RUSSIA: Over 1000 conscientious objectors carrying out a civilian service

 OVD with HRWF (19.04.2024) – Alternative civil service (ACS) is a normal job instead of serving in the army but lasts longer: 21 months instead of 12. Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russian conscripts have been increasingly demanding to replace their military service with the ACS.

According to Rosstat, 1,140 citizens were carrying out alternative civil service in Russia in the second half of 2023. The largest number of conscientious objectors  is in St. Petersburg with 69 people. The second and third places were shared by the Moscow region (64 people) and Moscow (42 people). This is very small number, given the total number of recruits.

In addition, there are regions where no one is performing alternative service: Arkhangelsk and Novgorod regions, Transbaikalia and Kamchatka, the republics of Altai and Tuva and several others.

The war in Ukraine, according to Rosstat, did not affect the number of objectors. Nevertheless, human rights activists in a conversation with “Vot Tak” noted that during the full-scale invasiondraft commissions and courts began to refuse to grant the ACS status more often but there are no accurate statistics on such cases.

Many of those who seek the ACS are not sent anywhere later. They are either just waiting or they are released from military service for health reasons. Since military registration and enlistment offices are not interested in organizing the ACS and transferring information to Rostrud to select alternatives to the military duty. See testimonies of applicants for the ACS status HERE with the automatic translation if needed.

Constitutional provisions and implementation

The right to ACS for Russian citizens is guaranteed by the Constitution (Article 59, Part 3).

It is available to representatives of small indigenous peoples who lead a traditional lifestyle, carry out traditional economic activities and are engaged in tradition crafts but there are few of them. Most conscientious objectors invoke their religious beliefs when they apply for the ACS status. See full details HERE with the automatic translation.

Alexei Tabalov, human rights activist and director of the Conscript School

“We are now witnessing a negative trend: conscription commissions are increasingly denying conscripts the replacement of military service with AGS, and often unmotivated, without even listening to them. And the courts are increasingly taking the side of the draft commissions and do not want to delve into the fact that the fundamental circumstance for resolving the issue of the ACS should be beliefs, not formal grounds in the form of missing deadlines.”

Lawyer Arseny Levinson

Lawyer Arseny Levinson studied 350 court decisions related to the AGS for 2021 and the first half of 2022. 40 people have won the right to alternative service. In most cases, the courts denied the defendants. The most common reasons for refusal are violations by conscripts of the deadlines for applying for the AGS and “unproven” of beliefs.

Alternative civilian service: The law

Forum 18 (19.12.2023) – Article 59, Part 3 of the Constitution states: “A citizen of the Russian Federation, if the performance of military service contradicts his beliefs or religion, as well as in other cases established by federal law, has the right to replace it with alternative civilian service”.

Under Russian law, the Constitution takes priority over all other legislation, but the right to alternative service is not absolute, despite the absence of any conditions in Article 59.

The 2002 Law on Alternative Civilian Service sets out the procedures of applying for, granting, and carrying out ACS. According to Article 2, a man has the right to replace military service by conscription with alternative civilian service if: “performing military service is contrary to his beliefs or religion”; or “he belongs to the indigenous people of the Russian Federation, leads a traditional way of life, carries out traditional economic activities and is engaged in traditional crafts of the indigenous peoples of the Russian Federation”.

To exercise this right, however, an individual must submit an application to be considered by the Conscription Commission (a nominally independent body comprising representatives of the local civilian authorities and Military Commissariat), which decides to accept or refuse it. If successful, the applicant undergoes a medical examination and is then assigned to work at a state or municipal institution (for 21 months) or in a civilian role in the armed forces (for 18 months), usually (though not always) outside his home region. 

Possible ACS deployments in 2023 included both skilled and unskilled jobs in – among others – Culture Ministry and Agriculture Ministry organisations, hospitals and polyclinics, nursing homes, and educational institutions. Members of indigenous groups may be assigned to organisations employed in traditional economic activities.

Only small numbers of those called up each year undertake ACS. Lawyer Sergey Chugunov noted on his Telegram channel on 3 May 2023 that as of 1 February 2022, 1,138 people were in the process of doing ACS, while the total number of young men called up in the autumn conscription in 2021 was 127,500.

Both conscripts who do military service and those who do ACS are enrolled in the reserves upon completion, rendering them liable to call-up in the event of mobilisation. Several individuals who served in the army as conscripts, but who did not want to fight in Ukraine on grounds of their religious beliefs, have found themselves assigned to military units anyway, given the lack of provision for ACS for reservists, and have had to challenge their mobilisation in court, with little success.

Only one person who refused call-up on religious grounds, Protestant Pavel Mushumansky, is known to have had his mobilisation ruled unlawful.

On 1 January 2024, an amendment to the Law on Military Service will come into force which raises the upper age limit for conscription from 27 to 30, thus creating a much larger pool of potential draftees. The lower limit will remain at 18, despite earlier proposals to raise it to 21. Men who turn 27 before the end of 2023 (and have not yet done military – or alternative – service) will not be liable to be called up, the State Duma noted on its website on 25 July.

Four young Baptists denied the ACS status

Forum 18 (19.12.2023) – According to Forum 18, Military officials rejected the alternative civilian service applications of four young Baptists in Siberia and the Far East. The four men had all set out their pacifist religious convictions.

Brothers Daniil and German Strelkov are preparing to appeal after a court ruled the refusals lawful. Courts twice declined to uphold Zakhar Asmalovsky‘s lawsuit against the military authorities. Timofey Reznichenkosuccessfully challenged his refusal in court, gaining the right to have his application re-examined.

A higher-level Conscription Commission granted a fifth, Sergey Myalik, the right to undertake alternative service.