Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 May 2016, 11:51 GMT

Eritrea: Conscription procedure and available exemptions to military service

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 1 July 1999
Citation / Document Symbol ERT32193.E
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Eritrea: Conscription procedure and available exemptions to military service, 1 July 1999, ERT32193.E, available at: [accessed 24 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


According to the Head of Consular Affairs of the Embassy of the State of Eritrea in Ottawa, some citizens report for military service on their own accord when they are of age (12 July 1999). Others are notified by letter of their obligation to perform their military service. However, he stated that if a person does not respond to this notification the government does not "force" them into service. He stated that they will be left alone but will not be given an exit permit if they attempt to leave the country. The Head of Consular Affairs also stated that exemptions from military service are provided for medical and/or family reasons. He said if a family faces some difficulty, such as dependence on only one son, then that son may be exempted from his military service. If a person suffers from some illness they believe prevents them from serving in the military, then they must go to a hospital, or a doctor, for a medical examination. If judged exempt from military service for medical reasons the person is issued a form indicating this. This form must then be delivered by the exemptee to the relevant District Administrator.

An Eritrean Professor of Political Science at the University of Missouri, who specializes in political economy and third world politics, largely supported these statements in a 12 July 1999 telephone interview. He said that in villages there are local administrators with access to birth certificates and knowledge of who is attending school, who go out and "remind" persons of their military service obligations. The professor said that it would be more accurate to state that persons are "drafted" into the military rather than "forced." He said that he was unsure whether persons are notified in writing of their obligation to serve. Exemptions for medical and family reasons were described by him in terms similar to those of the Embassy's Head of Consular Affairs. If a family is dependent upon a son then he may be granted an exemption from service. If a person has a health problem that interferes with their ability to serve, then after an examination they are given a form which they take to their local administrator.

The Chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, who specializes in development, international political economy, and the politics of the Horn of Africa, stated in a 13 July 1999 telephone interview that persons are notified of their military service obligations through records kept by local and city administrators. He said that in the countryside persons would generally be notified in person, while in the city they likely would first be notified by mail. He said that the police are sometimes sent after persons who have not reported following their initial notification. However, "by and large they don't force people." He said that in general the authorities won't go after those who don't report, but "occasionally they round up people in the cities." He also stated that exemptions are provided for medical and family reasons. However, he claimed that an exemption for medical reasons is sometimes more difficult to obtain in the countryside because of the relative scarcity of doctors. While stating that "generally people are excused for medical reasons," he added that medical and family exemptions are sometimes dependent upon the current need for troops.

Several Ethiopian sources allege that Eritrea has used "forced conscription" (Office of the Government Spokesperson 19 Apr. 1999; ETV Television Network 20 June 1999; Seven Days Update 1 Mar. 1999; ibid. 3 May 1999). Seven Days Update refers to a 21 April 1999 report in "a private paper" that claims "a large number of Eritrean youth are deliberately maiming their bodies in order to avoid forced conscription into the army" and that "the Eritrean regime has begun conscripting all people between the ages of 14 and 60" (ibid.).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


Chair, Department of Political Science and Geography, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia.  13 July 1999. Telephone interview.

ETV Television Network [Addis Ababa]. 20 June 1999. (FBIS-AFR-1999-0621 21 June 1999/WNC)

Head of Consular Affairs, Embassy of the State of Eritrea (Ottawa). 12 July 1999. Telephone interview.

Office of the Government Spokesperson (Website). 19 April 1999. "Ethiopian Spokesperson Denies Government Conscripting Minors." (BBC Summary/NEXIS)

Professor of Political Science, University of Missouri-Rolla.  12 July 1999. Telephone interview.

Seven Days Update [Addis Ababa]. 3 May 1999. "Ethiopia; What War Does." (Africa News/NEXIS)

_____. 1 March 1999. "Ethiopia; The Battle for Badme." (Africa News/NEXIS)

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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