Conscription has existed ever since the foundation of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1976. Previously, conscription applied in both North and South Vietnam.
Conscription is enshrined in arts. 44 and 77 of the 1992 Constitution. According to art. 44: "It is the duty of the entire people to defend the socialist Vietnamese fatherland and firmly maintain national security."; according to art. 77: "Defending the fatherland is the citizens' sacred duty and noble right. Citizens are dutybound to perform their military service and participate in building the all-people national defence."
The present legal basis of conscription is the 1981 Law on Military Service, and the 1990 Law on Amendments and Supplement to the Law on Military Service. 
The armed forces have been reduced significantly following the end of the war with in Cambodia in 1989, from about 1,2 million troops in the late 1980s to about 500,000 by 1997. Abolition of conscription is not foreseen.
Military service is performed in the Vietnamese People's Liberation Army (PLA). There are several local paramilitary forces as well, such as the People's Self-Defence Force (urban units) and the People's Militia (rural units). These forces serve as a reserve force for the PLA and conscripts may perform their reserve service in them. Further recruitment policies for these paramilitary forces are not known. 
Reserve paramilitary forces have become a more important element in Vietnam's defence strategy in recent years. This reflects the government's changing perception of the national security threat faced by Vietnam since the end of the war with Cambodia in 1989, towards low level and border conflicts. Moreover, expanding paramilitary forces is cheaper than maintaining the standing army at its former level. 
In 1996 a new military reservist law was passed, dealing with developing and mobilizing the reserve forces. 
All men between the ages of 18 and 27 are liable for military service.
Women with special qualifications and skills, while not liable to conscription, must register with the reserve forces and may be called up for training. They can register for military service only if they belong to the Ho Chi Minh Youth League.  
The length of military service is two years, and three years in the case of officers and those with special skills.  
The length of service was reduced from three years in 1990 to match the reduction of the armed forces and in an attempt to make military service more popular. (see: draft evasion and desertion).  
Reservist obligations apply until the age of 45 in the case of men, and until the age of 40 in the case of women. Reserve service may be performed in the above-mentioned paramilitary forces. 
postponement and exemption
Exemption is possible for medical reasons, domestic reasons and in the case of convicted criminals.
The grounds for granting exemption were expanded by the 1990 Law on Amendments and Supplements to the Law on Military Service. 
Call-up takes for military service takes place annually.
The Ministry of Defence sets quotas for each province; the provincial authorities set draft targets for districts and village military councils are responsible for reaching these targets. Such councils usually consist of local people's committee representatives, the military unit, the public security body and public health teams. The military council prepares a roster of all 17-year-olds and of all those aged 18 to 27, who have never before been called up. The military council and the local people's committee decide who is to be called up and who is entitled to exemption or deferment. Then this revised list is posted up in public. The district military draft council sends each eligible person on this list for medical examination, held in each village. The names of those who pass this examination go to the district council, which then sets quotas for each village. PLA 'troop receiving units' proceed to each village and select recruits from among those eligible. 
(note: This description of recruitment dates from 1987, so may now be out of date.)
It was reported in 1995 that the high desertion rate has persuaded the authorities to intensify its recruitment efforts. It is not clear what these efforts entailed. 
In order to meet the recruitment targets, men with criminal records, who should have been exempt from service, have apparently been called up. 
2 Conscientious objection
The right to conscientious objection is not legally recognized and there are no provisions for substitute service.  
3 Draft evasion and desertion
Under art. 69 of the Law on Military Service, as amended in 1990, draft evasion and desertion are punishable by disciplinary and administrative measures. 
Draft evasion and desertion are further punishable under the 1986 Criminal Code. According to art. 206:
"1. The penalty for anyone who is of military age but fails to fully comply with regulations on registering for the military draft, fails to comply with an induction order or fails to comply with an order to report for training, and has been the subject of administrative action but continues to commit the same violation, is from three months' to two years' imprisonment.
