Conscientious objection in Russia: A first impression after three years of practice

The Russian law on conscientious objection came into force on 1 January 2004, introducing a "right" to conscientious objection which is not in line with international standards, including a substitute service 1.75 times longer than military service [1].

In practice -- leaving the long service time aside -- problems arise mainly from the bureaucratic application procedure. An application for conscientious objection has to be submitted no later than six month before call-up. However, many potential COs are not aware of these deadlines, and the draft boards often give wrong or incomplete information. According to Sergey Krivenko, secretary of the All-Russian NGO Coalition for Democratic Alternative Civilian Service, there are cases of direct misinformation of people by officials of draft boards; knowingly giving wrong or insufficient information, such as that the right to CO only applies to people with religious beliefs. However, most draft boards do not provide information on the right to CO.

Presently there are several cases where an application for conscientious objection was denied because of the missed deadline, and subsequently conscientious objectors were forced to perform military service. This part of the CO law is presently being challenged at the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation. There are also cases where the draft board did not pass on CO applications to the conscription board -- the only body which is empowered to make decisions on CO applications.

Overall, since the law on conscientious objection came into force, about 3,500 people applied for conscientious objection. Presently, there are no statistics available how many applications have been accepted or turned down. However, about one hundred people contacted human rights organisations in Russia to ask for help because of problems with the bureaucracy, and mostly won their right to CO subsequently [2].

Conscientious objection in Russia has to be seen in light of the disastrous situation within the military, and widespread draft avoidance. According to a poll by the independent Levada center, willingness to serve in the Russian military has dropped to less than 40% at the beginning of 2006 [3]. However, for most young people draft avoidance -- by means of "buying" medical exemptions or deferments of military service -- is the method of choice, and not the legally provided form of conscientious objection. This means that CO numbers do not reflect the widespread discontent with the Russian military.

Andreas Speck


[1] For a more detailed criticism of Russia's law on conscientious objection, see War Resisters' International: The Russian Federation: Human Rights and the Armed Forces; report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, September 2003, /news/2003/un0309ru.htm [2] Information provided by Sergey Krivenko, email to WRI, 19 October 2006 [3] A-Infos, 7 March 2006

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