Bill would bar civilians from publicly wearing EDF uniforms, insignia

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EDF personnel. Source: Government Communications Office.

A bill has been drawn up which would forbid civilians from publicly wearing Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) uniforms or insignia, or those of the volunteer Defense League (Kaitseliit). The bill also clarifies the position of conscientious objectors in relation to military call-up, and would abolish the existing medical board system in assessing conscripts' health.

The bill, which has yet to be submitted to the Riigikogu for voting, was authored by the Ministry of Defense, and would amend the Military Service Act, and close to a dozen other acts.

If the law were to enter into force, it would permit the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) as well as the EDF's Military Police (Sõjaväepolitsei) to check those wearing uniforms, to ensure they had the right to do so.

The bill's explanatory memorandum states that: "Where information has been received that an individual wearing an (EDF) uniform has been seen at an event which bears symbols of a foreign state, at an irregular appearance in a public space, including in forested or rural areas, or at a political demonstration, the military police can now ascertain the person's identity, inform them of the ban on illegal uniforms and of potential punishment and, if necessary, initiate misdemeanor proceedings."

The test also states the military police will not be patrolling the streets specifically to find violators or instances of what in the U.S. would be called stolen valor, but simply that they will be granted the right to intervene with and inform individuals wearing EDF military uniform or insignia who are not authorized to do so.

At present, no law bars civilians from wearing EDF uniform or insignia, it is reported.

"A uniform of a member of the EDF is a uniform worn by him or her in the performance of their duties, including in combat. / ... / It is important that any person wearing a uniform of a member of the EDF or similar is not confused with an actual member of the armed forces. The illegal wearing of such clothing may, inadvertently or intentionally, create a false impression of the activities of the EDF, the Defense League, or the state. Therefore, other individuals may not wear military clothing and this should not be a normal sight on the street or in the public space more generally,"

Conscientious objectors would still be liable for reservist service

The bill would also provide for alternative forms of services for those required to serve in the EDF who object to doing so on moral or religious grounds.

While conscientious objectors were already provided for under current law, those who have partaken in such alternative service can still be called up to reserve service if needed, under the new, proposed legislation.

Such individuals would not be required to, for instance, be involved in the use of weapons.

The proposed legislation however also states that, while no individual should be coerced into reserve service against their will, unequal treatment between conscripts and conscientious objectors should not be permitted to exist. In practice this might mean such individuals being called up to replace the civilian functions of those who in turn have been drafted into military service.

"It is emphasized that those who have completed alternative service can also be obliged by the state, if necessary [to undertake reservist service], otherwise there would be unequal treatment of conscripts and alternative service individuals."

Estonia conscription was installed upon independence and is organized via two different periods of service, eight months and 11 months, depending on what type of service the conscript is placed on (the air force - Õhuvägi - for instance, makes no use of conscripts). Exemptions include those going into higher education, while the bulk of conscripts are male. Upon finishing conscription terms, individuals are placed on reserve lists and liable for call-up for training etc. over the ensuing years.

The volunteer Defense League exists alongside the regular EDF and its reserve, and is recruited on a regional basis.

"There are areas where alternative service training can effectively contribute to national defense, either in performing tasks over and above the usual during a crisis (e.g. paramedic, rescuer) or by replacing those who have been mobilized for military service in various areas," the bill's explanatory memorandum states.

The bill also in its provisions brings health assessments of conscripts under military doctors, including those appointed by the Defense Resources Agency (KRA).

Other health care professionals will be involved where necessary, though there is scope for individuals denying them access to their data held on the national Health Information system.

The bills explanatory memorandum says that the change would reflect the realities of present-day medical history information, which is much more comprehensive than that available when the current medical commission was set up. The current system is too cumbersome and bureaucratic, the explanatory memorandum states.

The bill would also shift some sections on military service from the National Defense Act to the Military Service Act , and clarifies the law on maternity/paternity leave.

The bill would amend close to a dozen acts all told; if it passes a Riigikogu vote, it would enter force on January 1 2022.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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