By Alexandra Poolos
Monday, June 5, 2006
Russia's new power to intrude on nongovernmental organizations is a sore point in U.S.-Russian relations and is spreading a chill over rights groups such as the Soldiers' Mothers Committee, which helps women keep sons out of the military.
MOSCOW (WOMENSENEWS)--The cramped two-room offices of the Soldiers' Mothers Committee, a prominent human rights group in Russia, are lined with files and stacks of paperwork.
Female volunteers answer the phones and handle walk-ins. Most of the clients are women who come to find missing sons, learn about methods to evade the draft and, in the worst case, prosecute the military for abuse or death of their children.
The office buzzes with activity as staffers struggle to keep up with a stream of women, one of whom sat for over an hour as a volunteer placed call after call to government offices requesting information on her missing son.
A few feet away, another volunteer stamped the word "deceased" on a stack of paperwork on missing soldiers.
With a war in Chechnya, concerns about "dedovschina," or violent hazing, and low salaries, many women do whatever they can to help their sons stay out of the military.
The group is one of the best-known and respected nongovernmental organizations in Russia. It has 300 regional offices and serves some 50,000 clients a year in office visits and hotline calls. It acts as a watchdog, bringing complaints of military abuse to national attention that would otherwise not receive press coverage.
But in the aftermath of a law that took effect in late April, Soldiers' Mothers considers itself at risk.
The law gives the government the right to investigate all the activities of any nongovernmental organization, including a review of foreign funding and regional activities. If the government finds reason to object to a group it can t