2. The penalty for this crime in one of the following cases is from a year to five years' imprisonment:
a) If it involves self-inflicted injury or self-inflicted harm to one's health b) If it is committed during time of war c) If another person is drawn into committing the same crime."
Draft evasion in aggravating circumstances is punishable by five to 10 years' imprisonment (arts. 259 and 260). 
Surrender to the enemy and unwarranted desertion from a unit during combat situation is punishable by death. (art. 256) 
Desertion and draft evasion are widespread. The end of the war with Cambodia in 1989, a major cause of draft evasion and desertion in the 1980s, does not seem to have led to a decrease of draft evasion. Reasons include the poor conditions in the armed forces; the policy of economic liberalisation has meant that an army career no longer necessarily seems a means of upward social mobility. 
Figures on the number of young men evading military service are not available, but draft evasion is believed to happen more in the south than in the north of the country. 
Desertion rates seem to have fallen in the 1990s, although just how reliable the figures are is debatable. In 1990 up to 34 per cent of troops were reported to be deserting before the end of military service; in 1992 the desertion rate was said to be 10 per cent; in 1995 between three and five per cent. 
Because of the recruitment quota system a typical draft evasion device is supplying a substitute person known to be in bad health, who would thus be exempted for medical reasons. Another way of evading military service is by simply not turning up for the medical examination, assuming there is no outcome thanks to the faltering bureaucracy. 
It is not clear how far draft evasion and desertion are in practice monitored and penalized. Different sources reach different conclusions on the extent to which monitoring and punishment of draft evasion and desertion occur.
Amnesty International thinks desertion may be considered a political crime as the criminal code specifies re-education as a penalty for desertion, and re-education is usually connected with political crimes. 
Another source suggests that desertion does not carry the same stigma in Vietnam as it does in Western Europe and that the reasons for desertion would be borne in mind when a sentence is passed. 
In the 1980s certain draft evaders and deserters seem to have been sentenced to re-education or to labour- and construction work in remote areas and in Laos.  
The end of war with Cambodia in 1989 meant a considerable mitigation of the possible penalties for draft evasion and desertion as peacetime regulations became applicable - the state of war was officially abolished in 1989.
After the unification of South and North Vietnam in 1976 thousands of people fled from Vietnam, many of them being draft evaders and deserters. In the Memoranda of Understanding that were signed between the Vietnamese government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, provisions were made about not persecuting those who returned for military crimes. There are no known cases of returned refugees having been punished for draft evasion or desertion, although it must be noted that reliable information on such matters is hard to obtain from Vietnam. 
6 Annual statistics
The armed forces are 492,000-strong, that is, 0.64 percent of the population. 
Every year approximately 770,000 men reach conscription age. 
The reserve forces, including the People's Self-Defence Force and the People's Militia, are some 4-5,000,000 strong. 
 Weggel, Oskar 1995. 'Die VVA zwischen Volkskriegsnostalgie und Wirtschaftswundererwartungen', in: Südostasien Aktuell, September 1995, Institut für Asienkunde, Hamburg.  UN Commission on Human Rights 1997. The question of conscientious objection to military service, report of the Secretary-General prepared pursuant to Commission resolution 1995/83. United Nations, Geneva.  Amnesty International (German section) 1996. Letter to Verwaltungsgericht Greifswald 4 September 1996. AI, Bonn.  Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs 1992. Ambtsbericht, 22 January 1992. BuiZa, 's-Gravenhage.  DIRB, 21 April 1995.  DIRB, 17 March 1995.  'Military reservist law promulgated at news conference', Voice of Vietnam, Hanoi, 12 September 1996.  Indochina issues 1987. Indochina Issues no.72, January 1987. Center for International Policy, Washington.  Amnesty International 1991. Conscientious objection to military service. AI, London.  Thayer, Carlyle A. 1995. Beyond Indochina. Adelphi Paper Nr. 297, Oxford University Press.  US Library of Congress 1987. Vietnam - a country study. Area Handbooks, State Department, Washington DC.  Institute for Strategic Studies 1997. Military Balance 1997/98. ISS, London.
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