Ukraine: Tougher recruitment, but no right to conscientious objection

logos of Connection e.V. and the German Peace Society – United War Resisters (DFG-VK)
Connection e.V. and the German Peace Society – United War Resisters (DFG-VK)

Connection e.V. and DFG-VK concerned about draft law

Yesterday, the Ukrainian parliament passed a draft amendment to the law on military service in its first reading that will change recruitment practices in the country. Connection e.V. and the German Peace Society – United War Resisters (DFG-VK) opposes this tightening and call on the Ukrainian government and the European Union to ensure the protection of conscientious objectors.

"Conscientious objection to military service is a human right," explains Rudi Friedrich from Connection e.V. "The European Court of Human Rights has established this in a landmark ruling. Ukraine is not abiding by it, sending conscientious objectors to the front or subjecting them to long prison sentences. This is unacceptable."

"All those who refuse to go to war must be granted protection – from Ukraine and from Russia," added the political director of the DFG-VK, Michael Schulze von Glaßer: "Germany must not deport any refugees who are threatened with forced recruitment"

The amendment to the law is intended to introduce a comprehensive reporting obligation in the military register, which also applies to women in medical professions. An electronic database is to make it possible to send binding conscription and draft notices online to access data of Ukrainians living abroad. At the same time, conscripts who do not comply with summonses to military service are threatened with the withdrawal of their driving license and the freezing of their bank accounts.

The Ukrainian parliament’s human rights commissioner, Dmytro Lubinets, had criticized the draft in advance, partly because it did not provide for the right to an alternative service. He later withdrew this criticism. "The pressure from the military is enormous," said Yurii Sheliazhenko from the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement. The group campaigns for the human right to conscientious objection to military service in Ukraine.

As the right to conscientious objection has been suspended, conscientious objectors have been sentenced to several years in prison since the beginning of the war, sometimes on probation. In some cases, conscientious objectors have been sent to war zones without trial. Yurii Sheliazhenko from the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement explains in a detailed statement: "Our research has revealed eight recent sentences punishing conscientious objectors, denying the right of access to alternative service."

Conscientious objectors are generally prosecuted as draft evaders under Art. 336 of the Criminal Code for evading conscription during mobilization. This can be sanctioned with a prison sentence of three to five years, which can be suspended on probation. The consequence of probation is that the prison sentence must be served in the event of a renewed call-up and refusal.

The Ukrainian Pacifist Movement points out that the number of criminal proceedings for draft evasion, AWOL, and desertion in Ukraine increased significantly between 2022 and 2023. Between January and September 2023, almost 19,000 criminal proceedings were conducted for military offenses.

According to estimates by Connection e.V., there are over 325,000 Ukrainians in the European Union who are liable for military service, around 100,000 of whom are in Germany. They are granted temporary humanitarian residence until March 4, 2025, through the application of the Temporary Protection Directive. It is still unclear whether Ukrainian refugees will have to return afterwards. If this is the case, conscripts would face recruitment or prosecution.

"Many Ukrainians are already turning to Connection e.V.," says Rudi Friedrich, "to find out how they can avoid recruitment and prosecution. They are worried about the Ukrainian government’s demands to extradite them. We must empathize that there is no legal basis for these demands. Extradition for military offenses is forbidden under the European Convention on Extradition."

"No one should be forced," warns Michael Schulze von Glaßer, "to pick up a weapon and kill other people – and no one should be forced to expose themselves to the deadly dangers at the front."

According to Connection e.V. and the DFG-VK, the human right to conscientious objection is an inalienable human right that applies to all people, even during war. "Ukraine must be measured against this," adds Schulze von Glaßer. "We strongly condemn demands from German politicians to respond to Ukraine’s demands and, for example, to cut citizens’ benefits. They must not be treated worse than other refugees. Rather, given the situation of conscientious objectors from Ukraine, it is necessary to grant them permanent protection."

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