Bosnia-Herzegovina: The Federation


1 Conscription

conscription exists

The present legal basis of conscription is unclear. Before 1996 the legal basis of conscription was probably the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia's Defence Law. On 6 July 1996 a new Law on Defence was passed, but not much information is available about it. [9]

Military service is performed in the armed forces of Bosnia-Herzegovina or in the Bosnian Croat forces (HVO). Both these forces are officially to merge into one in 1999. [9]

military service

All men above the age of 18 are liable for military service. [12]

The length of military service is 12 months. [12]

No information is available about reservist duties.

During the war military service could last indefinitely. All men aged 18 to 55 were liable for military service. Women were not called up, but those aged 18 to 27 could volunteer provided they were not pregnant and had no child of under seven. Nevertheless, there were cases of women who claimed they had been called up for military service. [1] [4]

During the war, work obligations were enforced in most areas. On 20 July 1992, together with the declaration of the state of war, President Izetbegovic ordered a general mobilisation of those liable for military service (vojni obvezek, Protocol No. 1200/92). This proclamation, amongst other things, required citizens to report for civil defence duties and ordered all public and private companies to introduce compulsory labour. This general mobilisation was in effect up until the Dayton agreement was reached in December 1995. The distinction between mobilization into the armed forces and for work obligations was often blurred. [1] [9]

postponement and exemption

Postponement is possible for students. [12]

No information is available about exemption regulations.

During the war, poor health was the only officially recognised basis for exemption or release from service. Conscripts claiming to be unfit for service were assessed by the Military Medical Commission (Vojna Lekarksa Komisija). Depending on his condition the Commission either released him from further military duties or else curtailed his military tasks - for instance assign him to non-combat duties. Depending on his abilities, an individual exempt from military service on medical grounds could still be mobilised for civil defence tasks. [1]


Young men receive a call-up for medical examination in the year they reach the age of 18 or when they are about to finish secondary school. [12]

All Bosnian citizens must register in their municipality when they become 18 in order to get an identity card. This provides the municipal authorities with a list of all those liable for military service. [1]

During the war, the armed forces officially maintained that they were secular, multinational and multicultural. Although the Bosnian armed forces evidently mainly consist of Bosnian Muslims, the same military service requirements applied to all men regardless of their nationality. However, the municipal authorities have made ad hoc concessions over conscription to local minority communities. Residents of a traditionally Serb village in the Tuzla region have, for instance, been exempted. At the beginning of the war village leaders agreed to surrender the weapons provided to them by the retreating YPA on the condition that the village menfolk were not called up to serve in the Bosnian Army. This agreement has been respected throughout the conflict, despite carrying no legal weight. [1]

Another arrangement made was that after the formation of the Federation, Bosnian Croats in the Zenica region who were called up might be free, if they wished, to enlist in the HVO forces. [1]

2 Conscientious objection

The 1996 Law on Defence is thought to allow conscripts, who refuse to bear arms for religious reasons, to perform a 24 months' unarmed military service. [9] [12]

No further details are known.

During the war, a number of Jehovah's Witnesses, among others, have conscientiously objected to bear arms or to take part in the war. Some of them faced prosecution for draft evasion or desertion, others were given non-combatant tasks within the armed forces. Similar arrangements have been made in the case of other minority group members and people able to present a convincing case to the local military commander. These commanders have the discretion to make such arrangements, but they are not actual rights. [1] [2]

3 Draft evasion and desertion


After independence, former Yugoslavia's criminal law was adopted, including the law dealing with 'Criminal Acts Against Armed Forces' (RBiH Protocol No. 1144/92, Sarajevo, 11-4-92). The applicable criminal statutes remained substantially unchanged, except for certain subsequent modifications to the sentencing guidelines and the addition of a few supplementary provisions. [1] [9]

This means draft evasion and desertion are punishable by up to 10 years' imprisonment. During the war the death penalty was the possible maximum sentence for desertion. [9] [11]

(For details of the relevant articles see the report on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.)

