Algeria: National Service and Conscientious Objection
National service & military service
Legislative changes affecting basic military service were adopted in August 2014 (law no 14-06, 13 Chaoual 1435, amended on 9 August 2014). These changes shortened the period of national service to 12 months, consisting of six months of basic training following by six months’ service with the ground forces or in civil defence. Up to 2002, national service was for a period of 24 months; between 2002 and 2014, it was 18 months.1
All citizens are summoned in writing to an army physical in the months from January to September of their 17th year of age, either in person or by way of a representative. Failure to do so renders them fit for service ex officio, and they lose their right to deferral of or exemption from military service.2
Conscripts receive monthly pay of 3,000 dinars (= €24.37 as at 22 August 2016). That corresponds to purchasing power of roughly €200 in Germany.3
Conscripts are guaranteed to be reintegrated into their previous profession within six months, at most, of completing military service. Military service ranks equal in terms of pension rights, professional experience and career opportunities in a civilian profession.4
Alongside conscripts there are professional soldiers (“militaire de carrier”) and short-service volunteers (“servant en vertu d’un contrat”). Those not wishing to extend their contract are required to give one year’s notice to the end of their period of service. That arrangement exposes such individuals to defamation and suspicions of collaborating with Islamic terrorists. With 3,300 km of borders and mounting terrorist activity, primarily from the north of Mali, Libya and at the country’s border with Tunisia, Algeria’s military is already highly stretched, Al Huffington Post reports.5
Once compulsory service has been completed, conscripts become part of the reserve forces, where they move through three different phases. The first is “availability” (“disponibilité”), during which time personnel are on call at all times. This is followed by the first reserve and finally the second reserve with tiered availability requirements.6 The availability period lasts five years, the first and second reserve 10 years each.7
Women are not required to perform national service, and they are prohibited from joining the Algerian army. There are equal-opportunities-minded women pushing for the army to open up to female recruits as well.8
In 2014 the Algerian army numbered 317,200 individuals (2.57% of the population). This number increased strongly between 1994 (126,000 men, 1.7%) and 1999 (303,200, 3.47%). Since then, the absolute figures have risen a little and then fallen again, while in percentage terms, the numbers have declined owing to population growth and capacity constraints within the military. Military spending in 2014 came to 5.56% of GDP, a new high. The past 17 years up to 2014 have seen this expenditure item climb by 18%.9
2007 saw the Algerian government present draft legislation, which was not adopted, that would have abolished universal national service and replaced it with a mandatory “defence information day” based on the French model.10
Stays, postponement and exemptions
During their medical screening, conscripts can apply for a stay, postponement or exemption of national service while they are in vocational training or students.11
An application for provisional exemption (“report d’incorporation”) may be filed in justified circumstances limited in duration or if the conscript has a brother who is already performing military service. The deferral (“sursis”) of national service for vocational training and study purposes will be approved upon request and can be extended until the training or study in question has been completed. Students who have already completed their studies cannot ask to have their military service deferred if they are enrolled in a course with a similar or lower level.12
Even after they have joined the army, conscripts who demonstrably have socially significant grounds (“cas social digne d‘intérêt”) for exemption can file an application for exemption, which will be deliberated on by the competent regional commission for military service exemptions. The commission is composed in accordance with a decree issued by the defence minister. Citizens can appeal against commission decisions at the central unit for military service at the defence ministry.13 A “cas social digne d’intérêt” is deemed to exist if the person is the sole source of income for their family above them, ie their parents and grandparents, or for a family member with a disability or for a small child. Similarly, citizens who are older than 27 and employed meet these “socially significant” criteria. The same applies to men whose fathers died as martyrs in Algeria’s war of independence.14
Citizens who are scheduled to take on a function at a government institution or stand for election are exempted from military service.15
Citizens who are ill or imprisoned are exempted from military service until their status has changed. Individuals who are terminally or seriously ill do not need to attend an army physical and can present two medical reports on their condition (at least one of which must be issued by a public establishment) to be mustered out.16 Citizens less than 1.60m tall or with a body mass index (BMI) of more than 30, amongst others, are mustered out in the preliminary medical screening.17
An exemption is also granted if the person is “non incorporable”, ie non-draftable.18 This wording is vague. Judging by media reports, it is thought to refer to the army’s capacity; hence, this provision would be applied, say, if the barracks were full [the Algerian population is growing by around 2% per year].
