Mainly covers the period June 1998 to April 2001 as well as including some earlier information.

  • Population:
    – total: 3,839,000
    – under-18s: 926,000
  • Government armed forces:248
    – Federation: active: 23,843; reserves: 190,000
    – Republika Srpska: active: 10,185; reserves: 80,000
  • Compulsory recruitment age:
    – Federation: 18; 16 in times of war
    – Republika Srpska: 18
  • Voluntary recruitment age:
    – Federation: 17
    – Republika Srpska: 17
  • Voting age (government elections): 18
  • Child soldiers: indicated
  • CRC-OP-CAC: signed on 7 September 2000; does not support "straight-18" position
  • Other treaties ratified: CRC; GC/API+II; ILO 138
  • The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska each retain their own separate armed forces and defence legislation and allow recruitment under the age of 18. The Federation's legislation also allows the compulsory recruitment of 16 year olds in times of emergency. During the civil war, children as young as 10 were reported to have participated in hostilities.


Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) was torn apart from 1992-1995 by a civil war between the country's three ethnic groups, the Bosniaks, the Bosnian Croats and the Bosnian Serbs. The war ended with the 1995 General Framework Agreement for Peace in BiH (Dayton Peace Agreement or DPA) which divided the state of BiH into two constituent entities, the Federation of BiH (FBiH) and the Republika Srpska (RS).249 On 25 May 1993 Security Council Resolution 827 established the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to try war crimes.250


Overall Military Structure

The two state entities maintain two separate defence laws enacted in 1996.251 They also maintain separate armies coordinated by the Standing Committee on Military Affairs, which consists of the joint presidency and its military advisers.252 After a 15% reduction since 1999, at the end of 2000 the Federation Army of BiH consisted of 16,618 Bosniaks and 7,225 Bosnian Croats, and the Army of the RS of 10,185 soldiers.253 This constituted a total force of 34,028 soldiers compared to 40,032 in 1999. As the Bosnian Croat forces have resisted unification into the Federation armed forces, there are de facto three separate armies.254 Despite growing pressure by the international community for a unified BiH army and demilitarisation, political interests have so far prevented significant progress. While the actual downsizing has been accomplished according to plans, much remains to be done to successfully reintegrate the demobilised soldiers into society.255

International involvement in Bosnia-Herzegovina includes the NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR), which took over from the Implementation Force (IFOR) in December 1996 and is authorised to implement the military aspects of, and to ensure compliance with, the DPA.256 Following a restructuring exercise in 2000, SFOR troops have been downsized from approx. 32,000 to 21,500 troops at the end of the year.257 In a bilateral effort, the US Government has been sponsoring since July 1996 a so-called 'Train and Equip' Programme of military support to the Federation of BiH armed forces. This programme ostensibly consists of military training provided by a private US-based company, Military Professional Resources Inc (MPRI), as well as the delivery of military equipment. The US Department of State's Task Force for Military Stabilization in the Balkans has consistently emphasised the defensive nature of this project.258

National Recruitment Legislation of the Federation of BiH

According to the 1996 Defence Law of the FBiH 'all citizens are subject to military obligation in war and peace' (Art. 65). The military obligation consists of compulsory recruitment, serving a military tour of duty, and serving in a reserve unit (Art. 67). According to Article 67, military obligation also encompasses women. However Article 68 stipulates that 'women are not subject to recruitment or to the obligation to serve a military tour of duty'; rather, women between the ages of 18 and 27 may volunteer.

Drafting is carried out in the calendar year in which the recruit turns 18 years (Art. 76). However, individuals may request to enlist during the calendar year in which they turn 17 (Art. 75).259 In the event of war or imminent danger thereof, the recruitment of individuals who have turned 16 years old can be ordered (Art. 76). Recruits deemed fit for service, which lasts for twelve months, are generally 'assigned to serve their military tour of duty in the year in which they turn 19 years' (Art. 95, 96). However, Article 96 again stipulates that in a state of war or imminent danger thereof, military service can be enforced for 17 year olds (Art. 96). The Ministry of Defence may recruit by force any person failing to respond to the summons for military duty, and may also impose fines (Art. 134, 213). However, the 1996 Defence Law of the FBiH does contain provisions for persons who 'for reasons of conscientious objection or religious or moral principles, are not prepared to participate in the performance of military duties in the armed forces' (Art. 72). Such individuals must perform two years of civilian service within the FBiH Army although without the obligation to carry and use arms (Art. 82, 85).

