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15.07.2019 | Halya Coynash

Russia calls OSCE order to free 24 Ukrainian POWs ‘anti-Russian rhetoric’

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The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly has issued a hard-hitting resolution * on Russia’s illegal occupation and militarization of Crimea, in which it clearly states that the 24 Ukrainian seamen whom Russia seized in November 2018 are prisoners of war.  Since Russia is already flouting an order from the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea [ITLOS] to release the men, disregard for an OSCE PA resolution is hardly surprising. The OSCE’s clear recognition that the imprisoned Ukrainians are POWs protected by the Geneva Conventions is, nonetheless, important, especially as Russia is breaching the Third Convention by bringing preposterous criminal charges against the men.

Despite the ITLOS order from 25 May 2019 that the men be returned to Ukraine, Russia has now completed what it claims are ‘investigative measures’ with respect to all the men who are held in the Lefortovo Prison in Moscow.  All have now received the final ‘charges’ of illegally crossing ‘Russia’s borders’ – charges which have been condemned as unfounded by the entire international community, and now, very emphatically by the member states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

OSCE Russian delegation member Nikolai Ryzhak called the declaration “anti-Russian rhetoric” and said that Russia would not consider it binding. It is interesting that the excuse this time for saying that the resolution was not binding was that, he claims, only a third of the possible delegates were present.  Ryzhak should coordinate his excuses with his paymasters since this is by no means the first OSCE resolution that Russia is refusing to obey, including at least two on Russia’s “clear, gross and uncorrected violations of the purposes and principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations and the Helsinki Final Act”, in particular with respect to its invasion and annexation of Crimea.

The resolution and concerns raised about Russia’s intention to deploy nuclear weapons on occupied Ukrainian territory are well-worth reading, especially given the relatively week reaction to Russia’s invasion in the Spring of 2014.

This occupation is now being dangerously extended, with what the OSCE calls and condemns Russia’s “increasing militarization of the Sea of Azov, the Kerch Strait and the Black Sea”.

Quite new and refreshingly unequivocal is its assessment of Russia’s seizure of three Ukrainian naval boats and their crew.  The OSCE PA: “Condemns the unprovoked act of armed aggression and unjustifiable and disproportionate use of military force by the Russian Federation against Ukrainian vessels and their crews, which took place in the neutral international waters of the Black Sea near the Kerch Strait on 25 November 2018.”

The OSCE and members state should use all available instruments to “facilitate the immediate and unconditional release of Ukrainian prisoners of war held in captivity by the Russian Federation”.  Russia is urged “to grant,  pending their release, the necessary medical, legal and/or consular assistance to Ukrainian prisoners of war in accordance with relevant provisions of international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions.”

While this resolution is probably the most categorical to date, the men’s POW status has already been recognized by, among others, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in its  first quarterly report following Russia’s attack.  Although the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe was, typically, very cautious in what its said, its Resolution on “The escalation of tensions around the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait and threats to European security” from 24 January 2019, does call for the POWs’ release and stress that their treatment must be in accordance with the Geneva Convention which includes the Third Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war.

The most unquestionably important move was the ITLOS order to release the men and to return the boats, in response to Ukraine’s application for provisional measures in its suit against Russia over the attack.   

Russia’s claim that the Tribunal did not have jurisdiction was thus rejected, yet Russian President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov simply claimed it again.

Although the men remain imprisoned, Nikolai Polozov, the lawyer coordinating the men’s legal representatives, believes that Russia must comply with the ruling and, most importantly, that Moscow knows this.  With respect to the conflict over the note which Russia sent Ukraine on 25 June (which suggested that Ukraine must accept continuation of the men’s prosecution), Polozov points out this was on the day that Russia was obliged to provide an answer to the Tribunal on its ‘compliance’. 

Russia is therefore, in however a specific fashion, carrying out the necessary steps, and is demonstrating de facto that it will (albeit eventually) comply with the order.

He notes that two days after the sharp response from Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, a Russian Deputy Foreign Minister stated that Ukraine could send another answer.  How acceptable this, or any compromise, certainly remains in question, but the priority must be to get the men home.

