Each year, hundreds of young men in Moscow and St. Petersburg are detained and forcibly conscripted into the Russian armed forces, Human Rights Watch said in a new report today.
The twenty-page report, entitled "Conscription through Detention in the Russian Armed Forces," examines the discriminatory treatment of young men who have not been successfully served with draft summonses and are forcibly brought to recruitment offices by police officials. They are given no effective opportunity to challenge their conscription, although Russian law gives draftees that right.
"Draft boards view these men as though they had been convicted of draft evasion, but in fact they're not charged with any crime," said Elizabeth Andersen, executive director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch. "The Russian government has a right to enforce the legal obligation for young men to perform military service, but should still uphold the principle of non-discrimination and due process standards."
Military officials send these conscripts to their assigned military units the very day they are detained, preventing contact with their families or advocacy groups who would help them appeal a conscription order. The report found that this practice effectively denies young men the right, under Russian law, to appeal their conscription.
Using accelerated conscription procedures, draft boards deny those detained for conscription a thorough medical examination and the benefit of medical or other exemptions and deferrals that are clearly provided for in Russian law.
In several of the cases researched by Human Rights Watch, the arbitrary proceedings resulted in young men with valid deferral or exemption grounds being drafted into the armed forces. For example, in May 2002 police detained "Stepan O." (a pseudonym) and brought him to the local recruitment office. There, the draft board quickly issued a conscription order, despite the fact that Stepan O. told them he was studying at a Moscow university. He was sent to a military base that same evening. After intervention by the Union of Committees of Soldiers' Mothers of Russia, the Moscow city procuracy recognized Stepan O. had been unlawfully drafted and he was finally released from service.
The Russian armed forces' reputation for serious human rights abuses motivates many young men to try actively to avoid the draft. Often, they do so by avoiding being served draft summonses, which under law must be physically handed to them for signature. As a result, each year military authorities in Moscow and St. Petersburg have difficulties meeting their draft quotas.
Human Rights Watch called on the Russian authorities to adopt legislation to ensure every potential conscript has the opportunity to appeal the conscription order in court. It recommended that such legislation introduce a minimum time period between receiving a conscription order and the day of departure to a military base. Human Rights Watch also urged the Russian government to address the widespread abuses in the armed forces that make so many young men anxious to avoid military service.