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An Open Letter to the President by Human Rights Defenders on the Army

Twenty-one human rights organizations from 15 Russian regions have addressed an open letter to President Dmitry Medvedev concerning the “unprecedented violations of the law on military service and civil rights during the conscription campaigns of 2009 and 2010.” The authors ask that readers add their signatures to their letter to the head of state.

President of the Russian Federation
D.A. Medvedev


Dear Dmitry Anatolievich!

We, the undersigned representatives of human rights organizations, consider it necessary to draw your attention to the unprecedented scale of violations of the law on military service and civil rights during the conscription campaigns of 2009 and 2010. The most dangerous and widespread of these has been the use of excessively low criteria for medical assessment and the consequent call-up of the sick and even those with disabilities. Those conscripted have included young men with tuberculosis and hepatitis C, endangering the health of other service personnel.

Many of the new conscripts at the very beginning of their service ended up in hospital, where they spent more than a month and were subsequently released from military service for reasons of health. There have also been quite a number of those who, as a result of their requests for medical help, have been labelled “draft dodgers” and have been punished. As a result, many of them have become disabled and have even died.

Today the brutality of behaviour in the army has become a breeding ground for extortion, squeezing money out of soldiers' families. Like any other form of corruption, it cannot be eradicated by simple prohibitions. An illustrative example is the use of soldiers to work for the personal benefit of commanders. This practice continues to be widespread five years after the Ministry of Defence issued order No. 428 of 8 October 2005 banning the use of military service personnel to carry out work unrelated to the execution of their military duties.

This once again confirms that the numbers of conscripts exceeds the real needs of the Armed Forces. It is well known that for the fight against corruption to be effective, those provisions of the law that endow state officials with excessively broad, vaguely defined and poorly overseen powers need to be changed.

With regard to the law on military service, this means that it is necessary to conduct a thorough-going review. However, today the Ministry of Defence proposes bills of a quite opposite direction. We are ready to believe that their authors are motivated by a falsely understood conception of patriotism, but objectively the measures they propose will contribute only to the soaring growth of corruption to new heights.

In these circumstances, exemplary, demonstration military units of the “new model” cannot be anything other than “Potemkin villages”, the deception of inexperienced youth by the promise of military service as a "school of courage”, which turns into a school of powerlessness and humiliation.

At the same time, the alleged need to enrol such a very large number of soldiers, which is used to justify the most egregious violations, is a fiction. This is because a significant portion of service personnel spend months in hospital, while others attempt to escape from the unbearable conditions of service.

Enormous damage has been done to Russia by the failure of a key project of national importance: the Federal Target Programme “Transition of a Number of Military Units to Service by Contract”. However, today those guilty of the failure of this Programme are in charge of the destruction of even the little that was achieved during its implementation. They are dismissing contract personnel who wish to continue in service.

Preserving the current system of conscription means not only spoiled lives, broken minds, senseless deaths of young people, and the fleeing abroad of people with talent. It is not only a blow to Russia's defence capability by those who make the most noise about it. It means the undermining of the economic and demographic well-being of Russia. It puts an end to all hopes for modernization of the country.

We urge you to :
- make a formal declaration on the inadmissibility of refusing to transfer the army to a contract basis;
- investigate the causes of the mistakes that caused the Federal Target Programme to fail; and take personnel decisions that will exclude the officials responsible for this failure from participation in the reform of the Armed Forces;
- to take under your personal control the process of transferring the Russian Armed Forces to a contractual basis; and the creation of the necessary conditions for a decent service for conscripts and those serving under contract, both rank-and-file and officers;
- to prevent the adoption of laws that impair the rights of citizens in connection with the performance of military duty and that contribute to the worsening of corruption;
- to adjust the size of the autumn call-up in 2010 in accordance with the real possibilities of the country;
- to hold an emergency meeting with the participation of independent military experts, lawyers, economists and representatives of NGOs to assess the losses to the state from the enlistment of young men with serious illnesses, to clearly define the number of conscripts actually required during the period of transition of the Armed Forces to a contractual basis, to analyze the legislation on military service in order to humanize it and bring it into line with international legal standards on human rights.

G. Aletkin, Sphere Foundation for Children and Young People, the Center for Peacebuilding and Human Rights, Kazan;
V. Afanasieva, Council of Soldiers' Mothers, Pskov;
V. Babynina, For Their Sons, Crimean Organization of Soldiers' Mothers, Krymsk, Krasnodar Region;
M. Bontsler, V. Mareyev, Committee of Soldiers' Mothers, Kaliningrad Region;
M. Burmitsky, Southern Siberian Human Rights Center, Novokuznetsk;
E. Feldstein, Dzerzhinsk Human Rights Centre, Nizhny Novgorod Region;
L. Garlivanova, Committee of Soldiers' Mothers, Astrakhan region;
A. Kalikh, Centre for Democracy and Human Rights, Moscow;
A. Kalikh, Perm Regional Branch of the International Memorial Society;
I. Kizilova, Centre of Democratic Youth Initiatives, Perm;
A. Kuvshinov, Rule of Law Society, Novosibirsk;
T. Kuznetsova, Interregional Soldiers' Mothers Movement, Moscow City and Moscow region;
L. Levinson, Human Rights Institute, Moscow;
N. Markelova, Committee of Soldiers' Mothers, Lesnyi, Sverdlovsk region;
T. Mikhailova, Committee of Soldiers' Mothers, Livny, Orel region;
E. Poliakova, Committee of Soldiers; Mothers, St. Petersburg;
V. Reshetkina, Khabarovsk Regional Committee of Soldiers' Mothers;
P. Shmakov, Khabarovsk Regional Human Rights Centre;
V. Starovoitova, Committee of Soldiers' Mothers, Orel;
N. Terekhova, Committee of Soldiers' Mothers, Kostroma region;
L. Vakhnina, Memorial Human Rights Centre, Moscow.

The signatories ask readers to support this letter.
Signatures are being gathered at: