The service of a pacifist: how do conscientious objectors pay their debts to the Motherland?

Who are conscientious objectors?

Conscious objectors are citizens who feel it is impossible for them to perform military service because of their moral, philosophical, religious, or other beliefs. The UN Commission on Human Rights defines conscientious objection to military service as “the legitimate exercise of freedom of thought, conscience and religion”.

In one way or another, conscientious objections to military service have been recorded since the first centuries of Christianity, but their numbers increased significantly with the emergence of mass armies and the introduction of universal conscription.

In 1995, the UN urged all member states to “enact laws and take measures for exemption from military service based on sincere convictions”.

But up to this point, history knows of many cases where states have subjected conscientious objectors to penalties, including the most severe penalties, from prison to the death penalty.

For example, tens of thousands of conscientious objectors were shot in Nazi Germany during World War II. 25 years ago, on May 15, 1997, the German parliament issued a resolution on the rehabilitation of those convicted and persecuted by the Third Reich for conscientious objection to military service and desertion. In our time, this date is celebrated as the International Day of Conscientious Objectors to Military Service.

Is a conscious refusal possible in Russia?

Citizens of the Russian Federation whose “beliefs or religions are contrary to the conduct of military service” can perform alternative civil service (ACS). This right is guaranteed in Article 59 of the Constitution. The procedure for replacing military service with alternative civilian service is provided by a federal law adopted in 2002.

Alternative civilian service differs from military service in terms of transition: 21 months instead of 12. However, this period also includes two holidays, and the service itself is regulated by labor law: an eight-hour working day, two days off a week, performing duties according to an employment contract. Passing the ACS, as a rule, he lives at home, but if a soldier is sent to another region for service, he is provided with a hostel.

By 2022, ACS could be rolled out to more than 1,000 businesses. The draft order, prepared by the Ministry of Labor in February, includes 127 professions, from window cleaner and courier to symphony orchestra artist, dentist and microbiologist.

As noted in a conversation with, director of the Grazhdanin human rights group. Army. Pravo” and a former member of the Human Rights Council under President of the Russian Federation Sergey Krivenko, any conviction could be the basis for replacing military service with an alternative civilian.

“Religious, pacifist, anti-militarist, political etc. they may be.

Neither the law nor the Constitution says what beliefs can be, so they can be anything. This is very true and good and it works,” explained the human rights activist.

To pass the ACS, you must submit an appropriate application to the military registration and enlistment office 6 months before the call. At the same time, Serhiy Krivenko noted that, according to the decision of the Constitutional Court, missing this period for good reason can be restored.

“Actually, any soldier can apply to the military registration and enlistment office at any time and, with some good reason, request a reinstatement and replace military service with civilian service,” he said.

The decision to grant the enlisted person the right to ACS is made by the draft commission.

According to human rights activist Krivenko, this is “a weak spot in the law, because the function of the draft board is to send people to serve in the military.”

“Therefore, there are quite a few cases of refusals to the ACS in the commission – about 50 to 50. A refusal can be appealed, and the call stops while the complaint is considered in court. In most cases, the courts are won,” he said.

Alternative service – only for conscripts?

Although the law of the ACS regulates the procedure for conscription only for military service, the Constitution states that any citizen of Russia can exercise the corresponding right.

“It is a constitutional right to replace military service with civil service, it applies to both military personnel and people in reserve, if there are anti-war convictions,” Sergey Krivenko said. Said.

According to him, anti-war beliefs may even be grounds for terminating his military contract. For example, when a soldier considers it unacceptable to participate in certain military operations.

“It’s pretty hard to do it this way, but by referring to the presence of anti-war beliefs, you can break the contract and leave the military.

Even if mobilization is declared, every citizen in reserve and subject to military service reserves this constitutional right to demand the replacement of military service with civilian service.

According to Krivenko, there is no need to “prove” the existence of beliefs – beliefs cannot be proven. The application should not contain an actual confirmation of the existence of convictions, but should include reasons for choosing civilian service over military service.

The human rights activist also stressed that the ACS mechanism should not be perceived as a way to “train” from military service.

Saying “I don’t want to serve in the military” is a desire, not a belief. Anti-war beliefs are “I do not accept war as a phenomenon”, “I am a pacifist”, “I am a follower of Leo Tolstoy”, “I am a religious person, I fully understand the order not to kill”. etc.,” enumerated Krivenko.

What about in other countries?

It is noteworthy that the alternative civil service legislation in Russia is one of the most liberal in the entire post-Soviet space. For example, in Ukraine, where the ACS law was passed in 1991, it is possible to perform alternative service only for religious reasons. At the same time, only followers of religious organizations “acting according to Ukrainian legislation” and “whose doctrine does not allow the use of weapons” can count on this option.

As a result, for decades, only a few were able to exercise their right to alternative civil service in Ukraine.

In Belarus, the ACS law came into force only in 2016. However, as in Ukraine, the right to perform alternative service can only be obtained for religious reasons.

Alternative civil service is not provided at all in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. Although recently in the countries it is possible to pay a month-long military fees, after that it will be possible to obtain a military ID. However, pacifists and religious citizens cannot escape this relief.

In Europe, the situation with AGS is even more diverse.

For example, Turkey, despite being a member of the Council of Europe, categorically denies the right of its citizens to refuse military service. At the same time, the country has also legalized the possibility of “payment” from the call of 18 thousand liras.

The situation is not much better in neighboring Greece, where you can simply refuse military service for carrying weapons. Unarmed non-combat service must be performed regardless of creed, and only members of Jehovah’s Witnesses (the organization is banned in Russia) may receive official de facto conscientious objector status.

A unique situation has developed in Norway: there is universal conscription in the country, but the right to ACS was canceled in 2011. Instead, there is complete conscientiousness in Norway with no compulsory alternative service.

In other European countries, alternative service has lost its importance due to the abolition of compulsory military service. At the same time, the ACS often played a crucial role in the decision to cancel.

In Spain, for example, alternative service was so popular that there were not enough jobs in the country for hundreds of thousands of conscientious objectors. Some managed to get out of the draft era without waiting for distribution. A similar situation developed in France.

But in Germany, on the contrary, conscription for a long time retained the popularity of the ACS, on which the social sphere of the country largely depended.

In Italy, after the abolition of conscription, even the National Civil Service Authority had to be established, which persuaded young people to “devote one year of their life to helping others”, to fill the shortage of workers in the social sphere.

Conscious objection to military service, which was punished in the most severe way less than a century ago, is today recognized at the UN level as a legitimate manifestation of the right to freedom of thought and conscience. However, not all states are ready to accept such an interpretation. On the International Day of Conscientious Objectors to Military Service, talks about how conscientious objection works in Russia and other countries of the world and what alternative civilian service is.

Source: Gazeta


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