Last Updated: Monday, 20 October 2014, 15:44 GMT

Latvia: Whether military service is compulsory; whether exemptions exist for military service including those based on race and religion; whether any alternative service exists (2004-2005)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa
Publication Date 20 January 2006
Citation / Document Symbol LVA100688.E
Reference 2
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Latvia: Whether military service is compulsory; whether exemptions exist for military service including those based on race and religion; whether any alternative service exists (2004-2005), 20 January 2006, LVA100688.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/45f147745.html [accessed 21 October 2014]
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.

Military service is compulsory in Latvia (Latvia n.d.a; QCEA Apr. 2005, 41; NATO 2005; Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers 17 Nov. 2004, 252; US 1 Nov. 2005; Latvian News Agency 17 March 2005; Open Site n.d.). According to Section 2 of the Mandatory Military Service Law,

(1) All Latvian male citizens shall carry out mandatory military service in accordance with the procedures specified by this Law. Persons subject to mandatory military service who are unable to fulfil military service due to their opinions, conscience or religious beliefs, may replace mandatory active military service with alternative service according to the procedures specified in this Law.

(2) On voluntary basis, the mandatory military service may also be carried out by female citizens of Latvia (Latvia 25 Nov. 2004).

Citizens between the ages of 19 and 27 are subject to mandatory military service (ibid., Sec. 17) for a period of 12 months (ibid., Sec. 8). Men and women between 18 and 27 years of age can also join the mandatory military service on a voluntary basis (ibid., Sec. 17(2)). The Website of the Ministry of Defence of Latvia corroborates the length of conscript service and adds that "it is served in the National Armed Forces. Conscript Service in the Guard Regiment of the Ministry of Interior was suspended in January 2003" (n.d.a). Section 21 of the Mandatory Military Service Law provides for exemptions from compulsory military service (Latvia 25 Nov. 2004, Sec. 21). It states:

(1) A decision not to conscript for mandatory active military service shall be taken in relation to:

1) Persons whose conscription must be postponed due to their health condition;

2) Sole breadwinners of dependant family members, as well as persons who are breadwinners for at least two dependant children of pre-school age;

3) persons who are studying in a Masters Programme, a Residency Programme or a Doctoral Programme;

4) full-time students of good standing of State-licensed higher educational institutions (for acquisition of the first level of higher education);

5) persons who are studying in State-licensed general secondary education and professional education institutions (for acquisition of the first level of secondary education or the first level of the first stage of professional higher education) – till 1 October of the year of their graduation;

6) persons who are acquiring education abroad on the basis of recommendation from the Ministry of Education and Science;

7) ordained clergymen who belong to any of the religious organisations registered at the Ministry of Justice, and persons who study at the educational institutions for religious personnel of such organisations;

8) persons who are subject to criminal prosecution or whose criminal cases are under the adjudication of a court;

9) persons who are serving a sentence for the commission of criminal offences, which do not involve the deprivation of liberty;

10) persons who have been previously convicted for the commission of intentional criminal offences;

11) persons who have not acquired a primary education;

12) specialised State civil servants in the institutions of the Ministry's of the Interior system and the Prison Administration – until their retirement from service;

13) persons for whom mandatory active military service has been substituted with alternative service;

14) persons who are elected members of the Saeima, city councils, region councils or local governments (ibid.).

Subsection 4 also provides that someone who is declared "unfit for military service due to their health condition shall be removed from the records of mandatory military service" (ibid., Sec. 21(4)). On their Website, the Ministry of Defence specifies that children of pre-school age are children "under the age of 7" and adds the two following exemptions: "persons who have obtained the degrees of MA or MSc" and "[g]raduates of state-accredited universities who have voluntarily completed the special military training course during their studies" (n.d.b). Other exemptions are provided under Section 22: citizens can choose to delay their military service for up to three years (the law specifically prohibits repetition of this exemption) (Latvia 25 Nov. 2004, Sec. 22(1)). Ballet artists with the Latvian National Opera and individuals whose brother was killed or became disabled during their mandatory military service are also exempted (ibid., Sec. 22(2) and 22(3)).

Subsection 3(3) provides who "shall be assigned to the reserve":

1) soldiers after completing their mandatory active military service and persons after completing their alternative service;

2) persons not conscripted into the mandatory active military service and persons not drafted into alternative service, after their conscription period has expired;

3) graduates of State-licensed higher educational institutions, who, during their studies at a higher educational institution, have completed a State-approved special military training course in line with procedures set by the Cabinet of Ministers;

4) persons listed in Section 4 of this Law [having completed foreign military service or alternative service];

5) persons who have acquired professional or academic education at the educational establishments of the Ministry of the Interior, or have acquired adequate education abroad, and continue their service in the institutions of the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Latvia or in the Latvian Prison Administration;

6) graduates of higher educational institutions who have acquired a Masters degree;

7) persons who have been acknowledged, due to their health condition, as unfit for military service in peace-time and fit for non-combatant service during war-time; and

8) persons who are serving a sentence or have served a sentence in prison for criminal offences (ibid., Sec. 3(3)).

