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Last update: February 2023

Male citizens between the age of 18 and 42 are obliged by law to perform their military service. Career soldiers can be called to service up to the age bracket of 48 to 62, depending on the rank. Registered Palestinians residing in Syria are also subject to conscription and usually serve in the ranks of the SAA-affiliated Palestinian Liberation Army. After completing compulsory military service, former soldiers can be called up for reserve service until 42 years of age [Targeting 2022, 2.1, p. 37; Military service, 2, p. 13]. The age limit is less dependent on the universal draft than on the government’s mobilising efforts and local developments. In January 2021, sources indicated that Syrian authorities focused recruitment on men between the ages of 18 and 30, while older people tended to avoid the recruitment more easily [Military service, 2.1, p. 13, 2.3, p. 15]. A source had noted that the age limit for reserve service can be increased if the person possessed specific qualifications, such as in the case of doctors, tank drivers, air force personnel, artillery specialists and combat equipment engineers. While there were some rare reports of recruitment under and above the legal age, most sources were not aware of such practices [Military service, 2, p. 13].

Conscientious objection

According to Article 46 of the Syrian Constitution of 2012, ‘compulsory military service shall be a sacred duty’ and ‘defending the territorial integrity of the homeland and maintaining the secrets of the state shall be a duty of every citizen’. The right to conscientious objection is not legally recognised and there are no provisions for substitute or alternative service. Only Christian and Muslim religious leaders continued to be exempted from the military based on conscientious objection, although Muslim religious leaders were required to pay an exemption fee. [Targeting 2022, 2.2, p. 14]

Exemptions and deferrals

The law permits exemptions from military service for the categories of individuals described below. However, the process for obtaining an exemption was assessed to include more limitations and more variation on case-by-case basis. In practice, the exemptions are generally implemented, but an increasing level of arbitrariness and corruption has been reported. There are also reports that returnees have been conscripted despite promises that they would be exempted. [Military service, 3, p. 28]

  • Only sons: a family’s only son can be granted deferral from military service for one or more years, which he must renew until he is granted a permanent exemption, i.e. until his mother reaches an age when she is not expected to be able to give birth to another child. In October 2021, there were increasing reports of the conscription of men who were the only sons in a family. [Targeting 2022, 2.6, p. 44; Military service, 3.1, p. 28]
  • Medical cases: there are reports of men who had clearly visible medical conditions and were unfit to perform military service receiving exemptions. However, the medical committee that examines individuals was reportedly quite strict in their assessments. In some cases, men with a certain health condition were nevertheless called up to the army to perform non-field military activities. In January and February 2022, sources noted that it was common for medical exemptions to be ignored and for the person to be required to serve in the military anyway. [Targeting 2022, 2.6, p. 44, Military service, 3.2, p. 29]
  • Students: students can defer their conscription on a yearly basis while they are studying [Targeting 2022, 2.1, p. 37]. Restrictions apply on the age limits allowed to start different levels of education, as well as on the number of study years during which students are permitted to request exemption from military service. As of October 2021, exemptions for students had become increasingly difficult to claim, and students had been drafted on a case-by-case basis [Targeting 2022, 2.6, p. 45; Military service, 3.3, p. 29].
  • Paying an exemption fee: Syrian young men residing abroad, including registered Palestinians from Syria, can be exempted from compulsory military service upon payment of a fee. This does not apply to reservists [Targeting 2022, 2.1, p. 37]. It was reported that many conscripts residing abroad had made use of the option of paying an exemption fee, but the rules change regularly. There were also indications that the procedure for obtaining an exemption took a very long time in practice. The use of exemption fee was often linked with corruption, bribery and discretionary application. While several sources indicated that the payment of an exemption fee would be respected in practice, information remains conflicting [Targeting 2022, 2.6, p. 45; Military service, 3.4, p. 31].


