Country report and updates: Nicaragua

Last revision: 30 Apr 1998
30 Apr 1998

1 Conscription

conscription does not exist

Conscription was abolished in 1990. In that year the civil war with the contras came to an end with the signing of the peace accords. The new government abolished military service immediately after winning the 1990 elections.

There is no current legislation providing for conscription. The Patriotic Military Service Law was legally abolished by a law passed by the National Assembly in December 1990 (Ley que deroga la Ley del Servicio Militar Patri--tico). [8]

Re-introduction of conscription is not to be expected. The priority of the authorities is to reduce the armed forces rather than recruit more members - the armed forces have been reduced from 97,000 troops in the 1980s to 17,000 in 1997.

In the early 1990s there were some rumors about government plans to re-introduce military service, which caused considerable public debate. In February 1993 these rumors were publicly denied by President Chamorro and the military. [11]


Voluntary enlistment usually supplies the requisite number of recruits. Armed forces recruits are apt to be Sandinistas sympathizers. [1] [5]

2 Conscientious objection

There is no known legal provision for conscientious objection.

3 Desertion

No information available.

5 History

Before 1979, under the Somoza dictatorship, conscription was provided for in the constitution but not implemented in practice. Traditionally Somoza's National Guard was an elite force whose membership often passed from father to son. [2] [4]

In the late 1970s the Somoza government began to use forced recruitment and press ganging young men in order to replace deserters and casualties. Young people in particular got recruited. According to one report 40 percent of the National Guard recruits were recruited when they were under 15. [7]

In the late 1970s all young people were suspected of sympathizing with the Sandinista opposition and repression was severe. In some areas the National Guard searched every house for teenage boys, took them outside and shot them, presumably to prevent their joining the FSLN (Frente Sandinista de Liberaci--n Nacional - Sandinist National Liberation Front). [4]

Suspicion of young people even led to the modification of certain laws such as the Tutelary Law on minors, which initially set 18 as the age up to which minors should be protected. As young people aged between 14 and 18 were those who took most part in the Sandinista opposition and were most often accused and persecuted, the age limit was changed to 15. Thus all those over 15 could be persecuted. [7]

In 1979 the Somoza dictatorship was overthrown by the FSLN.

During the guerrilla war against the Somoza government the FSLN did not run short of voluntary recruits. While in government the FSLN initially depended on voluntary enlistment to build up the army. However the FSLN program included both the eventual abolition of the national army, and plans for "obligatory service" to fill the ranks of "people's militias" to protect the country from "reactionary forces... and from Yankee imperialism". This provision went unnoticed for some time as voluntary enlistment achieved the requisite number of recruits; moreover at first the contras did not constitute a major military threat. [4]

Conscription was introduced in 1983 by the FSLN government because the threat of contra attacks from Honduras was becoming too grave to be dealt with by a volunteer army, which meant compulsory military service needed to be introduced. In 1983 the Patriotic Military Service Law was passed, making all men between aged 18 to 40 liable for two years' military service. Failure to register for military service or to respond to call-up was punishable by up to four years' imprisonment. The law established militia reserve forces, aiming ultimately to achieve a citizenry capable of defending itself militarily. The government initially announced that of the 250,000 young men aged 18 to 25 who were to register, only 15,000 ("the most loyal and faithful to the revolution") would be drafted. But actually the armed forces made much greater efforts to recruit, given the increasing number of contra attacks. Military service was very unpopular and there was considerable draft evasion and desertion. Thousands of young men fled from Nicaragua in order to evade the draft. [3] [4]

The right to conscientious objection was not legally recognized. There were unofficial arrangements whereby protestant conscientious objectors could apply for exemption via CEPAD, an oecumenical organisation that had been in touch with the government about the matter. Apparently there also was an informal understanding that Catholic ministers and members of traditional 'peace churches' such as Mennonites, were not called up for military service. However there were some known cases of conscientious objectors who were imprisoned. [4] [9] [10]

An initial draft of the 1983 Patriotic Military Service Law was said to have included provisions on substitute service, thanks to the influence of Protestant officials. The government abridged these provisions in the final version of the law. This was said to have been in angry response to a statement by the Catholic bishops' conference, condemning the introduction of conscription, since in their view, the Sandinista revolution was itself illegitimate and totalitarian. [4]

During the civil war in the 1980s forced recruitment by the contras was the norm. So-called 'contra kidnapping' took place not only on Nicaraguan soil but in refugee camps in Honduras as well. [4]

6 Annual statistics

The armed forces are 17,000 strong - 0.38 percent of the population. [12]


[1] SERPAJ-Nicaragua 1997. Response to CONCODOC enquiry, November 1997 [2] Prasad, D., T. Smythe 1968. Conscription: a world survey, compulsory military service and resistance to it. War Resisters' International, London. [3] Amnesty International 1988. Conscientious objection to military service. AI, London. [4] Lindsey-Poland, John 1988. 'Be Young. Conscription and Resistance in Central America', in: Fellowship, June 1988. IFOR, Alkmaar, Netherlands. [5] Maldonado, Carlos 1997. 'Entwicklung von Wehrdienst und Kriegsdienstverweigerung in Lateinamerika', in: KDV im Krieg, 5/1997. Connection e.V., Offenbach. [6] US Library of Congress 1993. Nicaragua - a country study. Area Handbooks, State Department, Washington DC. [7] González Garcia, Noel (et al) 1996. Report on Child Soldiers, Members of the National Guard between 1977 - 1979. Case study for the UN study on the impact of armed conflict on children. [8] DIRB, 20 February 1991 [9] DIRB, 5 September 1989 [10] DIRB, 26 July 1990 [11] DIRB, 29 March 1994 [12] Institute for Strategic Studies 1997. Military Balance 1997/98. ISS, London.