Crimes against the armed forces fall within the jurisdiction of the District Military Courts (Okruzje Vojni Sudovi). [1]


No information is available about the scale of draft evasion and desertion since the 1995 Dayton peace agreement, nor is it known how monitoring of draft evasion takes place. The end of the war has meant mass demobilisation and little recruitment of new soldiers, which might mean punishment of draft evasion is not a priority for the authorities. [9]


The Assembly of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina passed a first amnesty law, which came into effect on 26 December 1994 (RBiH Protocol No. 1722/94). The Federation passed such a law on 16 January 1995. The amnesty laws provided amnesty for all offences listed in arts. 214, 217, 226 of the Criminal Law, and applied to individuals punishable under art. 8 of RBiH Protocol No. 1182/92 and to those who evaded the draft or deserted before war broke out if they were called up between 20 June 1992 and 26 December 1994. [1]

In the Dayton peace agreement (annex 7) amnesty for returning refugees who are accused of certain crimes related to the armed conflict was foreseen. [11]

On 12 February 1996 the Bosnia-Herzegovinan Assembly passed a new amnesty law, which came into force on 23 February 1996. The law provides an amnesty for certain crimes committed before 14 December 1995 - however the war officially ended 22 December 1995. In the Federation an amnesty law, similar to the 12 February 1996 RBiH amnesty law, was passed on 12 June 1996. [9] [11]

It is not clear if the Federal (amnesty) laws are respected by courts in the Bosnian Croat areas. Although separate administrations of the self-proclaimed 'Croatian Republic of Herceg-Bosna' were formally abolished in late 1996, the Federation was still not fully in place by 1997. [9]

Following the 1996 RBiH and Federation amnesty laws many imprisoned draft evaders and deserters were released and pending charges were dropped. Nevertheless, reports indicate that occasionally draft evaders or deserters still have been prosecuted. [7]

practice during the war

During the war draft evasion and desertion were widespread. No figures are available on prosecutions before the district military courts. Reports suggest that hundreds have been formally charged and tried for draft evasion. Interviews with individuals tried, convicted and later released, show that procedure varies considerably from one district military court to another. [1]

In Sarajevo convicted draft evaders faced between one and three years' imprisonment - although three-month sentences have been reported. In practice art. 226 (providing heavier sentences in wartime) was not applied. In Tuzla three or four-year sentences were usual, but convicted draft evaders rarely served the full term. Those sentenced to less than 5 years got released immediately pending outcome of an appeal.

In Sarajevo desertion has been punished by up to 5 years' imprisonment. Although use of the death penalty was permissible, no one has been executed for desertion. [1] [2] [3]

There is no evidence of any discrimination over the prosecution and sentencing of draft evaders. Private lawyers generally consider the trials have been fair and correct. There have been cases where the fact that a draft evader had relatives serving in the Bosnian Serb forces has prompted a more lenient sentence. Unconfirmed reports from Tuzla suggest that up to 90 percent of those charged with draft evasion have been Bosnian Serbs. [1]

After serving their sentences, draft evaders still faced military requirements and could get called up again or be assigned to civil defence units. And they could face hostility and harassment in the community. They usually had great difficulty in obtaining a passport or an exit permission from the town they live in. [1]

The cases of imprisoned Jehovah's Witnesses from July 1995 on show that the amnesty applied for only a limited period. There have been fresh sentences for refusal to bear arms, as illustrated by the case of Tahir Hodzic. [2]

6 Annual statistics

No information available.


[1] UNHCR 1995. Situation of draft evaders/deserters from Former Yugoslavia. UNHCR, Geneva. [2] MIR 1995. Conscientious Objection in Bosnia. Mouvement International de Reconciliation, Brussels, Belgium. [3] Amnesty International 1994. AI Concerns in Europe: November 1993-April 1994. AI, London. [4] Information from the Danish Refugee Council, 20 October 1995. [5] Women in Black 1995. Various reports. Women in Black, Belgrade. [6] European Civic Forum 1994. Deserters and draft resisters in the present situation in former Yugoslavia. [7] Rosa, C. 1996. Update ex-Yu as of April 1996. EBCO, Brussels. [8] Friedrich, R. 1994. Situation im ehemaligen Jugoslawien - Kriegsdienstverweigerung, Rekrutierung und Kriegseinsatz. Connection e.V., Offenbach, Germany. [9] Amnesty International 1997. Out of the margins, the right to conscientious objections to military service in Europe. AI, London. [10] Neue Zürcher Zeitung (Swiss newspaper), 30 December 1996. [11] German Ministry of Foreign Affairs 1997. Bericht über die asyl- und abschiebungrelevante Lage in Bosnien und Herzegowina. Auswärtiges Amt, Bonn. [12] Women to Women 1998. 'News from Sarajevo', in: Conscientious objection and asylum in Europe, Connection e.V., Offenbach. [13] Aleksov, Bojan 1998. 'Draft evasion and desertion', in: Conscientious Objection in Europe, Connection e.V., Offenbach.