National Recruitment Legislation of the RS

In accordance with the 1996 Defence Laws of the RS, military obligation covers all capable female citizens between 18 to 55 years of age, and all men between 18 and 60 years of age (Art. 28). The duration of military service was initially 12 months, but shortly after was reduced to nine months.260 Persons register for military service and undergo medical examination the year they turn 17, and perform military the year they turn 18.261 There are no regulations in the 1996 RS Law referring to voluntary recruitment. However, observers have confirmed that it is possible, as in the Federation, to volunteer at the age of 17 years. Those who do not carry out the military obligation may be punished with imprisonment of 60 days or with monetary penalty (Art. 82). The RS Defence Law also includes provisions for conscientious objectors, who instead must perform 12 months of civilian service.262 But as in the Federation, lack of necessary infrastructure and financial means has thus far prevented the functioning of a civilian service.

Child Recruitment and Deployment

There is no ongoing armed conflict in BiH. According to sources including the UN, some 3,000 to 4,000 children participated in hostilities between 1992-1995 in the former Yugoslavia, the vast majority in BiH and Croatia.263 Some children were as young as 10.264 The Croatian Ministry of Defence strongly denied such recruitment occurred.265 According to UNICEF, "children under 18 years were not obliged to participate in military forces, very few of them joined the military forces as volunteers, and they were accepted only if they were older than 16 years".266

Military Training and Military Schools

The Defence Laws of both the Federation and the Republika Srpska include regulations regarding compulsory education for defence in secondary schools under the authority of respective Ministries of Defence.267 However, on 10 May 2000 the Conference of Ministers of Education of BiH in Sarajevo agreed a new course named 'Human Rights and Civic Education' would replace this subject by the beginning of the 2001/2002 school year.268


International Standards

Bosnia and Herzegovina signed the CRC-OP-CAC on 7 September 2000 but does not support a "straight-18" position. It is in the process of adopting legislation in accordance with its provisions.269

248 Report from the Working Group to the Presidency of BiH and Standing Committee on Military Matters, Sarajevo, 29/1/01. Figures for reserves from IISS.

249 The Dayton Peace Agreement was initialled in Dayton on 21 November 1995 and signed in Paris on 14/12/95.

250 ICTY is mandated to prosecute and try persons allegedly responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law committed on the territory of the former Yugoslavia since 1991.

251 Law on Defence of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Gazette BiH, III/15, 26/8/96, and Law on Defence of Republika Srpska, No. 01-1250/96.

252 US Department of State Report on Human Rights Practices in BiH, 2000.

253 Working Group to the Presidency of BiH op. cit.

254 The Economist Intelligence Unit Country Report on BiH, 2000.

255 Dnevni Avaz, Sarajevo Daily, 12/2/01.

256 SFOR is authorized under UN Security Council Resolution 1088 of 12 December 1996 and operates under Chapter VII of the UN Charter (peace enforcement). SFOR has a unified command structure and is NATO-led under the political direction and control of the Alliance's North Atlantic Council.

257 Numbers provided by SFOR Public Information Section, Sarajevo, 15/2/01.

258 For a detailed analysis of the 'Train and Equip' Programme see International Crisis Group report No. 28, Dec. 1997, , accessed on 12/2/01.

259 Article 50 of FBiH's Defence Law refers to a special provision issued by the Ministry of Defence which regulates the staffing of the Federation army with volunteers fit for military service in situations of war, imminent danger of war, or under extraordinary circumstances. No further details on this provision could be obtained.

260 Update to RS Defence Law, Gazette of Republika Srpska, No. 31/96, Article 215.

261 Ibid. Article 210.

262 Ibid. Articles 215-218.

263 UN Study on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children, quoted in Brett and McCallin op. cit. One source estmated that more than 20,000 children between 13 and 16 were involved in the conflict (N. Dokovska, Journalists for the Rights of Women, Children and the Environment).

264 Brett and McCallin op. cit, and RB's Magazine Och Vi, 1995.

265 Remarks to the draft report 'The Use of Children as Soldiers in Europe', Communication to the CSC, 12/11/99.

266 Information provided by UNICEF, 22/6/99.

267 Article 63 of 1996 Defence Law of RS and Article 191 of the 1996 Defence Law of the FBiH.

268 Meeting of the Conference of the Ministers of Education of Bosnia and Herzegovina, 10/5/00, Sarajevo. Materials for this course are developed by the respective Ministries of Education in collaboration with UNESCO, the Council of Europe and CIVITAS International.

269 Information provided by UNICEF, 26/2/01.


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