Section 32 provides that an individual can be assigned to the reserve before having completed their period of mandatory military service if they become "unfit" due to their health, if they become the sole breadwinner for their family, if they have been sentenced to imprisonment, or if they are elected as member of parliament or as councillor (ibid., Sec. 32). A reservist will not be drafted for training for the following reasons:

1) his health condition;

2) if the reservist is the sole breadwinner of dependant family members, or he is the breadwinner for at least two dependant children of pre-school age;

3) if the reservist is acquiring an education abroad;

4) if the reservist is a suspected person, defendant or person on trial; and

5) if the reservist is serving a sentence for committed criminal offences (ibid. Sec. 33(3)).

A person who wishes to complete alternative service can do so by submitting an application for alternative service to the Head of the Military Service Conscription Centre (ibid., Sec. 19(2)) and the Military Service Conscription Control Commission will make a decision as to whether compulsory military service can be replaced with alternative service (ibid., Sec. 25(1)). The Website of the Ministry of Defence of Latvia states that "[i]ndividuals must apply to their nearest Conscript Enrolment Office to replace their Conscript Service with the Alternative Service" (n.d.a). The Alternative Service Law provides that "[a]lternative service shall be performed by persons to be conscripted for mandatory active military service for whom mandatory active military service has been replaced by alternative service" (ibid. 18 Dec. 2003, Sec. 2) and that "[t]he duration of alternative service shall be 24 months. The duration of alternative service for persons who have obtained a higher education shall be 18 months" (ibid., Sec. 3). Alternative service can be completed

in ... government institutions, ... government capital companies or public organisations that engage in fire-fighting, search and rescue operations, social care, provision of medical assistance, public utility and public transport services, improvement of ... government objects and territories or customs control (ibid., Sec. 4(1)).

Subsection 5(8) provides that an individual can be released from alternative service before the full required period if:

1) during the performance of alternative service he has become unfit for mandatory active military service due to his state of health;

2) during the performance of alternative service he had expressed an intention to perform mandatory active military service and has been conscripted thereto;

3) he becomes the sole provider for his family members;

4) deprivation of liberty has been adjudged to him for the committing of a criminal offence except in the case where a suspended sentence has been imposed to him;

5) he has been elected a councillor of a city council, county council, parish council or a member of the Saeima (ibid., Sec. 5(8)).

The Quaker Council for European Affairs (QCEA) provides the following information on conscientious objection:

CO [conscientious objection] applications can only be made before starting military service. Article 5.5 of the Law on Alternative Service mentions the possibility of transfer from substitute service to military service, but there are no legal provisions for a transfer vice versa. Applications can thus not be made by serving conscripts or reservists. There are no legal provisions for conscientious objection for professional soldiers. The Law on Alternative Service only applies to conscripts (Apr. 2005, 41).

QCEA also mentions that the possibility of reducing the length of alternative service was being reviewed by the Cabinet of Ministers in April and July 2004 but that, by February 2005 it still had not been reduced (ibid., 42). The Website of the Ministry of Defence of Latvia corroborates that in July 2004 the Cabinet of Ministers was evaluating the option of reducing the duration of alternative service (Latvia 20 July 2004); however, no information was found as to the outcome of such discussions.

Various sources reported that Latvia plans to phase out compulsory drafting in the next few years (CIA 1 Nov. 2005; Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers 17 Nov. 2004; Washington Post 5 Oct. 2004). Other sources stated that the National Armed Forces will become professional by 2006 (NATO 2005) or by 2007 (Latvian News Agency 17 Mar. 2005; CIA 1 Nov. 2005; Open Site n.d.).

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 for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

References

Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. 17 November 2004. "Child Soldiers Global Report 2004." [Accessed 13 Dec. 2005]

Latvia. 25 November 2004. Mandatory Military Service Law. [Accessed 13 Dec. 2005]
_____. 20 July 2004. Ministry of Defence. "Amendments to the Alternative Service Law To Be Reviewed." [Accessed 13 Dec. 2005]
_____. 18 December 2003. Alternative Service Law. [Accessed 12 Dec. 2005]
_____. N.d.a. Ministry of Defence. "Conscript Service." [Accessed 12 Dec. 2005]
_____. N.d.b. Ministry of Defence. "Drafting." [Accessed 12 Dec. 2005]

Latvian News Agency (LNA) [Riga]. 17 March 2005. Aija Rutka. "Border Guards Detain Three Draft Dodgers." (Factiva)

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). 2005. Committee on Women in the NATO Forces. "Latvia – National Report 2005." [Accessed 13 Dec. 2005]

Quaker Council for European Affairs (QCEA). April 2005. "The Right to Conscientious Objection in Europe: A Review of the Current Situation." [12 Dec. 2005]

United States (US). 1 November 2005. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). "The World Factbook – Latvia." [Accessed 12 Dec. 2005]

The Washington Post. 5 October 2004. Cindy Williams. "Draft Lessons from Europe." [Accessed 12 Dec. 2005]

Additional Sources Consulted

Internet sites, including: Amnesty International, The Baltic Times, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, Mothers Against the Draft, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, United States Department of State.

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 http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca/en/. Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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