Country report and updates: Costa Rica

Last revision: 30 Apr 1998
30 Apr 1998

1 Conscription

conscription does not exist

Costa Rica abolished its armed forces constitutionally in 1949. According to art. 12 of the 1949 Constitution: "The Army as a permanent institution is proscribed. For vigilance and the preservation of the public order, there will be the necessary police forces." [5]

The constitution provides for the introduction of both armed forces and military service, when deemed necessary. According to the Costa Rican government in 1983: "Military forces are established only pursuant to the Panamerican agreement or for purposes of national defence (arts. 12 and 147 of the Constitution). In that case military service will be compulsory... In case of establishment of military forces, males between 18 and 60 are liable to military service; exemption can be granted for poor health or physical defects and to persons in holy orders, save in the event of mobilization; temporary exemption exists for some professional categories." [3]

At that time this statement was made the neutrality of Costa Rica was a matter of debate in the context of the war in Nicaragua. [1]

Costa Rica's claim to have no armed forces is questionable.

The paramilitary forces, the Guardia Civil (civil guards), have been desribed by a military expert as armed forces restructured to the lowest level and as one of the best trained forces in Latin America. Furthermore it has both a system of military ranks and highly technical weaponry. In 1997 there was wide public debate when a secret arms purchase by the Guardia Civil leaked out. [1] [2]

In the 1990s a riot police force was founded with help of the Chilean police. It has been involved in suppressing demonstrations and strikes. [1]

The education system is militarized to some extent. At all primary schools there are military marches at 15 September, the day of national celebration. [1]

2 Conscientious objection

There is no known legal provision for conscientious objection.

5 History

Conscription has never in the past been enforced. Before 1949, when Costa Rica did have an army, there was legal provision for military service but it was never enforced. [4]

The main reason for abolishing the armed forces was said to be to prevent soldiers sympathetic to the opposition republican and communist parties from rebelling against the government. [1] [2]

6 Annual statistics

The Costa Rican paramilitary forces comprise 7,000 troops, that is 0.20 percent of the population. [6]


[1] SERPAJ-Costa Rica 1997. Response to CONCODOC enquiry, November 1997. [2] Brett, Derek 1994. Conscientious objection to military service. Quaker Peace and Service, Geneva. [3] Eide, A., C. Mubanga-Chipoya 1985. Conscientious objection to military service, report prepared in pursuance of resolutions 14 (XXXIV) and 1982/30 of the Sub-Commission of Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities. United Nations, New York. [4] Prasad, D., T. Smythe 1968. Conscription: a world survey, compulsory military service and resistance to it. War Resisters' International, London. [5] UN Commission on Human Rights, 1994. Report of the Secretary-General prepared pursuant to Commission resolution 1993/84 (and Addendum). United Nations, Geneva. [6] Institute for Strategic Studies 1997. Military Balance 1997/98. ISS, London.

Recent stories on conscientious objection: Costa Rica

01 Apr 2008

The Ibero-American Convention on Young People's Rights, which entered into force on 1 March 2008, explicitly recognises the right to conscientious objection. Article 12 of the Convention reads: "Young people have the right to form a conscientious objection against compulsory military service." It also includes a commitment of states to create legal instruments to safeguard this right, and to progressively end compulsory military service.