Conscientious objection & alternative service
There is no legal way of avoiding military service, nor is there any alternative service. Objectors are considered deserters. Time spent by army members (professional soldiers, short-service volunteers and those performing military service) in prison during their service duty does not count towards their service period and is added on at the end. Anyone who has been detained in a military prison for longer than 30 days is required to remain in the army, following the end of their service duty, for an additional period equal for half of their total time in prison. Conscientious objectors, then, could face two years in prison, one year of military service and a one-year extension to their period of military service resulting from their time in prison. If they object again following imprisonment they run the risk of being trapped in a vicious circle.19
The provisions for deserters have been tightened. To be able to go to work, male citizens aged 25 or older must each demonstrate that they have duly completed their national service by presenting a special card issued upon completion of service. Prior to 2014, that was only mandatory for public sector positions.20
Forum posts and personal accounts suggest that there is a huge disconnect between the law and reality on this score. Individuals who do not enlist are often not persecuted or drafted and can nonetheless possess the military service completion card which they need to look for work (on account of corruption or forgeries, or by virtue of the presidential amnesty for over 30-year-olds which has been in force indefinitely since 2011 (see below)). At the same time, there are others who enlisted, postponed their military service due to vocational training and reported back following completion of that training who have been waiting for years, in some cases, for the start of their military service, and thus also for the military service completion card without which they cannot find work. The reality of getting back into work is also thought to be problematic, especially for first-time employees who, having completed their vocational training, immediately began their military service.21
In March 2011, during the presidential campaign, the president issued an amnesty for anyone liable to military service aged over 30 who had not yet completed their military service. Up to the end of 2014, 99,767 citizens, 2,103 of them outside the country, benefited from this amnesty and were issued with a military service completion card. In addition, the border police were instructed a number of years earlier to stop asking young men leaving the country to present that card. This appears to be standard procedure for the past decade or more, with the result that many young men have no incentive to do their military service.22
1 Article 5, Journal Officiel de la République Algérienne no 48, 10 August 2014, http://www.joradp.dz/FTP/jo-francais/2014/F2014048.pdf.
2 Article 19, ibid.
3 Le service et officiellement de 12 mois en Algérie. 10 July 2014, http://www.algerie-focus.com/2014/07/lanp-adopte-a-la-majorite-le-projet-de-loi-sur-le-service-militaire/.
4 Article 68, Journal Officiel de la République Algérienne no 48, 10 August 2014, http://www.joradp.dz/FTP/jo-francais/2014/F2014048.pdf.
5 En Algérie, la durée du service national baisse mais devient plus aévère pour les “insoumis”, 10 September 2014, http://www.huffpostmaghreb.com/2014/09/10/service-national-12-mois_n_5797560.html.
6 Articles 3-6, Journal Officiel de la République Algérienne, 30 March 1977, http://www.dgfp.gov.dz/texte/02.pdf.
7 L‘opération de régularisation dans le cadre des mesures présidentielles, http://www.elmouwatin.dz/IMG/article_PDF/article_a5789.pdf (last accessed on 26 August 2016).
8 Femmes dans le “sanctuaire des hommes”, 4 November 2015, http://carnegie-mec.org/2015/11/04/fr-pub-62305.
9 Perspective monde, http://perspective.usherbrooke.ca/bilan/tend/DZA/fr/MS.MIL.XPND.GD.ZS.html (last accessed on 25 August 2016).
10 Algérie, https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conscription#Alg.C3.A9rie (last accessed on 26 August 2016).
11 Article 22, Journal Officiel de la République Algérienne n° 48. 10 August 2014, http://www.joradp.dz/FTP/jo-francais/2014/F2014048.pdf.
12 Articles 27-29, ibid.
13 Articles 24-26, ibid.
14 Réponses aux demandes d’information. 05 October 2010, http://irb-cisr.gc.ca/Fra/ResRec/RirRdi/Pages/index.aspx?doc=453174.
15 Articles 8 and 60, Journal Officiel de la République Algérienne n° 48. 10 August 2014, http://www.joradp.dz/FTP/jo-francais/2014/F2014048.pdf.
16 Articles 17-18, ibid.
17 Service militaire. https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conscription#Alg.C3.A9rie (last accessed on 25 August 2016).
18 Article 61, Journal Officiel de la République Algérienne n° 48. 10 August 2014, http://www.joradp.dz/FTP/jo-francais/2014/F2014048.pdf.
19 Articles 52-53, ibid.
20 Articles 7, 35, 56, ibid.
21 Comment échapper au service militaire en Algérie ? http://www.algerie-dz.com/forums/archive/index.php/t-34870.html (last accessed on 26 August 2016).
22 Service national: poursuite de la régularisation. 17.07.2016, http://www.aps.dz/algerie/44692-service-national-poursuite-de-la-r%C3%A9gularisation-des-citoyens-%C3%A2g%C3%A9s-de-30-ans-et-plus-au-31-d%C3%A9cembre-2014-mdn.
Maike Rolf: National service and conscientious objection in Algeria (Wehrpflicht und Kriegsdienstverweigerung in Algerien). 5 September 2016. This article was published in Connection e.V. and AG »KDV im Krieg« (eds): circular »KDV im Krieg«, September 2016 edition.