Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Soldiers Have Rights Too

The new law on military service and draft eligibility went into effect March 1. It finally spelled out in legal terms all the rights and obligations of soldiers and officers in the army and codified some of the rights of draftees.

In the opinion of civil organizations that try to provide for the social welfare of those in the military and members of their families, the law is a step forward.

The adoption of the law was preceded by a process that might be more appropriate in a detective novel. The Supreme Soviet of Russia approved the text, which then went to the president for his signature. But on the way the law lost all of the points that provided for basic rights of soldiers to draft deferments, alternative service and many other things, and started to look strangely like the text that had come from Army Headquarters.

It was only due to the timely actions of the organization of soldier's mothers, who had learned of the switch from deputies sympathetic to their cause, that the law was returned to the Supreme Soviet. There, during parliamentary hearings, the points guaranteeing soldier's rights were, fortunately, put back in.

It is no secret that the mortality rate in the army is much higher than any acceptable norms. According to even the most modest estimates, 5, 000 young men in the armed forces die every year from starvation, cold, injuries, and "tricks" played on them by senior recruits and officers. Several thousand commit suicide every year.

Young recruits run away from the army. Over 80 percent of draftees do not want to serve, and try by all means, fair or foul, to get out of reporting to the recruiting office. Every day approximately 120 young men desert.

The new law is supposed to change things, provide alternative service possibilities to those who for medical, religious, or other reasons are unable to serve in the regular army. This is the first law of this nature in the history of Russia.

There is, however, no concrete mechanism as yet to provide for such service. So this article will remain nothing more than a declaration for several years.

There are now provisions in the law for deferments for the brothers of soldiers who have been killed in military service. Student deferments are also provided for. But almost all of the articles that guarantee the rights of draftees will not take effect until 1995. The government could well change before then.

And, as usual, the government of the Russian Federation is supposed to confirm the new draft system. But no one knows what the result will be of additional decrees. More than once it has happened that additional decrees "clarifying" the law have taken away all of the force of the law, leaving in its place a pale shadow of the original document.

In short, it is far from the day when mothers of soldiers and other organizations that defend the rights of soldiers can rest easy. This law is quite a bit better than the last one, but it is far from ideal. But the new law does give cause for hope that changes will begin in the collapsing Russian Army. It makes the next step possible, and becomes a support, albeit a shaky one, for a civilized military machine.

Veronica Marchenko is the director of the Mother's Rights Fund, which defends the rights of soldiers and members of their families.