Country report and updates: Ethiopia

Last revision: 17 Aug 1998
17 Aug 1998

In 1991 Menghistu's Derg regime was overthrown by the Ethiopian Peoples' Democratic Revolutionary Front (EPDRF), which consisted of several liberation movements, such as the Tigray's People's Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). A Transitional Government was formed, in which all liberation movements participated. The huge Menghistu army was demobilised and from its estimated 500,000 soldiers, nearly 400,000 underwent a re-orientation programme. The EPDRF armed forces were transformed into the national armed forces which were to be proportionally composed of all Ethiopian nations. For this reason 20,000 EPDRF members were demobilised in 1995. [7] [8]

1 Conscription

conscription does not exist

There is no compulsory military service in Ethiopia. [6] [9] [12]

Conscription is not mentioned in the 1995 constitution. [12]


From 1991 onwards new national armed forces have been formed by recruiting new soldiers from all ethnic groups. Enlistment is on a voluntary basis. [10]

According to the Ethiopian Radio, the Ministry of Defence stated in 1996 that the efforts to build a multinational defence had been successful. The armed forces had recruited thousands of youngsters from Oromiya, Amhara and southern states, a multitude of Afar, Gambela and Somali nationals, as well as ex-servicemen and militiamen who were active in the struggle against the Menghistu regime. [11]

2 Conscientious objection

There is no legal provision for conscientious objection. [4]

3 Desertion


Desertion and refusal to perform military service are punishable under the 1957 Penal Code. [2]

Failing to respond to call-up is punishable by 'simple' imprisonment; in time of emergency, general mobilisation or war, it is punishable by up to 10 years' rigorous imprisonment (art. 296). Desertion is punishable by up to 5 years' rigorous imprisonment; in wartime it is punishable by 5 years' to lifelong imprisonment, or, in the gravest cases, by the death sentence (art. 300). [2]


There is no information about desertion cases after 1991.

4 Forced recruitment by armed groups

In the east and west of Oromiya, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) is still active. After the withdrawal of the OLF from the Transitional Government, the OLF rapidly expanded. Allegedly, the OLF has recruited peasants and children by force. For instance, during a surprisal attack the EPDRF captured 22,000 OLF soldiers, of which 40 percent were under-eighteens. They were all demobilised. [7]

There are reports that Oromos from the disbanded Derg army have joined the OLF. [5]

No information is available about present OLF recruitment methods.

There are some other small armed insurgency groups, of which the recruitment methods are unknown. Some are believed to consist of members of the demobilised Derg army. [7]

5 History

According to a report in 1962, Ethiopia had no conscription, but any individual pursuing education was automatically involved in the police and army system. The recruitment methods were rigorous and military discipline was rigidly enforced. [1]

During Menghistu's Derg regime compulsory military service was introduced in 1983 by Proclamation no. 236. All men and women aged 18 to 30 were liable for a six months' military training and a two years' military service, with the obligation to remain in the reserves until the age of 50. [3] [2] [4]

The Derg regime has recruited thousands of soldiers by force. Local communities, such as local militias, factories, offices, farmers associations and urban dwellers associations (kebele) were required to provide a quota of recruits. As more and more conscripts were needed to fight the liberation movements, these local communities tried to present others than members of their own communities for conscription, in order to reach the quota. Thereby all prisoners, all strangers and refugees, and all unaccompanied children were liable to be press-ganged to be recruited into the armed forces. Boys as young as 12 have been recruited. [3] [4] [7]

Recruits have been sent to the war front with very little military training. Most of them stood no chance against the hardened guerrilla fighters and thousands were killed, wounded or captured. Professional units behind the line of conscripts at the war front, shot at them if they tried to flee. From 1974 to 1990, 300,000 soldiers died and in the final phase of the war, from January to May 1991, 230,000 were killed in battle. [3] [5]

People resisting conscription have been arrested and imprisoned. Even arrests of relatives of draft evaders in order to make the evaders report for national service, have occurred. [4]

Following the overthrow of the Derg regime in 1991, conscription was abolished by the then Transitional Government. [12]

6 Annual statistics

The armed forces comprise about 120,000 troops - 0.2 percent of the population. [13]

The OLF is thought to be 20,000 strong. [9]


[1] Prasad, D., T. Smythe 1968. Conscription: a world survey, compulsory military service and resistance to it War Resisters' International, London. [2] Amnesty International Netherlands Section 1988. Ethiopi`: dienstweigering en desertie. AI, Amsterdam. [3] Human Rights Watch/Africa Watch 1990. Ethiopia: Conscription, abuses of human rights during recruitment to the armed forces. Africa Watch/Human Rights Watch, New York. [4] Amnesty International 1991. Conscientious objection to military service. AI, London, UK. [5] Immigration and Naturalisation Service 1993. Ethiopia, Status of Amharas, INS Resource information Center Country Reports. INS, Washington DC. [6] IRBDC 1994. Ethiopia: Information on evasion of military service, 9 September 1994. [7] Alemayehu, Y., & S. Chane (undated, probably 1995). Case study for the Child Soldiers Research Project. Rädda Barnen, Stockholm. [8] Radio Ethiopia, 1 December 1995. 'Over 20,000 soldiers demobilized to make way for new national army'. BBC Summary of World Broadcasts. [9] Office Fédéral des Réfugiés, 1996. Ethiopia: country information sheet, February 1996. ODR, Bern, Switzerland. [10] IRBDC 1996. Telephone interview with an official of the Embassy of Ethiopia in Ottawa, 3 June 1996. [11] Radio Ethiopia, 22 July 1996. 'Thousands trained for new national defence force'. BBC Summary of World Broadcasts. [12] Embassy of Ethiopia in Brussels 1996. Reply to CONCODOC questionnaire, Brussels, 12 December 1996. [13] Institute for Strategic Studies 1997. Military Balance 1997/98. ISS, London, UK.

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