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Article Latvia: New Law Introduces Compulsory Military Service Starting in January 2024

On April 19, 2023, Law No. 75 on the State Defense Service entered into force in the Republic of Latvia. This law, which was signed by Latvian President Egils Levits on April 18, 2023, introduces compulsory military service, regulates the process of national conscription for males, and establishes the rules for voluntary service by female Latvian nationals.

Under this law, military service becomes mandatory for male citizens from January 1, 2024. (Law No. 75, Transitional Provisions, para 4.)

The new legislation reinstates compulsory military service in the country, which had been abolished in 2006. The Latvian leadership advocated for its reintroduction, claiming that because of the war in Ukraine, “the new geopolitical situation … requires a larger number of people who, if necessary, can participate in the defense of their country.”

According to the Latvian minister of defense, Inara Murniece, the adoption of the Law on State Defense Service is “[t]he Latvian response to new regional security challenges, and is aimed at strengthening all defense capabilities and developing comprehensive national defense service.”

The law provides for two categories of service — military service and alternative (civil) service — prescribing the rules and procedures for performing these obligations.

Overview of the Law

Under the newly adopted law, male citizens ages 18 to 27 born after January 1, 2004, are subject to conscription. (Art. 2, paras. 2–3; Transitional Provisions, para. 2.)

The law stipulates that draftees can fulfil their national defense military service through the following options:

  • 11 months of active service in the regular National Armed Forces or National Guard.
  • Five years in the National Guard Reserve involving service tasks for a minimum of 21 days of individual training and a maximum of seven days of collective training each year.
  • Completing within five years a reserve officer program for university and college students in a military educational institution and a unit in the National Armed Forces involving at least 180 days of training and service assignments. (Art. 3, para. 1(1)–(3).)

Conscripts who have not been drafted within one year after reaching 18 years of age or within one year of graduating from school are to be removed from the conscription list and placed in the National Armed Forces Reserves. (Art. 4, para. 5; art. 14, para. 3.)

The law requires that the minister of defense issue conscription orders six months before the actual service starts. (Art. 4, para. 1.)

The Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Latvia are obliged to determine the conditions and procedures for the selection process for the National Armed Forces, create the curriculum for acquiring theoretical and practical knowledge and skills during military service, and establish the Commission for the Control of Conscription of the State Defense Service, half of whose members are to be persons who are not employed by the National Armed Forces or the Ministry of Defense and its subordinate institutions. (Art. 3, para. 5; art. 5, para. 1.)

Furthermore, the law provides that not all male citizens ages 18 to 27 are subject to compulsory military service. Article 8 of the law enumerates exemptions, which, among others, include individuals whose health status does not comply with service requirements; those who have served in professional military service for not less than 11 months or in a foreign military service; sole guardians of children or sole caretakers of dependents; parents or custodians of children with disabilities; persons with special service status in the institutions of the Interior Ministry or penitentiary system; and individuals who have been convicted of a serious or particularly serious crime, regardless of the crime’s expungement or removal from their criminal record. (Art. 8, paras. 1–10.)

The law also allows an alternative 11-month service term in one of the institutions within the Ministry of Defense system for those conscripts who, for religious, ideological, or other reasons, cannot perform regular military duties. (Art. 3, para. 2; art. 20.)

Failure to comply with state military service obligations will be prosecuted in accordance with legislation of the Republic of Latvia. (Art. 15.)  Under article 282(2) of the Latvian Criminal Code, the punishment for draft evasion could be a fine, community service, or imprisonment for up to one year.

Conscripts serving in the state defense service and performers of alternative service are entitled to receive remuneration. The law stipulates that those who have applied for military service voluntarily are to receive a greater amount of compensation. (Art. 28, para. 1.) In addition, women ages 18 to 27 may voluntarily apply for the state defense military service. (Art. 2, para. 4.)

The Ministry of Defense reported that 488 Latvians, including 11 women, voluntarily signed up for the state defense service in May 2023. The application and evaluation processes for women and men are identical and do not distinguish between them. The Center for European Policy Analysis reports that Latvia has “comparatively good female representation within the Latvian National Armed Forces.” At present, women make up 16.5% of the army’s 6,700 military personnel.

Iana Fremer, Law Library of Congress
October 5, 2023

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