All moves by Russian-backed armed groups to try Ukrainian prisoners of war before an “international court” in Mariupol are illegal and abusive, and another unacceptable act against a city who has already suffered greatly during this war against Ukraine, Amnesty International said on 26 August.
In recent days, the grounds for concern have increased due to the information and images shared on social media apparently showing cages set up in the Mariupol Philharmonic which would be used to lock up prisoners who are going to stand trial. Amnesty International’s Crisis Response Evidence Lab confirmed that the images posted on Facebook by the municipality of Mariupol matched well with the interior of the Mariupol Philharmonic building. International law prohibits the power that detains prisoners of war from prosecuting them for their participation in hostilities, or for acts of war lawfully committed during an armed conflict. The Third Geneva Convention provides that prisoners of war charged with offenses must benefit from due process and a fair trial, which can only take place before a regularly constituted tribunal.
By organizing such sham trials, Russia, as the occupying power, is indulging in a travesty of justice
Marie Struthers, Eastern Europe and Central Asia Director at Amnesty International
“Any attempt by Russian authorities to try Ukrainian prisoners of war before so-called ‘international courts’ established by armed groups under effective Russian control in Mariupol is illegal and unacceptable,” said Marie Struthers, Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia to Amnesty International.
“International humanitarian law prohibits the creation of a tribunal exclusively responsible for trying prisoners of war. Deliberately depriving prisoners of war of their right to a fair trial, which the measures taken by Russia will achieve, constitutes a war crime. The Geneva Conventions also clearly provide that prisoners of war are protected from prosecution for their participation in hostilities.
“By organizing such sham trials, Russia, as an occupying power, is engaging in a travesty of justice and transforming the judicial process into a tool of propaganda. “The fact of having chosen Mariupol to set up these “courts” there is particularly shocking insofar as the Russian attacks and the siege it recently suffered have turned this city into a field of ruins, which was taken in the May. Amnesty International investigated a Russian airstrike on the Donetsk Regional Drama Theater in Mariupol and concluded that Russian forces deliberately targeted civilians as a clear war crime. »
The rights of Ukrainian prisoners of war
Russian forces and Russian-backed armed groups must allow independent observers full access to Ukrainian prisoners of war. Amnesty International shares the concerns expressed by the UN human rights agency (the OHCHR) regarding the lack of access of Ukrainian prisoners of war to independent observers, which “puts them at risk of being subjected to torture to make them confess”.
Amnesty International also shares OHCHR’s concerns that public statements by senior Russian officials calling Ukrainian prisoners of war “war criminals” undermine the principle of the presumption of innocence, which is a fundamental safeguard for the trial fairness.
In recent years, Amnesty International has documented numerous cases of fair trial violations in Russia, including the rampant use of torture, fabricated evidence and politically motivated prosecutions. These reasons for concern are even more acute when it comes to “trials” organized by armed groups in the territories under Russian occupation.
Amnesty International has also documented numerous human rights abuses committed by such groups in the past since they took over areas of eastern Ukraine under Russian patronage, including kidnappings, killings , unlawful deprivation of liberty, torture and other ill-treatment, and repression of dissent.
Amnesty International is also calling for an immediate investigation into other alleged war crimes, including the July 29 explosion in the village of Olenivka that killed more than 50 Ukrainian prisoners of war held by the forces of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine. It is absolutely necessary that the Russian authorities allow international investigators to come to this site to carry out a comprehensive examination.
The Third Geneva Convention
Provisions concerning the protection of POWs prosecuted are contained in Articles 82 to 108 of the Third Geneva Convention (CGIII). Under the terms of Article 84: “In no case shall a prisoner of war be brought before any court whatsoever which does not offer the essential guarantees of independence and impartiality generally recognized…”.
In addition, Article 13 of GCIII contains the following provisions: “Prisoners of war must at all times be treated humanely. Any unlawful act or omission on the part of the Detaining Power causing the death or seriously endangering the health of a prisoner of war in its custody is prohibited and shall be considered a grave breach of this Convention. […] Prisoners of war must likewise be protected at all times, in particular against any act of violence or intimidation, against insults and public curiosity. Retaliation against them is prohibited. »
Accountability for war crimes
Since the start of the conflict, Amnesty International has documented war crimes and violations of international humanitarian law committed by Russia in its war of aggression against Ukraine. All the documents it has published so far (news, reports, surveys…) are available here.
Amnesty International has repeatedly called for Russian forces responsible for abuses to be held to account and welcomes the ongoing investigation by the International Criminal Court in Ukraine. Full accountability for the situation in Ukraine requires concerted efforts by the United Nations and its organs, as well as initiatives at the national level in application of the principle of universal jurisdiction.