On Nov. 2, the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade (COAT) held a successful symposium called "Aiding and Abetting Repression: Canada's Military Exports and the Need for Conversion." Twenty informative speakers were well-received by the 160 participants.
Canada is the world's 10th largest exporter of military hardware, and despite successive governments' professed concern for human rights issues, many of our exports go to repressive regimes. The summer 1996 issue of Press for Conversion!, COAT's newsletter, includes a table juxtaposing Canadian military exports and human rights violations in recipient countries.
COAT's current projects include war toy recycling programs in churches and schools; working with youth to promote peace issues in high schools; initiating a round table on conversion with labor representatives and parliamentarians; organizing a campaign around Ottawa's International Airshow; publishing Press for Conversion! (quarterly); and other publishing projects including the proceedings of the Nov. 2 seminar.
For further information, including how to join the campaign, contact COAT, 489 Metcalfe St., Ottawa, Ont., K1S 3N7; telephone 613/231-3076; fax 613/231-2614; e-mail ad207@freenet. carleton.ca; web site http: //www. ncf.carleton. ca/ip/ global/coat.
by Richard Sanders, COAT coordinator.
Alexander Seryogin, an 18-year-old conscientious objector, was given a two-year suspended sentence in a Moscow district court Oct. 24 for draft-dodging.
Seryogin exercised his constitutional right when he reported to his local draft board in March and announced his preference for alternative service, an option guaranteed by Article 59, Part 3 of the constitution.
Asked if his verdict signaled that the alternative service provision in the con- stitution was not currently in force, judge Ivan Ivanov said, "That's right. It is not in force."
The judge based his ruling on a phrase in Article 59 which states that alternative service is available to conscripts if their convictions, religious beliefs, or "other cases established by federal law" rendered military service impossible.
The problem, which advocates of alternative service have sought to rectify for three years without success, is that no such law exists. And until the president signs the law, Ivanov said, conscientious objectors such as Seryogin will have to serve in the armed forces along with everyone else.
Sergei Sorokin, who defended Seryogin, said that Russia now has hundreds of conscientious objectors, but thousands more, unaware of their constitutional rights, were simply told by draft boards that alternative service was impossible.
Sorokin and his organization, the Antimilitarist Radical Association, have cam- paigned for the alternative service law and counseled conscripts like Seryogin to stand up for their rights in court.
"Seryogin cannot forfeit the right to alternative service just because the lawmakers we elected have not done their job," said ARA secretary Nikolai Khramov, who spoke in court on the draftee's behalf.
A bill on alternative service passed a first reading in the previous Duma in 1994, but got no further.
Sergei Grushchak of the liberal Yabloko faction drafted a rival bill, and the defence committee responded by forming a working group to reach a compromise. The resulting bill was approved by the Duma Council and will come up for discussion by the full house later.
Grushchak said the chief opponent of the compromise bill, which would free conscientious objectors from proving the legitimacy of their reasons for opting out of military service, is the Defence Ministry. "The ministry is trying to keep the army together by packing it with conscripts, even though it cannot feed and clothe all the soldiers. But the president has already decreed the transition to a professional army by the end of the century," he said. "If this became law, they would have to speed up reform of the draft, because many young men would choose civilian service, and they would have much more difficulty filling the ranks."
Seryogin will appeal the ruling in Moscow municipal court, where he is confident of a reversal.
Antimilitarist Radical Association, an association of Radical Party, U1. Trubnaja 25-2-49, 103051 Moscow, Russia; Tel/fax 7 095 9239127; e-mail ara@ glasnet.ru or a.r.a.@agora. stm.it.
From cramped quarters inside a Moscow building, a group of women oppose Russia's war machine.
In 1989, some 300 women formed the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers of Russia (CSMR) to campaign to free their sons from military service. They pressed for the return of 180,000 young men from battlefronts.
When war erupted in Chechnya in November 1994, the mothers opposed the war and staged regular demonstrations against it.
Hundreds of mothers went to Chechnya to take their sons away from the battlefront. Some carried out negotiations themselves with the Chechen army to secure the release of sons held as prisoners of war. In March the Mothers organised the famous March of Mothers' Compassion from Moscow to Grozny (capital of Chechnya). It was stopped by the Russian army before it reached the capital. Some Russian mothers met with Chechen mothers to mourn.
Russia's army recruits are abused and food is sometimes inadequate. The Mothers' campaign extended to reform of the military, including the right of potential recruits to alternative service. CSMR set up a Rehabilitation Centre for soldiers who left the army for health reasons. Parents and soldiers also get legal help in filing complaints to the army.
The peace agreement with Chechnya is still holding despite some minor incidents. But this does not mean that the work of the mothers is over. According to official Russian figures, the war has killed between 40,000 and 80,000 Chechens. But the local Chechen news agency claims that as many as 100,000 civilian were killed, or 10 percent of Chechnya's inhabitants. According to the same source 25,000 Russian soldiers were killed during the war, 10 times more then the Russian official version.
''We still have thousands of missing soldiers to find,'' says Melnikova.Receipt of the Right Livelihood Prize (known as the Alternative Nobel Peace Prize) will help the Committee's work. It has also been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by the International Peace Bureau and German women parliamentarians.
by Maria P. Lofgren, IPS.