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Each year, hundreds of young men in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and several other large cities are detained and sent, often the same day, to military bases. Because military officials have been unable to serve them with draft summonses, they consider these young men potential draft dodgers and put their names on lists that they turn over to the police. Police then detain and forcibly take them to the military recruitment office. Once there, officials quickly process the men, by-passing established conscription procedures and often refusing to consider legitimate grounds for deferral or exemption from military service. The draft board almost always issues a conscription order and then typically denies the conscript any opportunity to inform his family of his whereabouts and imminent departure, or to exercise his right to appeal the conscription order. Instead, the majority are sent immediately to military bases, where they often face violent hazing, systematic malnutrition and inadequate medical care, and other human rights abuses that are endemic to the Russian military.1

Young men in Russia have a duty under law to perform military service. Under international law, conscription is viewed as an exercise of a state's sovereignty, and no provisions of international human rights law prohibit it. The Russian armed forces' reputation for serious 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.2 Military officials justify detention for the purpose of conscription as a legitimate method of dealing with this problem.

The practice of conscription through detention makes headlines in the Russian media each year during conscription periods because of the dramatic sight of hundreds of young men being carted off to military bases without as much as a phone call home. It has been one of many factors generating resentment among the Russian public toward compulsory military service and contributing to public debate on reform of the conscription system and the possible introduction of a professional army.

This report does not take a position on this important debate but addresses the legal rights of men detained for conscription. It examines the discriminatory treatment they receive at draft boards, which prejudicially view them as though they had been convicted of draft evasion. The accelerated conscription procedure denies potential conscripts a thorough medical examination and the benefit of medical or other exemptions and deferrals that are clearly provided for in the law. By sending conscripts to their assigned military units the very day they are detained and preventing them from having contact with their families or advocacy groups, officials also effectively deny them their right, under Russian law, to appeal the conscription. Moreover, Russian law does not specifically authorize police to detain young men who have not been successfully served with a draft summons, thereby raising a more general concern that such detentions may be arbitrary.

To research this report, Human Rights Watch interviewed fourteen young men detained for conscription in Moscow and St. Petersburg between 2000 and 2002; they had either fled from recruitment offices or military bases, or were later decommissioned for health reasons. Human Rights Watch researchers also analyzed more than fifty complaints about conscription through detention sent throughout the last two years to the Union of Committees of Soldiers' Mothers of Russia in Moscow and the Soldiers' Mothers of St. Petersburg.

Human Rights Watch calls on the Russian government to take steps to end the violations that occur as a result of the practice of conscription through detention. First and foremost, the Russian government should address the widespread abuses in the armed forces that make so many young men anxious to avoid military service. Russia may decide that the introduction of a professional army is the most appropriate way to address this problem. In the meantime, the Russian government and legislature should take the following steps:

    · Abolish the "accelerated" conscription procedure. Russian law on conscription does not provide for an alternative procedure for potential draft dodgers but establishes one procedure applicable to all Russian men of conscription age. The Ministry of Defense should take steps to end the use of the accelerated conscription procedure with respect to perceived draft dodgers. It should carefully monitor the conscription process to ensure that existing legal provisions are fully observed in all cases.

    · Instruct police officials not to detain, but to physically serve potential conscripts with their draft summonses, obtain their signature, and inform them of the consequences of failure to appear at conscription proceedings. The State Duma and government should introduce this interpretation in the text of the law and regulation on military service respectively.

    · Specify a minimum time period between receiving a conscription order and the day of departure to a military base that allows young men a realistic opportunity to exercise their right to appeal. Current legislation indicates that a potential recruit must be allowed time to go home after a draft board has decided to draft him, but does not specify a minimum time period. Recruitment officials have used this gap in the law to justify sending potential draft dodgers to military bases immediately after the draft board has made a decision. The State Duma and the government should introduce a minimum time period in the law and the government regulation on conscription. This minimum time period must be long enough to provide for a realistic opportunity to exercise the right to appeal.

1 This report is the first in a planned series of Human Rights Watch reports addressing abuses in the Russian armed forces.

2 Young men who have signed and returned draft summonses but then, without valid reason, fail to appear for conscription proceedings may face criminal proceedings under article 328 of the Russian criminal code and imprisonment of up to two years.

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