Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict: Signed (6 Sep 2000). Ratified (1 Feb 2002).
Compulsory recruitment age: 18.
Voluntary recruitment age: 17 (training only).
Duration of compulsory military service: 6 months.
Conscientious objection to military service recognised for conscripts: Yes, since 1955.
Duration of civilian service: 9 months.
Conscientious objection recognised for professional soldiers: No.
Military expenditure: 0.9% of GDP (data 2009).
1) The National Defence Act allowed for voluntary recruitment to the Austrian armed forces at the age of 17 – although the explicit consent of parents or guardians was required. Volunteers under 18 could enter the armed forces for training purposes only, and any deployment overseas of 17-year-olds was prohibited. The Act on Dispatching of Soldiers for Assistance Abroad allowed for voluntary requests for international deployment to be made only at the age of 19.
2) The possibility of voluntary recruitment at the age of 17 includes choosing to serve one's compulsory military service early. Section 9, paragraph 2, of the National Defence Act provides that persons who have attained the age of 17 but not yet 18 may do their military service earlier (a) On the basis of a voluntary application with the explicit consent of their parents or other legal guardians; (b) Following the registration procedure; and (c) After ensuring that volunteers are knowledgeable about their duties as recruits. Volunteers under 18 years are only recruited for the purposes of training. Deployment for under-18-year-old recruits outside Austria is not admissible.
3) Although the Austrian government stated that there were no schools in the country directly operated by the armed forces, the Militaerrealgymnasium, located in Wiener Neustadt, “offers students from age 14 a higher secondary education with a specialization in natural sciences and a military-led boarding school. The school is supervised by the general school authorities in all relevant aspects. The boarding school is governed by internal rules under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Defence.” Although it was not an exclusive aim, preparation for a military career as an officer was certainly one of the institution’s stated purposes. The government stated that the students of the school were not considered to be members of the armed forces, and emphasized that the pursuit of a military career following graduation was not compulsory. In its January 2005 examination of Austria’s initial report on implementation of the Optional Protocol, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child noted that students at the school were referred to as “cadets”. The Committee went on to request the following: “With regard to incentives for recruitment, and in light of the fact that a significant proportion of new recruits in the armed forces come from the cadet forces, the Committee requests the State party, in its next report, to include more detailed information and statistics on its military school and the cadet forces … and on recruitment activities undertaken by the armed forces within the cadet forces.” In its report to the Committee, the government stated that training in international law and the rights of the child was being included in the preparation of Austrian soldiers for overseas missions. Austrian peacekeepers were also given particular instruction relevant to the place of their deployment – as in the case of two armed forces personnel whose preparatory training included specific attention to the issue of child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The curriculum of the Militaerrealgymnasium also included instruction in the basics of international humanitarian law.
4) There is no right to conscientious objection for serving conscripts and professional soldiers. Applications can be made after completion of military service, but in this case the application needs to be made within three years of the first day of military service. After this period, reservists can no longer make a conscientious objection application.
5) The civilian service has punitive duration (50% longer than the military service).
6) In 2000, the government greatly reduced the payment of conscientious objectors. Before 2000, conscientious objectors were paid by the government and received approximately the same payment as conscripts in the armed forces. Now, the salaries of conscientious objectors have to be partially paid for by the employing organisations themselves. The government has set guidelines on appropriate payment, but as these are very low this effectively means that conscientious objectors’ salaries have been cut by half. Austrian conscientious objectors’ groups have lodged several complaints with the Constitutional Court, which has in fact ruled that the new payment regulations are a violation of the constitutional right of free choice between military and civilian service. As the Constitutional Court did not rule which body is to be responsible for increasing conscientious objectors’ salaries, the issue has still not been settled. Consequently, in practice the payment of conscientious objectors remains far below the payment of conscripts in the armed forces.
7) The only absolute exceptions from the obligation to military service are for priests, members of holy orders, theological students training for a career in the ministry, or those who following such studies are engaged in pastoral work or spiritual teaching - provided in all cases that they are members of “recognised religions”. Notwithstanding their well known position of conscientious objection to military service, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, having the status only of a “registered religious community”, do not benefit from the complete exemptions granted to members of recognised churches. Two full-time Jehovah’s Witness ministers, Philemon Löffelmann and Markus Grütl, have lodged Applications at the European Court of Human Rights over this issue.
1) Stop the voluntary recruitment of persons aged under 18.
2) Don’t allow conscripts to choose serving their compulsory military service at the age of 17.
3) Stop military training and abolish military schools for persons aged under 18.
4) Recognise the right to conscientious objection for serving conscripts, all reservists and professional soldiers.
5) Make a civilian service of equal duration to the military one.
6) Give equivalent payment to conscientious objectors as the conscripts’ one.
7) Stop the discrimination between the members of the “registered religious communities” and those of the “recognised religions”.