03 / 1997
"In Russia, the State is everything, the individual is nothing. This is even truer in military circles where men acquire stereotypes that penetrate their consciences. Since women are not part of this system, they can stand back from it, especially when it involves the lives of those dearest to them, their sons.
"The statistics are terrible: in times of peace, four to five thousand soldiers die every year, without counting those participating in military actions. Cold, hunger, and the absence of medicines are to blame. Also, and what is most terrible, young recruits are subjected to maltreatment and torture by older soldiers and officers. In 1994, in the far east of Russia, four young soldiers died and nearly a thousand were hospitalized for serious medical problems. In 1996, in the same region, two soldiers died of hunger and nearly two hundred were hospitalized, victims of malnutrition.
"The Committee of Mothers of Russian Soldiers was founded in 1989 after the Perestroika had already started. The women met together at their own initiative, without any external bidding. Their first victory was to return 170 soldiers to the university from which they had been illegally pressganged into the army. Another action concerned mothers whose sons had died in the army: they obliged the Soviet Government in office to set up a commission to inquire into the causes of these deaths during peacetime and to take different measures: obligatory medical insurance for the soldiers, payment of pensions to families, extension of the list of exemptions for medical reasons, etc.
"When the inter-ethnic conflicts began in the former Soviet Union (Armenia and Azerbaidjan, Georgia and Northern Ossetia, Central Asia), we organized pickets in front of the hotels where the members of the Supreme Soviet resided, asking them to put an end to the troubles in the army. We set up permanent contacts with the representatives of the legislative and executive authorities and also with all the media. Since then, the Committee works under permanent pressure, as every day, twenty to forty soldiers come to our premises after having deserted in fear for their lives. We receive thousands of letters. We participate in all the trials and all the cases in defence of conscripts and soldiers.
"In the beginning, we were obliged to make close and permanent contacts with the State bodies that dealt with this male issue of military affairs. In the beginning, we were regarded with circumspection, and they asked what we women could possibly know about military matters. Now, they are obliged to listen to what we have to say. In the beginning, everything we asked for was seen negatively; now, improvements can be seen. For example, we were the first to speak of military reform, whereas now everyone is speaking about it.
"We were the first to say the war in Chechnya was illegal and anticonstitutional. After us, several judges of the constitutional court expressed the same point of view. We also play an important role of monitoring: we don’t let the authorities mislead the citizens because we know the truth about what’s happening and we explain it to the media. Our actions are not really political, they are to defend human rights. They concern the real situation of every human being and we examine every case to find a solution. In seven years, we have won considerable victories, but we’ve had failures, too.
"These last few years, everyone has been able to observe a process of remilitarisation in Russia which culminated, of course, in the war in Chechnya. This war led to many human rights violations in the army and in the whole population. But the Committee, with several years experience behind it, had already prepared society for the fact that parents not only could but should defend their children. From the beginning of the war, with the Committee’s help, several women’s groups organized journeys to Chechnya to recover their children. It should be mentioned that they received help from the "Ba<oviki", the Chechnyan guerillas. They understood that these conscripts had not come from their own free will, and they said to the women "Take your son, but if he falls into our hands again, we’ll shoot him". The mothers then did everything to make sure that their sons did not return to the war. This often met with success and prevented their sons from being killed and from becoming killers.
"Up to now, there have been no official figures on the number of dead, prisoners or missing, whether Russian or Chechnyan. We are practically the only organization to collect these data and diffuse them to the media. We think that at least ten thousand conscripts were killed in Chechnya. We have also counted seven hundred missing.
"We are in close contact with the Chechnyan women. We understand each other very well. We share the same pain and misfortune and we think we can overcome them together. When our Russian mothers go to Chechnya, they live in the houses of the Chechnyan women and share their bread with them. When the Chechnyan women come to visit us, we help them as we can, with medicine for example, and we take the list of their missing and try to publish it.
"Our leaders declare that Russia is already a democracy, whereas they continue a war against their own people. At this moment, during the G7 summit (Lyon, end of June 1996), we wanted to ask its members how they could invite Russia, a country in which such violations of human rights occur.
"International experience has shown that all "internal" conflicts between different nationalities always end by spreading to neighbouring States and to the whole international community. That is why we insist - we’ve stopped asking for a long time- that military operations in Chechnya stop immediately, that genuine negotiations take place and that a referendum is held there.
Proposed for the Nobel Peace Prize by a German women’s organization, the Committee of Mothers of Russian Soldiers received the alternative Nobel Prize (Right Livelihood Award)on 6 December 1996.
This sheet covers the essential contents of the declaration made by Ludmilla Obraczova, member of the Committee of Mothers of Russian Soldiers, pronounced at the Summit of Seven Resistances held at Lyon on 27 June 1996, in parallel with the G7 summit. Original text in French in this data base.
Organisation presentation ; Colloquium, conference, seminar,… report
Sommet des 7 résistances, Lyon, 27 juin 1996, FRANCE, Agir ici, CEDETIM