Since the beginning of the conflict until July 2022, the GoS had issued 18 amnesty decrees. In order to benefit from the amnesty, draft evaders or deserters had to turn themselves in within a certain period of time following the issuance of the decree. However, military service would still have to be completed. Most decrees were partial and selective in nature and several exemptions ended up excluding the release of detainees who were arrested for their role in the uprising or for their political position. [Targeting 2022, 2.5, p. 42]

Sources indicated that there were no official data on the scope of the general amnesties and that their implementation was often accompanied by a significant level of corruption and extortion. Other sources also mentioned that there was distrust among the population, because the GoS has repeatedly shown its unreliability by not respecting prior amnesties and reconciliation agreements, e.g. by arresting and detaining Syrians or by sending them directly to military service. [Targeting 2022, 2.5, p. 43]

Reporting on the period between 1 January and 30 June 2022, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (UNCOI) stated that nine men who defected or failed to comply with military service, were detained and subjected to torture and ill-treatment. Among the cases reported were also defectors who returned following an amnesty but were still arrested. [COI Update 2022, p. 8]


According to Law No 35/2011, military service lasts between 18 and 21 months. However, since the outbreak of the conflict, reservists and military personnel have reportedly served for an indefinite period of time. A source from March 2022 pointed out that people with special military skills served longer, while those in socially demanded professions, such as doctors, were more likely to be demobilised at the end of the official duration of military service. It was reported that demobilisation was still very limited in scope. While reservists were demobilised on the one hand, thousands of civilians were called up for reserve service on the other. Over the course of 2021, two administrative orders were issued to discharge certain groups of reservists who had already served a certain number of years. In October 2021, a new demobilisation order was issued, affecting the following categories: officers who have served as reservists for at least two years on 31 December 2021, doctors specialising in the management of medical services who have served as reservists for at least two years on 31 December 2021, and non-commissioned officers and reservists who have served for at least 6.5 years on 31 December 2021. It was noted that the exact number of persons to whom this demobilisation order applied was not known and that the doctors affected by this order needed additional authorisation from their unit to leave the army. [Targeting 2022, 2.3, p. 41]

Regional specifics

In the recaptured territories, men of military age must also perform compulsory military service. Although reconciliation agreements usually gave them a six-month grace period once they had clarified their situation with the security forces (taswiyat al-wada), reports document the arrest, detention and forced conscription of individuals before this grace period expired. Many ‘reconciled’ men, including deserters and draft evaders are said to have joined pro-government forces such as the Russian-led Fifth Corps or the NDF, or other elite forces such as the Fourth Armoured Division. According to the reports, they were subjected to pressure to join these units in order to receive better salaries, to stay in their home regions and not be perceived as opponents of the government. [Military service, 2.3.1, p. 16]

In Sweida governorate, the Druze were protected through an agreement with the government from forced conscription. According to sources, between 30 000 and 50 000 young men evading military service sought refuge in Sweida governorate, most of them not leaving the governorate in fear of conscription. [Targeting 2022, 2.3, p. 40]

The GoS is reportedly not able to recruit conscripts in SDF-controlled areas. Some sources reported that forced recruitment in the SAA is being carried out in GoS-controlled security areas located in Hasaka and Qamishli cities, while others contrarily did not expect that persons entering these security areas would be conscripted. [Targeting 2022, 2.3, p. 40]


All conscripts are potentially at risk of being sent to the areas of active fighting. Deployment reportedly depends on the military situation on the ground and the army’s need for manpower as well as the conscript’s individual qualifications, his background or his experience in fighting. However, there is information that conscripts from reconciled areas are disproportionately often deployed to the front shortly after their enlistment and with minimal combat training as a form of punishment for their disloyalty to the regime. Several sources indicated that reservists are also deployed to the frontlines, although in smaller numbers. [Military service, 2.5.1, p. 24, 2.5.2, p. 25]

