UN protests illegal Russian trial of Ukrainian POWs

mariupol ruins

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on Aug. 23 denounced apparent plans by Russian-backed authorities to try Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) in the port city of Mariupol. The OHCHR believes that the trials may begin within days, and could themselves could amount to a war crime.

According to the UN, a number of Russian-affiliated armed groups in Donetsk and potentially the Russian Federation itself are planning an “international tribunal” in Mariupol. Despite there being no formal announcement from the Russian government about the trials, the OHCHR stated that there is sufficient evidence to support that trials are being prepared. The OHCHR notes that “photos and video footage published in the media and on social media appear to show metal cages being built in Mariupol’s philharmonic hall, apparently to restrain prisoners of war during proceedings.”

Under international law, anyone granted POW status has combatant immunity and therefore cannot be prosecuted for having participated in “lawful acts of war” committed in the course of an armed conflict. Importantly, these protections still apply if a POW’s action would otherwise constitute an offense under a nation’s domestic law. Furthermore, if POWs are charged with crimes, they are entitled to due process and fair trial guarantees.

The OHCHR also warned Russia that “international humanitarian law prohibits the establishment of courts solely to judge prisoners of war and that willfully depriving a prisoner of war of the rights of fair and regular trial amounts to a war crime.” Officials went on to add that they are “concerned that prisoners of war have generally been held without access to independent monitors, exposing them to the risk of being tortured to extract a confession.”

The OHCHR officials closed by once again calling for Russia to “grant independent monitors full access to all individuals detained in relation to the armed conflict in Ukraine… including those held by Russian-affiliated armed groups.”

Russia has not yet responded to these allegations.

From Jurist, Aug. 23. Used with permission.

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