Treatment of draft evaders, conscientious objectors and deserters [AMN31741.E]

In November 1997 the Danish Immigration Service conducted a fact-finding mission to Armenia to investigate, inter alia, the situation of draft evaders, conscientious objectors and deserters. The findings of this mission are available online in the Report on the Fact-finding Mission to Armenia (Jan. 1999), available on the Website of the Danish Immigration Service at The relevant sections of the report are reproduced below:

2. Penalties for deserters

A. What penalties are handed down and are they imposed?

The Armenian authorities' replies to questions 1a and 1b of the assignment were generally consistent.
The authorities emphasised the clear difference in treatment between draft evaders, i.e. those failing to respond to a call to attend the draft board, call-up for military service or recall for muster exercises, and deserters, i.e. persons who have begun military service and then go absent without leave to avoid it.
The authorities said that the first and second failures to respond to call-up or to report to the military authorities were punished with a fine that currently amounted to 500 drams, corresponding to 1 US dollar. Not until the third offence is the matter referred to the criminal courts, which normally sentence the person concerned to a term of imprisonment of from one to three years. Once the sentence has been served the person is expected to begin military service.
The authorities added that deserters who do not return voluntarily are, when caught, normally sentenced within the military system. The basic penalty is extra service of up to three years in a special military unit.
No-one from the authorities wished to use the expression "disciplinary unit" or "special unit", as they did not consider the unit to be particularly different from ordinary military service. Neither did they particularly wish to describe conditions in the special unit. It was however stated that the unit serves in a barracks area near Lake Sevan in north eastern Armenia. According to the authorities that barracks area is more heavily guarded than ordinary barracks. Food, accommodation and heating are claimed to be very similar to those in ordinary military camps. However, deserters do not receive weapons training but spend most of their time on building work. In addition there is apparently a certain amount of instruction in military regulations. Deserters are not allowed to take leave and they work one to two hours more each day than those doing ordinary military service.
For various reasons, no-one from the authorities wished to provide statistics on the number of deserters sentenced and the individual sentences. The chief military prosecutor estimated that between 40 and 60 people were currently serving in the special unit.
With regard to allegations that the special unit was employed in clearing minefields, the authorities confirmed that there were minefields in certain areas of the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan. However, the authorities stated that these minefields were a useful part of Armenia's defence arrangements and that there were no plans to scale them down until the Karabakh problem was satisfactorily resolved. The authorities therefore categorically denied that the special unit, or any other unit, was engaged in mine clearance in Armenia.
The authorities stated that there was a possibility of remission for good conduct after one year's service in the special unit. Unlike ordinary prison sentences, service in the special unit is not entered in the criminal record. Upon completion of service in the special unit the remaining period of ordinary military service has to be completed before the military service obligation is finally discharged.
If desertion involves other criminal circumstances the case is judged by the criminal courts and the sentence will, according to the authorities, be a prison sentence instead of service in the special unit.

B. Are certain deserters exempt from penalties, and if so why?

All those from the authorities were insistent that no draft evaders or deserters who reported voluntarily to the military authorities would be subject to criminal prosecution or in any other way persecuted. If the Danish authorities so wished, the military prosecutor was willing to give his word that no draft evader or deserter sent back from Denmark would be subject to criminal prosecution or in any way persecuted upon return to Armenia, provided that, before that person's return, the military prosecutor received a list of his personal details. If the persons concerned were over the age of 27, had a university degree or were sole providers they were not obliged to do military service and so were of no concern to the military system.
The Committee of Soldiers' Mothers, in the person of Greta Mizzoyan, said that the Committee had no statistics on deserters and draft evaders. It estimated that in recent years about 200 deserters had returned to Armenia from Poland, Russia and Germany without being punished, inasmuch as they returned voluntarily to their military units.
For 1997, the Committee knew of five cases of deserters who were given prison sentences instead of serving in the special unit because, in addition to deserting, they had committed criminal offences such as theft of weapons, rape, murder or drug dealing.
The Committee emphasised that draft evaders and deserters who returned voluntarily to their military units were not punished, and pointed out that every year the Armenian Parliament adopted an amnesty law for them.
The Committee highlighted the fact that, as a hang-over from the Soviet period, the form of address used by officers and sergeants to the men under the Armenian military system was still somewhat crude, which undoubtedly came as a shock to new recruits. This was apparently the main reason for desertion.
The Committee confirmed that the military authorities were not interested in people over the age of 27. It also confirmed that service in the special unit was not entered in a person's criminal record, and was therefore preferable to an ordinary prison sentence.
The Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (CDHR), in the person of Vladimir Karmirshalian, pointed out first of all that the Centre had tried in vain to obtain statistics from the Armenian Ministry of Defence on the number of military prosecutions and the outcome of the cases etc.
The CDHR emphasised that the Armenian authorities observed the regular amnesties for draft evaders and deserters.
The CDHR had the impression that draft evaders received prison sentences, while deserters were sentenced within the military system. In practice this normally meant service in the special disciplinary unit.
In general the CDHR considered conditions in the Armenian army to be unsatisfactory. Many officers were poorly educated, and their attitude towards the men could be very harsh. Moreover, there was no civilian alternative to military service in Armenia.
The local offices of the UNHCR, the IOM and the ICRC in Yerevan all said that they had been unable to obtain statistics from the Armenian authorities on sentencing practice with regard to deserters.
The UNHCR and the IOM had heard of the special disciplinary unit in which deserters served their sentences, but had no specific information on conditions there.
One of the organisations knew of cases of Armenian soldiers who had deserted to the Azerbaijani side and who had been sentenced to six months' imprisonment upon return to Armenia. Another organisation thought it likely that deserters were punished within the military system, namely with service in the special disciplinary unit.

3. Investigate penalties, including enforced service, on no-shows for three months' repeat service

According to the military prosecutor, failure to respond to recall or desertion from repeat service is not a problem, in that recall and muster exercises in principle only concern officers and men with special functions. This group is normally eager for recall and punishments are therefore rare. The military prosecutor claimed he could not remember a single case of punishment for failure to respond to recall.
None of the other Armenian authorities consulted had any comments on the question of those recalled to the colours.

This report corroborates less detailed information presented in the UNHCR Guidelines Relating to the Eligibility of Armenian Asylum Seekers (June 1997) and the Amnesty International report Armenia: Comments on the Initial Report Submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Committee (Sept. 1998).

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. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Response.


Amnesty International. September 1998. Armenia: Comments on the Initial Report Submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. AI Index: EUR 54/05/98.

Danish Immigration Service. January 1999. Report on the Fact-finding Mission to Armenia. [Internet] [Accessed 5 May 1999]

UNHCR. June 1997. Guidelines Relating to the Eligibility of Armenian Asylum Seekers. Geneva.

Additional Sources Consulted

Horeman, Bart and Marc Stolwijk. 1998. Refusing to Bear Arms: A World Survey of Conscription and Conscientious Objection to Military Service. War Resisters' International, London.

Electronic sources: IRB databases, Internet, NEXIS/LEXIS, REFWORLD, WNC.