Conduct of the Syrian military

The implication of the regime and the associated armed groups in acts which fall under the exclusion provision of Article 12(2)(a) QD and Article 17(1)(a) QD has been noted repeatedly by the UN and other actors. Throughout the conflict, government forces and associated armed groups have used a wide range of tactics to force opposition held areas into surrendering, including sieges, blocking of humanitarian aid, denial of access to food and other basic services, and targeted attacks on medical facilities, schools and local markets. GoS attacks on opposition-held areas have been largely disproportionate, including attacks against protected objects and residential areas. The GoS not only used cluster bombs, which have an indiscriminate effect, but also weapons that have been banned internationally, such as some chemical and incendiary weapons. The Assad regime has been reported to deliberately and repeatedly target civilians in Syria with both conventional and chemical weapons. As of early 2019, reports ranged from 32 to about 330 chemical attacks attributed to the Syrian government. [Security 2020,, p. 15, Annex II, pp. 244-245; Actors, 2.4, p. 38]

Violence, including rape of women, girls and occasionally men, committed by government forces and associated militias during ground operations, raids and in detention, was also reported. [Actors, 2.4, p. 38]

According to recent reports, the GoS forces continued to arbitrarily detain people, with detention leading to torture, ill-treatment, and in some instances to death of detainees [Security 2022, 1.4.1, p. 16]. In the aftermath of the presidential elections in May 2021 and in an attempt to restore its security grip and its influence over the area, the GoS demanded the surrender of ‘light personal weapons’, which the Central Committee of Dar’a rejected, as well as the transfer of wanted individuals. In reaction, on 24 June 2021, the GoS-forces started to blockade roads and supply routes to Dar’a al-Balad, a neighbourhood of Dar’a city, where reconciled opposition groups have been in partial control. The resulting siege of the area, which restricted the supply of food and electricity, lasted for ten weeks while the GoS increased pressure by military shelling  [Security 2022, 2.12.3, p. 210].The UNCOI in its February 2022 report noted that tactics used by pro-GoS forces in the siege on Dar’a and other attacks in the wider region, ‘violated the right to access to food and health care, and freedom of movement, and may amount to collective punishment’. According to the same report, the use of rocket munitions in densely populated areas ‘may amount to the war crime of launching indiscriminate attacks resulting in death or injury to civilians, or damage to civilian objects, including medical facilities’. According to the UNCOI, witnesses and survivors claimed that ‘attacks appeared to be aimed at harming civilians, increasing destruction and displacement and weakening chances for economic recovery or stability in opposition-held areas’ in the north-west of the country [Security 2022, 1.6.1 (d), p. 54]. In March 2022, a siege was put in place by GoS forces around SDF/YPG-controlled neighbourhoods in Aleppo city. The siege lasted for three weeks and prevented the entry of basic necessities such as flour, fuel and medical aid into the affected neighbourhoods [Security 2022, 2.2.3, p. 93]. During the period from 27 July 2022 to 13 August 2022, GoS enforced another blockade on Tafas city in Dar’a governorate [COI Update 2022, 2., p. 3].

Areas such as Idlib city and Ariha town also faced indiscriminate attacks on densely populated civilian areas, resulting in fatalities and the damaging of two schools, residential and commercial buildings. According to the UNCOI, ‘in neither case was there any indication of a military objective in the targeted urban areas’. [Security 2022, 1.6.1, p. 54, 2.1, 2.1.3., p. 73]

Regarding northern Aleppo and the Ras al-Ayn and Tall Abyad regions, the UNCOI described strikes by pro-GoS forces or the SDF on populated areas and noted that these attacks and IED attacks ‘may amount to the war crime of launching indiscriminate attacks resulting in death or injury of civilians’ [Security 2022, 1.6.1, pp. 54-55]. Airstrikes in the ‘Operation Euphrates Shield’ between July and December 2021 were attributed to GoS forces and Russian forces [Security 2022, 2.2.3, p. 87].

There were fewer attacks on medical and emergency rescue personnel and facilities in 2020 and 2021 respectively compared to previous years. However, the deliberate targeting of medical facilities and medical personnel by GoS forces continued through attacks and shelling. [Targeting 2022, 8.1, pp. 80-82]


For further guidance on the qualification of the acts of the GoS forces as excludable in relation to Article 12(2) and Article 17(1) QD, see 8. Exclusion.


See other topics concerning persons who evaded or deserted military service: