Around the world, conscripts are fighting in grinding wars for regimes they hate

A Buryat Mongol from the Russian Far East is conscripted and dies in Ukraine, thousands of miles away, fighting people he never hated, to support a regime that has kept him a second-class citizen his whole life. In Myanmar, a member of the Shan ethnic minority, which is being slaughtered by the government, is scooped off the street by the Tatmadaw (the army), put in uniform, given a rifle, and sent out to kill other Shan people.

In a survey conducted by an American veterans group, 88 percent of American veterans said they joined the military to serve the nation, while 94 percent said they were proud of their service. Remarkably, 80 percent of post-9/11 veterans served in combat zones. The United States has the third-largest army on the planet and has been all-volunteer for 50 years. However, in other parts of the world, military conscription can be harsh and brutal, often carried out by authoritarian regimes that mistreat their soldiers.

Among the most common abuses are forced recruitment and kidnapping, deployment in dangerous internal conflicts or for non-military purposes, extended service periods beyond initial commitments, hazing, violence, and physical abuse, discrimination based on ethnicity, religion, or political beliefs, denial of the right to conscientious objection, and limited access to education, healthcare, and other basic rights.

The Iranian regime heavily depends on its military and security forces to remain in power. Members of the military, police, and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commit torture and other atrocities against the regime's dissenters. All men between the ages of 18 and 24 must serve between 18 months (military) and 24 months (IRGC), or face a two-year prison term. While Iranian law allows for exemptions on religious or health grounds, conscripts from wealthy families often buy their way out. Conscripts are frequently used for non-military purposes, such as manual labor. The service is brutal, and there has been a recent rash of suicides.

North Korea has perhaps the world's most extreme mandatory service program. All able-bodied citizens between the ages of 18 and 28 (men and women) are required to serve in the military for up to 10 years. The conditions of service are said to be brutal, with forced labor, malnutrition, and physical abuse being commonplace. There have also been reports of North Korea using child soldiers, which is a serious violation of international law.

In Eritrea conscription is enforced without clear guidelines and no definite duration of service. Allegations range from the enlistment of minors to subjecting soldiers to physical maltreatment and exploiting them for compulsory labor. Furthermore, even individuals as old as 50 or 60 are compelled into service, while families of those who resist the draft encounter punitive actions.

While it is disruptive to one's life and development to be forced to serve in the army during peacetime, it is a much larger violation of rights when young people are forced to serve in a war they disagree with, which may compel them to kill their own people or where they could be killed. And this is what is happening in Russia and Myanmar.

In 2022, Vladimir Putin ordered the conscription of over 300,000 young men to fight in his war in Ukraine. In order to fill billets, Russia raised the age for compulsory military service to 30 and the mobilization to 55 for certain job skills. And while all Russian adult males are officially meant to serve, it is generally the poorest people, especially ethnic minorities, who wind up serving. In the Ukraine War, ethnic minorities are being killed at a disproportionate rate compared to ethnic Russians. By some estimates, as many as 120,000 Russians have died in Ukraine. With the war not yet finished, this number will continue to climb, and the percentage of dead conscripts with it.




Join Mercator today for free and get our latest news and analysis

Buck internet censorship and get the news you may not get anywhere else, delivered right to your inbox. It's free and your info is safe with us, we will never share or sell your personal data.

The grinding war in Myanmar

As it faces losses on the battlefield in what has become a full-fledged civil war, the Myanmar government has instituted a strict program of conscription. Young people are being scooped up off the streets and forced to fight in a conflict they disagree with for an illegitimate government that came to power after a coup, ousting the most popular leader in the country’s modern history, Aung San Suu Kyi. Many are fleeing the nation. According to Thaw Reh Est, Secretary Number Two of the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) in exile, fear of conscription is also prompting ethnic young people to run to the jungle and join the resistance.

Many of the Burmese wish to flee the country, and most of the ethnic minorities do not hold passports. So they cannot legally leave the country. Any person between the ages of 18 and 35 who shows up at the passport officewill be arrested and pressed into military service. Even citizens internally displaced (IDP) by the fighting are being forced into the military. In some cases, they are given training in the IDP camp. Thaw Reh Est and other leaders from the minority communities in exile explained that for the ethnic minorities, conscription may require them to work as slaves because the government will not trust them with weapons. The other option is that they will be forced to commit atrocities against ethnic minorities, possibly their own people.

Voting with your feet

Repressive conscription systems are yet another impetus for people to flee an already dire situation. Since 2020, 6,351 North Koreans have risked their lives to find refuge abroad, mostly in South Korea. Since 1990, 150,000 Iranians have fled the country each year. As of last year, 345,000 Eritreans have fled the country specifically because of conscription, from a total population of only 3.7 million people. Between 800,000 and 900,000 Russians have fled their homeland since the Ukraine War began. And in Myanmar, the situation is even worse. There are an estimated 2.7 million Burmese internally displaced. As many as 4 to 5 million have fled the country, with about 70 percent of those taking refuge in Thailand. Since the announcement of mandatory conscription, Thailand has sealed the border in an attempt to prevent more refugees from entering the Kingdom.

How many people are aware of the atrocious conditions behind reports of conscript armies? Forward this fascinating report to a friend. Use the social media buttons on this page. 

Antonio Graceffo, PhD, China-MBA MBA, is a China economic analyst teaching economics at the American University in Mongolia. He has spent 20 years in Asia and is the author of six books about China. His writing has appeared in The Diplomat, South China Morning Post, Jamestown Foundation China Brief, Penthouse, Shanghai Institute of American Studies, Epoch Times, War on the Rocks, Just the News, and Black Belt Magazine.

Image: Bigstock


Showing 2 reactions

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.
  • Marty Hayden
    commented 2024-03-06 00:38:32 +1100
    The United States, for all it’s flaws (and believe me, it has many) is still the beacon on the hill, the light to the world. Don’t believe me? Are any immigrants fighting to get into China or Russia or Iran or any country in Africa? Because people are literally dying to get into the U.S. May God bless the USA.
  • Antonio Graceffo
    published this page in The Latest 2024-03-05 13:23:34 +1100