Zivildienst is a means for conscripted persons who are conscientious objectors to fulfill their national service as an alternative non-military service, typically in the fields of social work (e.g. hospitals, retirement homes, emergency medical services) and, although rarely, environmental protection, agriculture, and public administration. As such, it is exempt from the general ban of forced labor by the European Convention on Human Rights.
The word itself is German, translated verbatim to "Civilian Service", although "compulsory community service" is more contextually equivalent. However, the official translation in German is "alternative civilian service" as the civilian branch of the national service systems in Austria and Switzerland. Until peacetime conscription was suspended in 2011, Zivildienst was also the alternative to military service in Germany.
Zivildienst in Austria
In Austria, the Zivildienst is provided as an alternative for conscientious objectors to the draft for military service. It is served for nine months, three months longer than the military service. Participants can choose one of several organisations (mainly NGOs) at which to serve. Most popular choices for compulsory service personnel are working for the ambulance services (usually transporting non-emergency patients to and from hospital) and nursing homes. Other options include serving at hospitals, charity organizations, or in several ministries.
Until 1975, there was no alternative to the compulsory military service in Austria. In order to discourage people from substituting compulsory community service for military service, the Austrian People's Party introduced a committee which met with every man who wanted to do compulsory community service. The only accepted reason for avoiding military service was pacifism, and one had to thoroughly and rationally explain their pacifism. Immaturity or naïveté could be reasons for declining the application and potential candidates' criminal records had to be impeccable. Candidates completing the civilian service were then barred entry to the police force, as this would contradict one's claims of being a pacifist. The committee was disbanded in 1991. From 1991, Zivildienst personnel were prohibited from owning any weapon for 20 years after completing their service – though this ban does not extend to individuals barred from military service on medical or psychological reasons, though in the latter case, other laws may apply and a ban may be imposed.
Zivildienst in Switzerland
Abolished Zivildienst in Germany
On 10 October 1973, the Federal Office for Alternative Civilian Service (German: Bundesamt für den Zivildienst ) started its service and became responsible for the petitions, the recognized objectors, and the accreditation of the institutions (and more) by law (mainly Zivildienstgesetz). In order to become recognized as an objector, drafted persons had to file a petition along with an essay describing their reasons. The "recognized objector" (German: anerkannter Kriegsdienstverweigerer) could then either negotiate for an accredited service institution, or be assigned to an institution. The Zivildienst was the most common alternative service to conscription in the German armed forces before conscription was suspended for peacetime in 2011.