[7] This however did not result in enough suitable placements for all the conscripts who had been recognised as conscientious objectors. Similar shortfalls have been recorded elsewhere - in Croatia, Poland and Slovakia, for example. This sometimes means that recognised conscientious objectors reaching the maximum age for military service without having performed alternative service. In such instances they are usually treated as having escaped the requirement altogether.

Paradoxically, the same situation applies to about a third of conscientious objectors in Norway, where those performing alternative service are paid completely by the Ministry of Justice, with a small per capita fee from the employer being applied not to the funding of the scheme but towards the Government's contribution to UNICEF. Although there is thus no shortage of alternative service placements, the Government has placed an annual ceiling on its commitment.

Although in Norway this clearly has no influence on the number of conscientious objectors recognised, there is less cause for confidence when such a ceiling is set by the defence authorities, as for instance in Bulgaria.[8] In such circumstances a suspicion is always created that what ought to be a decision solely on the merits of the individual case is in fact dictated by the armed forces manpower needs.

The specific rules regarding the type of organisation, whether publicly or privately financed, which can offer alternative service usually list the areas of activity covered; Table 16 gives a list of examples, almost certainly not exhaustive, from States which currently have alternative service schemes, or which did so until they recently ceased enforcing obligatory military service.

Particularly when the potential employer is a non-governmental organisation, its suitability will be vetted. The documentation for the 2004 Sarajevo conference gives an uniquely detailed insight into the sort of criteria which have been used in the western Balkans. Thus in Croatia eligibility as an alternative service provider is available to Organisations which perform scientific, educational, cultural, sport, social, health, sanitary or humanitarian work in the Republic of Croatia, and in civil bodies and bodies of local and regional autonomous units (and) associations which have been working for at least three years on promotion and protection of human rights, health protection, improvement of the quality of living, disabled persons care, children's care, environment protection and sustainable development, social care, youth work, democratisation and development of civil society and culture. The criteria set out in the Bosnian Federation were similar: the organisation must have been working for at least three years within the Federation on promotion and protection of human rights, protection of health and environment, care of children and disabled persons, social protection, development of civil society and culture. Additionally, in order to qualify, they had to possess office space, have at least three full-time employees, and their accounts had to be in order.[9] At the same time alternative service placements should not threaten existing jobs, or replace job opportunities for the unemployed, although it was not quite clear how, and how effectively, this stipulation was policed.

Once initial approval has been given it is rare for an establishment to be required to go through a reapplication process, unless of course some breach has led to its approval being withdrawn. Sometimes, however, as for example in Austria,[10] formal notice of recognition specifies the activities supported and number of places allocated, so that detailed changes would require renegotiation.

...compatible with the reasons for conscientious objection...

(Commission on Human Rights Resolution 1988/77, OP4)

In many cases, although an attempt may be made to match placement allocated to the skills of the conscript, he himself has no say in the decision. Elsewhere, as shown in Table 15, there is a greater or lesser degree of willingness to allow a choice, or even to consider the conscript's own suggestions of possible placements. In the USA, this is explicitly allowed for in one section of the questionnaire used to match individuals to the jobs available. Such suggestions will usually be accepted if the nature of the employment fits the relevant criteria and the employer is prepared to enter in to a formal agreement with the Selective Service Agency.[11]

Austria and Germany go further and allow conscripts to seek retrospective recognition of a longer period of community or voluntary service which they have performed completely independently as satisfying the alternative service requirement. Rather than twelve months of formal alternative service, for example, Austria allows two years community service in development co-operation abroad to be credited, or 14 months voluntary service, which must be completed by the age of 30.[12]

Even when there is not a direct involvement of the conscript in the allocation of substitute service, there is sometimes an appeal process, which may directly bear on the suitability of the allocation. Jehovah's Witnesses performing alternative service in Taiwan have the legal right to refuse anything to do with the military and can ask for a transfer if the work in not suitable for a Christian.[13] In the USA, an appeal against an assignment, on the grounds that it violates the basis of the conscientious objection, can be made to the Civilian Review Board, whose decision will be final.

The system of appeals to transfer in the Russian Federation is, like the initial allocation, handled centrally through the Federal Service for Labour and Employment and is a slow process. Of 66 claims for transfer to an acceptable form of service lodged by Jehovah's Witnesses between January 2004 and January 2005, only five had been resolved by the end of 2004.[14]

There are a number of instances of provisions to allow transfer from alternative service to military service. In the Bosnian Federation a formal declaration withdrawing the status of conscientious objector had to be made, while in the other Bosnian entity, Republika Srpska, it was assumed that this would involve transfer to unarmed military service, without withdrawing the status of conscientious objector. Irrespective of when the transfer is made there is sometimes a minimum length of service in the category transferred into; six months in Republika Srpska, four months in Austria.[15] The military service requirement in Serbia-Montenegro makes no allowance for time served in alternative service, although those who are permitted to transfer in the opposite direction do receive appropriately-reduced alternative service allocations.[16]

In Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia-Montenegro the postponement of alternative service is/was allowed on the same basis as the postponement of military service. The rules in Serbia-Montenegro, essentially based upon those which applied in the Yugoslav army are quoted extensively in Table 6. Appropriate proofs have to be supplied when applying to defer.


  • [1] Center on Conscience and War (2002), Conscientious Objectors and the Draft, Washington, DC.
  • [2] Article 2.2 of the Decree on Alternative Service (618/1997)
  • [3] Article 7 of the Law on Alternative Service, (633/1991).
  • [4] Corley, F., Uzbekistan: Jehovah's Witnesses Criticise Conscientious Objector Trials, (Keston News Service, 6th April 2001)
  • [5] State response to OHCHR Questionnaire, 2003.
  • [6] Uzbekistan introduces alternative military service Radio Free Europe - Radio Liberty newsline, 2nd June 2003 (www.rferl.org/newsline/2003/06/2-TCA/tca-020603.asp)
  • [7] Prigovor za Mir (Regional Network Objection for Peace) (2004) Comparative study on the existing models of civilian service in the region - future models of civilian service for the countries of the region
  • [8] Article 6.4 of the Law for Replacement of Military Service with Alternative Service
  • [9] Prigovor za Mir (Regional Network Objection for Peace) (2004) Comparative study on the existing models of civilian service in the region - future models of civilian service for the countries of the region
  • [10] Response by Government of Austria to questionnaire from OHCHR, 2003
  • [11] Center on Conscience and War, Conscientious Objectors and the Draft, Washington, DC. (General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church), 2002 edition, page 39.
  • [12] Response by the Austrian government to the OHCHR questionnaire, 2003.
  • [13] General Counsel of Jehovah's Witnesses, response to OHCHR questionnaire 2003.
  • [14] General Counsel of Jehovah's Witnesses, evidence submitted to the OHCHR, February 2005
  • [15] Response by the Austrian government to the OHCHR questionnaire, 2003.
  • [16] Prigovor za Mir (Regional Network Objection for Peace) (2004) Comparative study on the existing models of civilian service in the region - future models of civilian service for the countries of the region