Russia doubles war crimes against Crimeans forced to serve in occupier’s army
Young Crimean conscripts have approached human rights activists complaining of demands that they renounce their Ukrainian citizenship. This alone is a war crime, but so too is Russia’s ongoing conscription of young men on territory it is illegally occupying.
Lawyer Lilya Hemedzhy told a meeting of Crimea Solidarity on 2 March that they are receiving requests for advice from a lot of young men concerned about conscription into the Russian army. Some have reported attempts to force them to give up their Ukrainian citizenship. It is likely that such attempts are mainly about psychological pressure since the ‘fact’ of Russian citizenship, which was effectively foisted on Crimeans in early 2014, would be enough for a person to be deemed liable for conscription.
Whatever the motivation behind such moves, however, any attempts to force people to renounce their Ukrainian citizenship constitutes a war crime, Oleksandr Sedov from the Crimean Human Rights Group stresses. “If the Russian authorities were hoping to avoid punishment by forcing conscripts to sign papers rejecting their Ukrainian passports, they have, instead, given new proof of a crime.”
The 1907 Hague Convention, for example, states unequivocally that “it is forbidden to compel the inhabitants of occupied territory to swear allegiance to the hostile Power.”
Russia’s attempts to deny that it is occupying Crimea have been rejected by the United Nations General Assembly, by all international bodies and democratic states. Most importantly in the context of war crimes, the Prosecutor’s Office of the International Criminal Court at the Hague concluded back in 2016 that Russia’s occupation constitutes an international armed conflict, placing it within the Court’s jurisdiction which Ukraine has recognized.
Russia’s imposition of conscription in occupied Crimea is already in grave violation of the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. According to Article 51 of this, “The Occupying Power may not compel protected persons to serve in its armed or auxiliary forces. No pressure or propaganda which aims at securing voluntary enlistment is permitted”.
The Crimean Human Rights Group has long asked Crimeans to send them information about any young men forced to serve in the Russian Army, and Sedov now reiterates this request with respect to demands that they renounce their Ukrainian citizenship. This cannot, unfortunately, help their immediate situation, but it is evidence of war crimes for which Russia must be held to answer.
It is also important as Ukrainian human rights groups are currently working on measures to ensure, with the support of the international community and democratic countries, that Russia ceases applying conscription in occupied Crimea.
One method for avoiding Russian military service is to renounce Russian citizenship, however Russia has, equally illegally, made it impossible to get medical treatment, to keep ones work, etc. without a Russian passport.
Over the four years since Russia’s invasion of Crimea, around 10 thousand young Crimeans have been conscripted into the Russian army, with the number rising each year both of conscripts and of sentences passed on those who seek to avoid Russian military service. One young man was fined 25 thousand roubles in the autumn of 2017 and is still forced to serve a year in the army.
The list of rights violations in occupied Crimea is huge and includes persecution on the grounds of a person’s faith. Following Russia’s appalling ban on the Jehovah’s Witnesses in April 2017, there have already been a number of arrests of individual believers. In Crimea, at least two Jehovah’s Witnesses have been ordered to provide ‘proof of change of faith’ in order to be eligible for alternative civilian service.
One young man received a summons from the Bakhchysarai military recruitment commission for June 14, 2017. The document included a handwritten demand that he present “documents confirming change of religion”. This was after he had visited the office on June 9 and been told that he could only do alternative civilian service if he renounced his faith. This is reinstating – on occupied Ukrainian territory – a pernicious tradition from Soviet times where young Jehovah’s Witnesses were forced to go to prison, rather than take up arms which their faith prohibits.
Russia is also flouting the Geneva Convention’s prohibition of “pressure or propaganda which aims at securing voluntary enlistment”. In June 2017, there were large-scale events, with the use of various entertainment stunts and an exhibition of military technology, in both Simferopol and Sevastopol entitled: ‘Military contract service is your choice’. Russia’s occupation of Crimea has generally been accompanied by mounting war propaganda and the deliberate militarization of public awareness, with children particularly targeted