In his report, Mr Arabadjiev underlines that members of the armed forces are citizens in uniform who must enjoy the same fundamental liberties, including those set out in the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Social Charter.
"I am appalled and horrified by the situation of servicemen in some member states' armies, who are subjected to abuse, brutality, institutionalized bullying, violence, ill-treatment and torture, constituting extremely serious violations of their rights. This applies to the 'initiation ordeals which remain common practice in the armed forces for certain countries, in particular former Soviet countries, notably Russia, but also Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. But cases of such abuse have also been uncovered in France and Poland, and also recently in the United Kingdom," he added.
According to the Russian NGO Mother's Right, 3000 servicemen die every year. In 2005, this foundation received 6083 letters from mothers announcing the deaths of their sons during military service. In 35% of cases, the authorities explained their death by suicide and in 15% of cases by murder or the result of abuse. According to the NGO one third of these 'suicides' were actually murders and another third suicides prompted by the 'initiation ordeals'.
Mr Arabadjiev's report also focuses on other major concerns such as child soldiers and women in armed forces. "Child soldiers still exist in several European countries, in particular in the United Kingdom where youngsters may lawfully volunteer to join up before reaching the age of majority. At a time when the Council of Europe is launching an 'Action Programme on Building a Europe for and with Children', it is vital that we abolish any regulations enabling young persons under the age of 18 to join the armed forces", the rapporteur explained.
As far as women in the armed forces are concerned, the reporter stressed that the submission in 2002 of a complaint regarding sexual harassment by 1072 women soldiers in Spain and the disclosure in a British Royal Air Force report in January 2005 that nearly half of all RAF women had been subjected to sexual harassment are only the tip of the iceberg.
A series of recommendations to member states on how to address these shortcomings is due to be discussed on the basis of Mr Arabadjiev's report at the PACE spring session (Strasbourg, 10-13 April).
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