Burma introduces conscription for men and women
The military regime of Burma passed a conscription law on 4 November 2010, introducing conscription for men and women in the country. Already the 2008 Constitution, approved in 2008 in a referendum that opposition parties condemned as "sham", includes a new article allowing for conscription. Article 386 of Chapter VIII of the Constitution, titled "Citizen, Fundamental Rights and Duties of the Citizens" states: "Every citizen has the duty to undergo military training in accord with the provisions of the law and to serve in the Armed Forces to defend the Union."
According to the new law, which will come into force on the day the State Peace and Development Council (the military junta of Burma) enacts it by order, all citizens are eligible for military service: men from 18 to 35 (or to 45 if they are an 'expert'), and women from 18 to 27 (or to 35 for 'experts') (article 2). Military service will usually last up to 24 months, or up to 36 months for conscripts serving in a professional capacity (article 3). During a state of emergency, military service lasts up to five years.
All citizen eligible for military service will be registered by the Ward or village "Peace and Development Council", and will pass on these registrations to the township drafting board.
Exemptions are possible for members of religious orders, housewives or women with children, the disabled, and others deamed permanently unfit for military service (art 22). Postponement of service is possible for students, public servants, those taking care of their helpless aged parents, temporarily medically unfit or undergoing treatment for drug abuse, and those imprisoned (art 15). However, in case of postponement eligibility for service does not end with the usual age, but military service has to be performed independent of age.
Penalties for not showing up for medical examination or not following a call up to military service are up to three years imprisonment, or a fine, or both (art 23).
In violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the law does not include a right to conscientious objection.
It remains to be seen what the conscription law will mean in practice. Even without conscription, the Burmese military has in the past recruited youth by force, including under-age youth. According to Human Rights Watch, Burma has the largest number of child soldiers in the world.
It seems unlikely that conscription will be really universal. Already now, Burma has Armed Forces totalling more than 400,000, and universal conscription would boost this number considerable, and would be a strain on the economy of the country. But if conscription is applied selectively, this might give rise to corruption. The law does not include any mechanism for conscription to be applied selectively - leaving it up to township drafting boards. There are fears that conscription will lead to more corruption, as people are trying to get an exemption from military service.
The Chinland Guardian reported on 13 January 2011 that Salai Bawi Lian Mang, Executive Director of Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) said, "When enforced, this new measure will almost certainly cause an exodus of more youths out of Burma as we have seen in the pre-election period, in which dozens of young people fled to India from Chin State to avoid conscription into the militia forces."
Sources: The Irrawaddy: Conscription in Burma following election? 9 July 2010; Constitution of Burma, September 2008, Public Military Service Law (unofficial translation - the Burmese version is available here), 4 November 2010, Chinland Guardian: Conscription Law Likely to Drive More Youths out of Burma, 13 January 2011; The Irrawaddy: NLD Denounces Conscription Law, 29 January 2011