Skip to main content

In an act of civil disobedience, student activist and conscientious objector Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal went to a military conscription centre in Samut Prakan’s Bang Pu District and announced that he will not participate in the conscription process.

Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal (centre) holding a piece of paper saying "End military conscription" during his protest at the Bang Pu Subdistrict Municipal Office.

On Friday morning (5 April), Netiwiti arrived at the Bang Pu Subdistrict Municipal Office, which is being used as a conscription centre, with two other students. He then read out a statement saying that he will not be reporting for the draft in protest at compulsory military conscription in Thailand, which he said is a violation of human rights and personal moral beliefs. It is outdated, ineffective, and undermines democracy. Not only does it not promote equality, it also enforces a system of oppression, he said.

“All Thai citizens should have the equal freedom to choose whether or not to participate in military conscription. No one should be coerced or forced, as it is not beneficial to individuals or the nation,” he said.

Netiwit said that although he could have found ways to avoid being drafted, it is necessary to directly confront the issue for the improvement of civil rights and freedom. By presenting himself and protesting publicly, he said he is showing that he has never intended to evade the draft or flee. He is aware of the legal consequences of his action and is willing to face them.

Netiwit added that compulsory military conscription shows how the military is incapable of attracting people to voluntary enlistment. He said that protesting conscription does not mean that he is against having an army, noting that a discussion in parliament could lead to a solution regarding the necessity and size of the military.

The 27-year-old activist will graduate from Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Political Sciences in May. He is an education reform activist and has also worked with communities surrounding Chulalongkorn University facing eviction and rising rent prices.

Netiwit has been vocal about his objection to compulsory military conscription. On his 18th birthday, he published a declaration saying that he is a conscientious objector and will not participate in military conscription, which he said is obsolete, and asking why supporters of peace and nonviolent action cannot reject conscription.

All Thai men over 21 years of age who have not completed reserve officer training are required by law to participate in the draft, either voluntarily or by participating in a lottery, unless they do not meet the physical and mental health standards. Rear Admiral Thanitpong Sirisawetsak, spokesperson of the Ministry of Defence, said that the military is aiming to draft 85,000 people in 2024. With 15,000 people already voluntarily enlisted online and 5000 conscripts applying to extend their service, Rear Admiral Thanitpong said he expects around 25,000 people to volunteer at recruitment centres and 40,000 others to be drafted by lottery.

Reports of conscripts being subjected to abuse or employed as servants in senior officers’ households, and of deaths during military service have sparked a movement to end compulsory military conscription in Thailand. During the 2023 election campaigns, both the Move Forward Party and Pheu Thai Party proposed to end compulsory conscription and make enlistment voluntary.

The Move Forward Party has proposed a bill to end military conscription. However, it was deemed a finance-related bill and is now waiting for approval from the Prime Minister. The party therefore submitted an alternative non-finance bill to parliament proposing amendments to the 1954 Military Service Act to prohibit the military from drafting non-volunteers outside of wartime.

Declaration Against Military Draft

"I declare my stance, since after the coup d'état in 2014, that when the time comes for military conscription, I will not participate. This decision is based on the belief that coercing citizens who are not willing to serve in the military violates human rights principles, personal moral beliefs, is outdated, ineffective, and contributes to undermining democracy in Thailand. Ten years have passed, and I reaffirm my original position.

Military conscription does not promote equality among citizens but rather enforces a system of varying degrees of oppression. I understand and empathize with many who wish to avoid conscription by seeking education abroad, becoming monks, or finding other exemptions. However, many cannot avoid it and must serve involuntarily.

All Thai citizens should have the equal freedom to choose whether or not to participate in military conscription. No one should be coerced or forced, as it is not beneficial to individuals or the nation.

I could find ways to avoid it like others have done, and I respect their decisions, but publicly refusing to participate may confront the issue head-on, which might be necessary for the improvement of citizens' freedoms and to ensure a military that respects human rights in this modern era.

Therefore, I declare my act of civil disobedience by not participating in military conscription. I am aware of the legal consequences and apprehensive, but if the results I face lead to a better quality of life for other Thai citizens, I am willing to proceed towards a fairer process.

I have come to present myself for this selection process to reaffirm my stance over the past decade and to clearly demonstrate that I have not evaded or fled, nor have I ever considered doing so."

5 April 2024

Prachatai English's Logo

Prachatai English is an independent, non-profit news outlet committed to covering underreported issues in Thailand, especially about democratization and human rights, despite pressure from the authorities. Your support will ensure that we stay a professional media source and be able to meet the challenges and deliver in-depth reporting.

• Simple steps to support Prachatai English

1. Bank transfer to account “โครงการหนังสือพิมพ์อินเทอร์เน็ต ประชาไท” or “Prachatai Online Newspaper” 091-0-21689-4, Krungthai Bank

2. Or, Transfer money via Paypal, to e-mail address: [email protected], please leave a comment on the transaction as “For Prachatai English”