See also:

Russia refuses to free 24 Ukrainian POWS despite an International Tribunal order it must obey

PLEASE WRITE TO THE MEN!

Getting any letter is an important message to them – and to Moscow – that they are not forgotten.

Letters need to be in Russian, unfortunately, and will be passed by the censor, so please avoid any mention of their cases, politics, etc. 

If writing in Russian is problematical, there is an example letter below which you could send, together with a picture, or similar. 

The list of all the prisoners

(the names are in Russified form, which has more chance of getting past the censor)

Artemenko, Andrei Anatolyevych, 1994

Bezyazychny, Yuri Yuryevych,  b. 1990

Bezpalchenko, Viktor Anatolyevych, b. 1987

Budzylo, Yuri Aleksandrovych,  b. 1973

Chuliba, Sergei Romanovych, b. 1992

Drach, Andrei Leonidovych, b. 1994

Eider, Andrei Dmitrievych, b. 1999

Holovash, Bohdan Olegovych, b. 1996

Hrytsenko, Denis Vladimirovych, b. 1984

Kostishin, Vladislav Anatolyevych, b. 1994

Lisovy, Vladimir Vladimirovych, 1984

Melnychuk, Oleg Mikhailovych, 1995

Mokryak, Roman Nikolayevych, 1986

Nebylytsa. Bohdan Pavlovych, b. 1994

Oprysko, Andrei Andreyevych, b. 1971

Popov, Sergei Nikolayevych, b. 1991

Semidotsky, Yevgeny Vitalyevych, b. 1998

Shevchenko, Andrei Anatolyevych, b. 1991

Soroka, Vasily Viktorovych, b. 1991

Tereshchenko, Vladimir Anatolyevych, b. 1994

Tsybizov, Sergei Andreyevych, b. 1997

Varimez, Vladimir Konstantinovych, b. 1992

Vlasyuk, Mikhail Borisovych, b. 1984

Zinchenko, Viacheslav Anatolyevych, b. 1998

Address

Russia, 111020 Moscow, Lefortovsky Val, No. 5. PO Box 201, SIZO-2

Then each name, as above, with their year of birth

Letter

Добрый день,

Желаю Вам здоровья, мужества и терпения, надеюсь на скорое освобождение.

Мы о Вас помним.  

[Hello, I wish you good health, courage and patience and hope that you will soon be released.  You are not forgotten. 

* The resolution, given below in full, is part of the Luxembourg Declaration

THE MILITARIZATION BY THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION OF THE TEMPORARILY OCCUPIED AUTONOMOUS REPUBLIC OF CRIMEA AND THE CITY OF SEVASTOPOL, UKRAINE, THE BLACK SEA AND THE SEA OF AZOV

1. Faced with the continuation by the Russian Federation of clear, gross and uncorrected violations of the purposes and principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations and the Helsinki Final Act, in particular concerning respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of frontiers of States, peaceful settlement of disputes, and refraining from the threat or use of force, non-intervention in internal affairs, co-operation among States, and fulfilment in good faith of obligations under international law,

2. Recalling the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Resolution on Clear, Gross and Uncorrected Violations of Helsinki Principles by the Russian Federation (2014),

the Resolution on the Continuation of Clear, Gross and Uncorrected Violations of OSCE Commitments and International Norms by the Russian Federation (2015),

the Resolution on Adherence to the Helsinki Principles in Inter-State Relations Across the OSCE Area (2015), the Resolution on Violations of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol (2016), the Resolution on Restoration of the Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity of Ukraine (2017), and the Resolution on Ongoing Violations of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol (Ukraine) (2018),

3. Taking into account UN General Assembly Resolution 68/262 of 27 March 2014 “Territorial Integrity of Ukraine”, UN General Assembly Resolution 71/205 of 19 December 2016 “Situation of human rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol (Ukraine)”, UN General Assembly Resolution 72/190 of 19 December 2017 “Situation of human rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine”, UN General Assembly Resolution 73/194 of 17 December 2018 “The Problem of militarization of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol (Ukraine), as well as parts of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov”, and UN General Assembly Resolution 73/263 of 22 December 2018 “Situation of human rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine”, 

