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Abuse in Russian army claimed 22 lives in 2006

© 2006 AFP

Twenty two Russian army recruits have died since the start of the year as a result of abusive treatment at the hands of older conscripts, the defence ministry said on Friday.

The hazing practice, by which new arrivals are subjected to humiliation, beatings and rape, has been blamed for hundreds of suicides and thousands of desertions in the Russian army in the past.

US-based pressure group Human Rights Watch said in a 2004 report that hundreds of thousands of conscripts faced "grossly abusive treatment" by older conscripts, who kept them in a year-long state of "pointless servitude".

The case of a young soldier, Andrei Sytchev, focused public opinion on the widespread practice in 2005. The 19-year-old was so badly beaten by other soldiers that his legs and genitals had to be amputated to stop gangrene from spreading.

In 2005, 550 officers were convicted for beating subordinates, according to the Russian judiciary.

In Friday's report, the ministry said that a total of 514 soldiers had died of unnatural causes this year.

In addition to the 22 victims of hazing, that total included 193 suicides and 211 soldiers dying in accidents.

In Chechnya, 55 soldiers died or went missing, the ministry said.