Human Rights Watch (HRW) says Russian authorities are continuing to conscript men in occupied Crimea to serve in the Russian armed forces in violation of international law.
"As an occupying power, Russia not only has no right to conscript people in Crimea, but its draft is blatantly violating international law," Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement on November 1.
"Doubling down on this violation, Russian authorities are also pressing criminal charges against people who refuse to serve in its armed forces."
"Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which Russia is a party, an occupying power may not compel residents of the occupied territory to serve in its armed or auxiliary forces. It also explicitly prohibits any 'pressure or propaganda which aims at securing voluntary enlistment,'" the New York-based rights watchdog said.
"These prohibitions are absolute, and their violation is a grave breach of the conventions."
Russia seized control of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and quickly annexed the region in a move not recognized by the international community. Moscow has also backed separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine in a war that has killed more than 13,000 people since April 2014.
HRW said occupation authorities have imposed criminal penalties against those who refuse to comply with the draft, with the numbers of men being punished increasing over the years.
"Russia should immediately cease these practices, release Crimeans who have been forced to serve in the Russian forces, and abide by its obligations as an occupying power," it said.
The rights watchdog said it reviewed dozens of judgments from courts in Crimea relating to alleged criminal draft-evasion cases and identified 63 guilty verdicts since 2017.
"The true number of such cases is most likely higher,” it said, “as not all cases and judgments have been made public."
It said that in most cases, men were fined between 5,000 and 60,000 rubles ($77 to $1,000).
Overall, since Russia occupied Crimea, authorities have conscripted 18,000-18,900 men there, HRW said, citing estimates based on data provided by Russia's Defense Ministry.
For the fall 2019 campaign, Russian authorities plan to enlist a total of 135,000 men, including about 2,600 from Crimea, HRW said.
The rights group said that, since 2016, Russian authorities have been sending conscripts from Crimea to serve at military bases throughout Russia.
The Ukrainian government has repeatedly protested Russia’s conscription actions in Crimea.