22 February 2012
Centre for the Development of Democracy & Human Rights
22 February 2012, the independent analytical NGO report ‘The Redundant Soldier. Forced labor in the Russian Army’ (in Russian) was presented to journalists and experts in Moscow. The report is a publication of the Center for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights. Author is Lyudmila Vakhnina (“Memorial” Moscow), Member of the Expert Council of the Russian Ombudsman. The report is based on materials, case descriptions, conclusions and recommendations of more than 20 NGOs in different Russian regions. Report provides case study covering around a hundred of episodes from 2006 to early 2012, analysis of the legislation and its enforcement.
The coercion of the soldiers of the Russian army to illegal labor and activities unrelated to the duties of the military service remains to be a serious concern for human rights NGOs.
The tradition of such "extracurricular” labour is deeply rooted. In the Soviet times the society was aware of the notorious problem of “general’s dachas” being built by soldiers. At present, the public find out about the scale of this phenomenon due to the activities of human rights NGOs and publications in the mass media.
Facts show that soldiers’ forced labour is still in demand and is widely used. Case analysis reveals the following types of forced labour:
1) First, there are – so called ‘quasi legal’ – cases of conscript soldiers working on civilian objects. In such cases, they do their service in units belonging to the Federal Agency of Special Construction (Spetsstroy), Military Railway Service, and Military Engineering Troops. This work has no relation to the purposes of military service, and the servicemen do not get salaries equal to those of civilian workers. Their officers have full power over them, and the soldiers cannot refuse to take part in such works. According to the Russian Constitution, the Labour Code and Convention 105 of the International Labour Organization, such work bears the signs of forced or compulsory labour.
Among the positive changes related to this issue, is the reduction of a number of military construction units – so called Stroybat (2006). However, conscripted servicemen are still doing their military service in road construction units belonging to the Spetsstroy which is within the authority of the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation, while they are still involved in work on civilian construction sites.
2) Unskilled labour on construction sites, for factories and businesses as labourers, loaders, caretakers, etc. Quite often this turns into real slavery: soldiers are actually rented out to work for businesses or on construction sites. The payment for the soldiers’ labour often goes straight into the pockets of the officers. Sometimes military units can make a formal agreement with the local authorities, factories or businesses on the usage of soldiers’ labour. Until recently this was considered to be a legalizing factor.
3) Coercion to perform services for officers – labourers constructing houses or dachas, as servants or unskilled workers in the officers’ private households, etc.
4) An especially cruel criminal form of the abuse of the Russian soldiers’ rightless situation: coercion to illegal actions under the threat of battering or victimisation: thieving, begging, and even prostitution. All profits obtained this way go to the officers or senior conscripts. Along with that, soldiers (and, indirectly, their parents) are continuously subjected to extortion on the part of officers and senior conscripts.
There are cases registered when soldiers were never engaged in combat training or participated in manoeuvres throughout their term of service because from the very start they were involved in works unrelated to military service.
Before being dispatched to illegal works, soldiers often have all their documents including passports taken away. As a result, they are deprived of any civil rights. In particular, they cannot leave the place of their forced labour (the practice of taking away people's documents is widely spread in other forms of contemporary slavery, for example, in human trafficking).
As a rule, no safety measures are observed, hence the high injury rate at such illegal works. Unfortunately, the illegal works are brought into the focus of attention of the police mostly when they lead to injuries or deaths.
The bias of military justice, which is explained by its corporate dependence, contributes to maintaining this practice. There are cases known when soldiers found at slave work are declared to have unauthorized absence from their military unit (Article 337 of the Criminal Code of the RF) and are prosecuted for criminal offence.
The usage of soldiers’ labour is continuing to be a great source of enrichment for military commanders and civilians, and, as any other corruption phenomenon, it cannot be eradicated simply by prohibitive measures. It is necessary for both the public and the state to combat this phenomenon. However, this is impeded by the closed nature of the Armed Forces and the inaccessibility of military units for public control.
See also: 'Human rights NGO report The Redundant Soldier. Forced labor in the Russian Army,’ HRO.org in English, 24 February 2012