Law on Alternative Military Service can be made unreasonably severe and formal

2013 2013-01-12T23:48:04+0300 1970-01-01T03:00:00+0300 en
Pro-ACS billboard in Russia

Pro-ACS billboard in Russia

Aliaksandr Lukashenka has approved the plan for preparing bills for 2013. One of them can be called sensational for the Belarusian reality – "On Alternative Service". However, there is a risk that this reform will take place without the participation of civil society.

The essence of the alternative civilian service (ACS) is that in countries with universal military duty the people who refuse to take up arms because of their deep convictions, often religious or pacifist character, are allowed to perform the duty in a different form. Most often, it is work in hospitals, hospices, nursing homes and other institutions that are suffering from staff shortages.

The right to alternative service is enshrined in Article 57 of the Belarusian Constitution. However, there is still no appropriate law for it. It turns out that the recruits who want to exercise their constitutional right, are considered as "evaders" in terms of military offices and courts.

Long protraction because of the lobby of security forces

The adoption of such evidently necessary law has been delayed for a long time. The head of the Center for Legal Transformation "Lawtrend", lawyer Alena Tankachova, says: "If this gap has not been eliminated for 18 years, there arises question whether the legislative organs have a sufficiently responsible attitude to the constitutional norms and realization of the constitutional rights of citizens."

Moreover, back in 2000 the Constitutional Court urged to adopt such a law. In February 2010, such errand was given to the state secretary of the Security Council Leanid Maltsau by Lukashenka himself. Observers attribute this to the celebrated cases of the conscientious objectors Dzmitry Smyk and Ivan Mikhaylau.

However, the working group formed for drafting the law, hasn't presented it to the Parliament for a long time.

The coordinator of the campaign "For Alternative Civilian Service" Mikhail Pashkevich
says that the main opponent of the law on alternative civilian service was the Ministry of Defense. The matter is that the alternative service allows one to choose which means that the military will have to take efforts to make draftees choose the military service. "As long as there appears a competitor, it becomes difficult to maintain the status quo and receive the same means from the budget without changing anything," sums up the activist.

Authorities refuse from services of civil society

The Center for Legal Transformation "Lawtrend", headed by Alena Talkachova, has been developing proposals for the legalization of alternative civilian service in Belarus.

As stated by the human rights defender in a comment to BelaPAN, the center organized the campaign "For Alternative Civilian Service", held a conference with the participation of foreign experts, issued a unique guide with summarization of the foreign experience and recommendations for the authorities and, finally, sent the results of the work to all relevant state organs.

The authorities' response was predictable. All offers independent were met with the standard answer: "Noted."

"Representatives of the civil society weren't invited to the working group", points Alena Tankachova. "Afterwards, the draft law was even marked as "Restricted". It was said to be the initiative of the Security Council. It means that the public lost the official opportunity to receive the draft law for reflection and criticism. "

Risk of palliative

Alternative civilian service is quite a delicate issue in terms of legal regulation. On one hand, it should not be easier than military service, as no one will choose the army in this case. On the other hand, it mustn't be turned in a penalty for the refusal to serve in the army. Its term must not considerably exceed that of the military service and the conditions must not create any excessive problems for "alternatives" or unreasonably restrict their rights.

But there are concerns that the Belarusian legislators will choose the latter way. According to Mikhail Pashkevich, the working group favored the Russian experience, which experts consider as very unfortunate, "It means – the term of the alternative civilian service will be quite longer, the wage will be much smaller."

Pashkevich believes that such details can ruin even a good idea. There can also be additional adverse discrimination against the people who chose the ACS: they may be restricted in the right to movement.

The civil activist has the following view on the aim of the discussion and the possible adoption of this law:" At present it will allow the authorities say that they are approaching the European standards at various meetings with European MPs, though nothing is really done".

Thus, the Belarusian authorities seem to be acting in the same way as in the case of the reform of the electoral system and the talks about the establishment of the institution of ombudsman.