4. Recalling the Declaration of the 1034th (Special) OSCE Permanent Council Meeting of 20 January 2015 and UN Security Council Resolution 2202/2015 of 17 February 2015 concerning the “Package of measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements”, reaffirming full respect for the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine and full implementation of the Minsk Agreements,

5. Having regard that the temporary occupation of Crimea and the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine by the Russian Federation is in contravention of the commitments made under the Memorandum on Security Assurances in Connection with Ukraine’s Accession to the Treaty on the NonProliferation of Nuclear Weapons (Budapest Memorandum) of 5 December 1994, in which, inter alia, the commitment to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine was reaffirmed, and hereby recalling the non-nuclear status of Ukraine as a State Party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, 

6. Recognizing that the ongoing temporary occupation and attempted annexation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol by the Russian Federation, and the illegal mounting military presence of the Russian Federation in Crimea and territorial waters of Ukraine represent the most serious threats to security and stability in the OSCE area,

7. Stressing that the construction and opening of the Kerch Strait bridge between the Russian Federation and temporarily occupied Crimea, which was built against the will and without the consent of the Government of Ukraine, represent yet another flagrant violation of Ukraine’s sovereign rights and international law, facilitate further militarization of Crimea, and hamper the economic development of Ukraine, notably by limiting the size of ships that can reach the Ukrainian ports on the Sea of Azov,

8. Concerned over the increasing military presence of the Russian Federation in the Sea of Azov, the Kerch Strait and the Black Sea, and also the selective search of Ukrainian and foreign ships, which impedes the lawful exercise of navigational rights and freedoms in accordance with applicable international law, which results in a decrease in cargo flows and tangible financial losses for the local economy in Ukraine and the merchants whose vessels are subject to this regime,

9. Reaffirming that the mandate of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) covers the entire territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders, which include the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, the city of Sevastopol and maritime areas,

10. Taking note of the OSCE SMM reports on the severe socio-economic implications of the Russian Federation’s ongoing systematic disruptions of freedom of international navigation in the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait, in particular for the Ukrainian ports of Mariupol and Berdiansk, 

The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly:

11. Reaffirms its full respect for the sovereignty, political independence, unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders, which include the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, the city of Sevastopol and maritime areas;

12. Reiterates its condemnation of the ongoing illegal occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, and urges the Russian Federation to reverse them and withdraw Russian occupation forces from Crimea and to bring it back under the control of the Government of Ukraine;

13. Reiterates its grave concern over the increasing militarization of the Crimean Peninsula and the Russian Federation’s intention to deploy nuclear weapons in that area, violating the non-nuclear status of Ukraine and further undermining global, European and regional peace and security;

14. Condemns the increasing militarization of the Sea of Azov, the Kerch Strait and the Black Sea by the Russian Federation;

15. Condemns the unprovoked act of armed aggression and unjustifiable and disproportionate use of military force by the Russian Federation against Ukrainian

vessels and their crews, which took place in the neutral international waters of the Black Sea near the Kerch Strait on 25 November 2018;

16. Encourages the OSCE Chair-in-Office, OSCE institutions and the participating States to make every effort and use all instruments available to facilitate the immediate and unconditional release of Ukrainian prisoners of war held in captivity by the Russian Federation, and the seized vessels;

17. Urges the Russian Federation to grant, pending their release, the necessary medical, legal and/or consular assistance to Ukrainian prisoners of war in accordance with relevant provisions of international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions;

18. Urges the Russian Federation to ensure freedom of passage in the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait in accordance with applicable international law, in particular the provisions of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea;

19. Supports providing the necessary resources to enhance OSCE SMM capabilities, in particular through the use of technical surveillance equipment, unmanned aerial vehicles and satellite imagery, to monitor the situation in the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait, and urges the Russian Federation to lift all impediments to the monitoring activities of the OSCE SMM, in particular in the Russian-occupied southern parts of the Donetsk region adjacent to the Sea of Azov;

20. Supports the development of other relevant measures by the OSCE participating States and institutions aimed at deterring further aggressive actions and impediment of the freedom of shipping by the Russian Federation on the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea, inter alia, by exploring ways of effective international monitoring of the shipping traffic in the Kerch Strait and around it.

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