Guardhouses will be returned but will discipline be improved in the troops?

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Passing the bill restoring guardhouses in the Armed Forces is reaching the homestretch. On November 24, it will be debated by the Federation Council and afterwards it will be signed by the President of the country. According to majority of Duma and Federation Council members, there are no obstacles for this.

According to the decision made by the Duma, the law on restoration of guardhouses will come into effect from January 1, 2007.

According to the Defense Ministry, by 2010, it is planned to build 143 garrison guardhouses in Russia that will comply with all contemporary Russian and European norms. The new guardhouses will differ seriously from those that existed in the Soviet army. For example, their area will be increased from 2 to 4 square meters per person; instead of plank beds they will have beds with linen, a room for meetings with relatives etc.

The 143 garrison guardhouses are created in accordance with the interagency targeted program for construction and reconstruction of guardhouses between 2007 and 2010. Earlier, it was reported that a demonstrative guardhouse was already arranged in the Alabino garrison (Moscow Region).

Commenting on the bill, Admiral Vyacheslav Popov, deputy chair of the defense and security committee of the Federation Council, announced that “the maximum period in which a serviceman can be kept in a guardhouse will amount to 45 days and only male soldiers can be arrested.” Popov adds that women and officers cannot be kept in guardhouses.

Popov is convinced that revival of guardhouses will contribute to strengthening of law and order in the army.

He adds, “The guardhouses existed in the Russian army for centuries and this contributed to military order. Commanders should have legal leverage to influence the breakers of discipline and the guardhouse is a sufficiently serious and efficient means. Punishment should be adequate to a committed breach to have penitentiary effect.”

As a rule, the majority of Duma and Federation Council members and military officials express similar opinion. Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov also thinks that revival of the guardhouse will enforce order in the army but states that it is impossible to solve all legal problems by administrative measures alone.

Human rights organizations speak about the role of guardhouses very cautiously. Valentina Melnikova, chair of the union of soldier’s mothers’ committees, believes that the documents passed by the Duma in the third and final meeting did not contain any classification criteria for what should be considered a crime and what should be considered a gross breach of discipline. Melnikova says, “Along with this, the decision is made by commander of a military unit, which may lead to arbitrary actions.” Melnikova presumes that such breaches as hazing and absence without official leave that are qualified as crimes now can be interpreted as gross breaches of discipline.

Along with this, the bills do not outline the procedure for investigation into the facts of disciplinary breaches and this investigation is to be conducted by commander of the military unit in the initial stage. Melnikova added, “We have been struggling for a long time to deprive the commanders as state officials of the functions of primary investigation.”

Melnikova also points out that no provisions are made for obligatory protection for breakers of discipline. She explains, “A breaker can ask for defense only if he writes a relevant application and this is not always done.” She also emphasizes that there is “discrimination in rank” in the army: a soldier can be put to a guardhouse and an officer cannot.

Melnikova presumes that the procedure of investigation into gross breaches of discipline, grounds for taking to responsibility and kinds of punishment can be outlined in a separate chapter or in several articles of the Code of Administrative Breaches.

Thus, the law on guardhouses will most likely be enacted from January 1, 2007. Definitely, it will help commanders struggle against hooligans in the barracks and to maintain a certain order in military units. However, we can only guess how much the discipline will be improved by this. Officers in the army lack legal culture and do not have the due level of organization of ideological work. Do our military leaders have a wish and possibility to organize and do this work? It seems that they do not have this wish and possibility. Chief Military Prosecutor of the country Sergei Fridinsky believes that “condition of law and order in the Armed Forces remains difficult and the quantity of crimes committed by officers has grown.” This is said about officers and what can we say about soldiers then?

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