The Duma is currently debating several bills, important for the society and defense of the country, on alternative service and on martial law. Observance of human rights in Russia in the event of emergency situations and with regard to the need to fulfill the Constitutional duty of defense of the Motherland will depend on the passing of these bills.

It is known that the Duma passed the bill on martial law at the first reading last week. Whereas passing of the bill required 300 votes, 377 deputies voted for it. No one voted against the bill or abstained from voting. The Duma debated two versions of the bill, the first submitted by President Putin and the second by Eduard Vorobyev, Sergei Yushenkov and Victor Pokhmelkin of the Right-Wing Forces Union. However, members of the Duma Defense Council commented that many provisions of the bill would be considered as amendments during the improvement of the Presidential version of the martial law bill for the second reading.

Duma deputies have been debating this bill, so important for Russia, for over seven years. It regulates the use of troops in the event of aggression and outbreak of war, in addition to the functions of troops in zones of local conflict, similar to the conflict in Chechnya. Troops currently operate in the conflict zone in the North Caucasus on the basis of presidential decrees, which is not a democratic procedure.

The Supreme Council of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic last passed the martial law bill in 1991, but since then the law has lost its legal power, which necessitated the regulation of troop operations in Chechnya between 1994 and 1996, and between 1999 and 2001 by presidential decree.

What are the novelties of the martial law bill currently debated by the Duma? Firstly, when the bill is passed, it will define the procedure by which authorities should act if there is a situation in which martial law is applicable for the first time in the country. Until recently, the government, accurately speaking, had no right to take extraordinary measures in a case of intervention.

Secondly, the martial law bill comprehensively describes the notion of “aggression” during which martial law should be enacted. By aggression, the bill means use of armed force by a foreign country, or the sending by a foreign country or on its behalf, of armed groups or militants who use armed force against Russia.

Thirdly, the document clearly defines the powers of executive bodies of all levels in the event that martial law is declared, from the President to local administrations, which was lacking in the version submitted by the Right-Wing Forces Union. According to the Presidential version, martial law is declared by the President “in a case of aggression, or direct threat of aggression, against the country.” Martial law may be declared in the Russian Federation or in its separate territories by a presidential decree to be approved by the Federation Council within 72 hours. During a period of martial law it is possible to implement military censorship, prohibition or limitation of movement of vehicles, public meetings and demonstrations, as well as foreign travel.

According to the Duma, the Martial Law bill will be passed this year. Thus, the use of troops in emergency situations will become a more democratic procedure.

Quite recently, the legislation committee of the Duma held parliamentary hearings of the bill “On alternative service”. Again, the Duma debated two versions of the bill. Yuly Rybakov prepared the first version with the support of the Right-Wing Forces Union. A group of parliamentary members headed by the Chair of the Duma Defense Council Andrei Nikolaev prepared the second. The group included Bezborodov, Zelenov, Korzhakov, Lushin and Musatov. So far it is not known which of the bills will be passed but experts note that the version submitted by Nikolaev has the best chance, because during his meeting with President Putin February 19 the President approved his alternative service concept. The pro-governmental majority in the Duma supports this concept.

The document proposed by Nikolaev is based on the following principles; not only the religious or personal beliefs of a young man, but also his social position due to his nationality, education, family status, and so on, may be the grounds for alternative civil service.

In addition, if a young man is drafted for alternative civil service a proving system will be used, as opposed to a notification. Thirdly, alternative civil service should be based on the exterritorial principle of recruitment. Alternative service should also be comparable with the service of drafted conscripts. Andrei Nikolaev proposes 48 months of alternative service for the majority of young men, and 24 months for young men with higher education. In the case of service with the Armed Forces for civil personnel the service period should be 36 and 18 months respectively.

Representatives of the Right-Wing Forces Union report that the alternative service bill proposed by Rybakov differs from the version by General Nikolaev in many aspects. The Union proposes the inclusion of the most liberal provisions in the bill providing the maximum rights and liberties for a person in alternative service. A notification principle should be used during the drafting of a young man for alternative civil service. A young men should fulfill his civil duty close to his home, should have sufficient subsistence means, and the service period should not be too long, although it is stated that it should be longer than two years, the period of active service in the Armed Forces. Experts say that if the Duma chooses the alternative service bill prepared by Rybakov, the number of young men unwilling to service in the Armed Forces will sharply fall in Russia, which may negatively influence the efficiency of the manning of troops.

The Duma will debate the bill at a first reading in May or early June. However, according to some observers, it is likely that the debating of the bill will be postponed. Thus, it is probable that the alternative service bill will not be passed in 2001, as has been planned, and young conscripts will be still drafted to the Armed Forces on the basis of comprehensive military duty.

Meanwhile, there is good news for servicemen. Last week the Duma passed a bill to raise the financial allowance of servicemen to the level of state officials wages, at the third reading. The passing of the bill required 226 votes, and 362 deputies voted for it.

According to the bill, financial allowances for military posts and ranks are to be set by the President according to governmental recommendations. Money allowances for contract servicemen will be raised in the manner and time stipulated for indexing or raising of wages for federal state officials. The bill also prescribes the government to present the charts of money allowances for typical military posts and ranks to the President in the second quarter, and to implement these charts between 2002 and 2003. To become a law, the bill still needs to be approved by the Federation Council and signed by the President.