Peace and Human Rights promotion actions of the Mothers’ of St Petersburg
12 / 2001
The Soldiers Mothers of Saint Petersburg is a Russian human rights organization that defends the rights of conscripts, recruits and their relatives. Their programs started in 1991, with consultations with people in the army. Since then the organization has collected numerous witness accounts of human rights violations in the Russian Army. In May 2001, the Soldiers Mothers of Saint Petersburg addressed a thick report to the UN Commission for Human Rights, the Council of Europe, and the European Parliament, to alert these institutions on what is happening nowadays in the Russian army, in military units throughout the whole country and on the battlefield in Chechnya. " From here there is only one way out - that’s Chechnya. Almost no-one wants to go there, but they don’t ask us. They beat us until we sign the contract. One young man, just the same as me, was beaten to death. But they wrote to his parents that their son had accidentally stepped on an electric cable and died." Oleg Stafeyev, Military Unit 29483. Recruits and officers who fight in this southern republic learn systematic methods of torturing and killing. The organization also stresses that since the beginning of this war the general situation in the army has terribly worsened. In Russia, the military service lasts two years, and conscription is obligatory to all young men, except for those cases mentioned in the Russian legislation. But most of these conscripts are not aware of their rights. The Soldiers Mothers organize 2 workshops a week, called "Let’s protect our sons", in order to provide legal information and support to the conscripts and their families. In ten years of activities, these schools have been attended by about 100 000 people, and about 80 000 people managed to exert their legal right not to serve in the army. The ones who succeeded are invited to come back and to share their experience with the others. Moreover, about 3 000 of the victims of tortures in the Russian Army protected their right not to go back to the army. As it is shown by numerous statements , torture is a daily practice, especially against new recruits who are systematically bullied in extremely violent ways. Punishments are also part of the daily life in the army barracks. "In the morning, Lieutenant Kotchkin sent for Dimitri V. and ordered to undress down to his trousers. He forced Dimitri to balance with his knees on his chair. He then used his leather belt to whip viciously on his back, legs and the soles of his feet. Only after this, did Lieu. Kotchkin inform Dimitri that his mother had come to talk to him." Officers also use soldiers for slave labour, in farms, breweries, even in nuclear plants. The training methods of the Mothers’ Soldiers of St Petersburg aim to encourage people to know the law and to teach them how to use it. The other main objective is to help people to get rid of their fears and empower them. Thus the organization is using both talk show formats to discuss the law and psychological methods, as role plays. Since army officers encourage ethnic discrimination and racism against non-Caucasian recruits, the Soldiers’ Mothers try to struggle against this growing xenophobia by promoting human values. The organization also publishes guidelines for recruits and soldiers, which are distributed all over Russia. The report edited by the organization is also stressing a more general point: most of the exactions committed in the army are protected by a complete immunity. Consequently, the criminal doesn’t believe that he has broken the law and violated another’s rights. When this man is released in society, he is believing that he is all-powerful, that he can do whatever he wants. This feeling of impunity represents a direct danger for the entire society. For the Soldiers’ Mothers, this general situation could be explained by more broad facts. In such a post-totalitarian society, a culture of human rights has to be developed. Furthermore, the governmental structures, as the army, the police and the intelligence service should be accountable to the people. One another demand concerns the elaboration of trainings for Russian army officers on specific matters as human rights education and conflict resolution. At the end of this long report of terrible individual stories, one can read this conclusion: "We see that in armies people are taught to violate moral principles, to kill in a myriad of ways. In looking at this issue, we seek and have not found answers to the following questions: - What are the bounds of necessary self-defence? - How are the issues of national security, security, and the life of individuals interrelated? - It is permissible to teach how to kill one’s enemies? - Is it permissible to teach children how to kill? " The Soldiers’ Mothers ask the international institutions to keep the seriousness of the human rights violations in the Russian army in mind when discussing economic or political issues with the Russian government, and to monitor the military events in Chechnya. Amongst other requests, the organization asks the President of the Russian Federation to transform the Russian army into a professional one, and to control the political and financial movements of the Russian army and its advisers.
The Soldiers’ Mothers are using interesting methods for Human Rights education and promotion, and their role as a peace making group has to be taken in consideration. Furthermore, this organization shows how women, and mothers, can play an active role in denouncing human rights violations and working for conflict resolution.
Soldiers’ Mothers of Saint Petersburg, Raz’ezzahya ulica, 9, 19 1002 Saint Petersburg, Russia - Tel/fax: 007- 812- 11241199 - firstname.lastname@example.org
This file was made in an interview at the World Assembly, Lille, France, dec.2001.
Organisation presentation ; Interview
Faculté des Sciences Economiques et Sociales de l'Université catholique de Paris - 21 rue d'Assas, 75 006 Paris, FRANCE - Tél. : 33 (0)1 44 39 52 00 - France - www.icp.fr/fasse/index.php - fractal (@) easynet.fr