Four NGOs call for the release of over 600 Russian conscientious objectors illegally imprisoned
Release all those who object to engage in the war and are illegally detained in the Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine
EBCO-BEOC (28.032023) – The European Bureau for Conscientious Objection (EBCO), Connection e.V. (Germany), the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR), and War Resisters’ International (WRI) strongly denounce the reported detention by the Russian authorities of large numbers of soldiers and mobilised civilians in a number of centres in Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine, because they refuse to participate in the war. Russian authorities are reportedly using threats, psychological abuse and torture to force those detained to return to the front.
According to VESNA (Движение Весна), “journalists have been able to confirm the existence of 13 such prisons, in which, according to relatives, more than 600 people are being held: 1. Zaytseva, Luhansk province; 2. Zavitne Bazhanya, Donetsk province; 3. Dokuchayevsk, Donetsk province; 4. Perevalsk, Luhansk province; 5. Rubezhnoy, Luhansk province; 6. Kremennaya, Luhansk province; 7. Staromlynovk, Donetsk province; 8. Starobelsk, Luhansk province; 9. Golubovka, Luhansk province; 10. Bryank, Luhansk province; 11. Novtroitsk, Donetsk province; 12. Makarovo, Luhansk province; 13. Amvrosivsk, Donetsk province.”
Detentions in these prisons are unlawful, not being based on any court decision. In that they are based on refusal on grounds of conscience to participate in the “special military operation” they are also arbitrary, as resulting from attempts to exercise the right of freedom of thought, conscience and religion guaranteed in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, (as well as Articles 28 and 59 of the Russian Constitution) and thus constitute a violation also of Article 9 of that Covenant.
In addition, according to VESNA, “mobilised civilians are kept in appalling conditions: they are threatened with torture and execution, they are deprived of the medical help and food. In this way Russian authorities are trying to force them to return to the front, although they have not received proper training nor basic supplies.”
Major Western media[i] and independent Russian media[ii] have been reporting for months the detention of Russian soldiers who refuse to continue to participate in the “special military operation” in Ukraine.
The four organisations support the petition “Russia, stop illegal detention! Release conscientious objectors jailed in Ukraine”, which demands from the Russian authorities, including the head of the investigative committee, Alexander Bastrykin, and the Supreme Commander of the Russian Army, Vladimir Putin to:
- Check all reports of cases of internal captivity and identify those responsible for the illegal detention of Russian military personnel;
- Establish personal data, location of detained military personnel and their state of health;
- Take urgent measures to release and protect the life and health of detained military personnel;
- Take measures to implement the constitutional right of detained military personnel to replace military service with alternative civilian service;
- Take measures to prevent organizing such illegal prisons in the future.
The organisations note that soldiers who cite reasons of conscience among the reasons for refusing to continue to fight should be considered conscientious objectors according to international law. Those who specifically oppose the Ukraine war count as conscientious objectors, whether or not self-defined.
“The imprisonment of conscientious objectors is a blatant violation of their right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, guaranteed under Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which is non-derogable in time of public emergency, according to Article 4.2 of ICCPR. All these conscientious objectors are prisoners of conscience and should be released immediately and unconditionally”, Alexia Tsouni, EBCO, stated today.
“We remind the Russian government that they should safeguard the right to conscientious objection to military service, including in wartime, fully complying with the European and international standards”, Rudi Friedrich, Connection e.V., added.
“We also remind the Russian authorities that under the international standards the right of conscientious objection to military service applies no less to professional members of the armed forces than to conscripts, as it has been explicitly recognized, inter alia, by the OHCHR,[iii] the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE),[iv] the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe,[v] and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), of the OSCE.[vi]”, Zaira Zafarana, IFOR, underlined.
“The right to object also applies to selective objectors who believe that the use of force is justified in some circumstances but not in others.”[vii], Semih Sapmaz, WRI, stated.
The four organisations note that Alan Mitchell, President of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) has stated that “the Russian authorities must take effective steps to prevent torture and other forms of ill-treatment of persons deprived of their liberty in law enforcement establishments, prisons, military detention facilities, psychiatric hospitals, social care institutions and other places of deprivation of liberty, whether within the territory of the Russian Federation or in areas within the territory of Ukraine of which the Russian Federation exercises effective control.”[viii]
The organisations denounce all the cases of forced and even violent recruitment to the armies of both sides, as well as all the cases of persecution of conscientious objectors, deserters and non-violent anti-war protestors.
Sign the VESNA petition here: https://www.change.org/p/russia-stop-illegal-detention-release-conscientious-objectors-jailed-in-ukraine
Support the #ObjectWarCampaign: Russia, Belarus, Ukraine: Protection and asylum for deserters and conscientious objectors to military service
[iii] OHCHR, Approaches and challenges with regard to application procedures for obtaining the status of conscientious objector to military service in accordance with human rights standards, (A/HRC/41/23), 24 May 2019, para. 60(c). Available at: https://undocs.org/A/HRC/41/23
[iv] Council of Europe, Parliamentary Assembly, Recommendation 1518 (2001), para. 5.2. Available at: https://assembly.coe.int/nw/xml/XRef/Xref-XML2HTML-EN.asp?fileid=16909&lang=en#_blank
[v] Council of Europe, Committee of Ministers, Recommendation CM/Rec (2010) 4 “Human Rights of members of the armed forces”, paras. 42 – 46. Available at: https://www.refworld.org/docid/506979172.html
[vi] OSCE, ODIHR, Handbook on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Armed Forces Personnel, 2008, Chapter 10 Conscientious Objection to Military Conscription and Service, 4. Best Practices and Recommendations, p. 85 [second point]. Available at: https://www.osce.org/odihr/31393?download=true
[vii] OHCHR, Approaches and challenges with regard to application procedures for obtaining the status of conscientious objector to military service in accordance with human rights standards, (A/HRC/41/23), 24 May 2019, para. 60(d). Available at: https://undocs.org/A/HRC/41/23
[viii] Council of Europe, Statement from Alan Mitchell, President of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), 31/03/2022. Available at: https://www.coe.int/en/web/cpt/-/-1