war crimes in Ukraine

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Asylum seeker abducted from Ukraine, imprisoned in Russia. End of story?

Halya Coynash
Leonid Razvozzhaev was abducted while applying for asylum and could now face a long prison sentence on questionable charges in Russia yet the Ukrainian authorities are continuing to deny all knowledge and any responsibility for this grave breach of international law

There is now silence a mere two weeks since Leonid Razvozzhaev was abducted in broad daylight from outside the UNHCR office in Kyiv.  He was there making an application for political asylum and had gone out for a break, leaving his things in the office.  Minutes later shouts for help were heard from the street and Razvozzhaev was seen being pushed into a car with Ukrainian number plates.

Two days later, Leonid Razvozzhaev was remanded in custody by a Moscow court.  He had time to shout from the courtroom that he had been tortured before being taken away.  The Russian investigators claimed that Leonid Razvozzhaev had “handed himself in” and confessed to the highly nebulous charges which appear to be based on a television programme put together by the pro-Kremlin NTV Channel.  This was entirely refuted by Razvozzhaev himself in a conversation in the SIZO [remand unit] with Valery Borshchov from the Russian Public Supervisory Commission.  In what would seem to have been more than one conversation, Razvozzhaev said that he had been put under serious psychological pressure, with his wife and children being directly threatened if he did not sign a “confession”.  He was also deprived of food, not allowed to use the toilet at very least.  Valery Borshchov says that Razvozzhaev told him that he had earlier prepared a note in case he died in police custody saying that he had not committed suicide.  Borshchov is adamant that an investigation is needed into the abduction and later events.

He is not alone in this, although unfortunately the response from all authorities in Ukraine has been woefully inadequate.

The Ukrainian State Border Guard Service has refused to provide the Internet publication Ukrainska Pravda with information about where Razvozzhaev crossed the border on 19 October.  It claims that it has not been “authorized” by Leonid Razvozzhaev to disclose the information.  Hardly surprising since the latter was taken by force to Moscow where he is now imprisoned and facing charges that could carry a 10 year sentence, with these charges, as mentioned, based on a television programme.

Ukraine’s Interior Ministry provided staggering commentary with Ministry spokesperson Volodymyr Polishchuk informing journalists that although the investigation by the Ministry into Razvozzhaev’s abduction was due to continue until 29 October, they were already able on 24 October to say that no criminal investigation could be initiated over the abduction. A foreign national, he said, had been abducted by a foreign security service and such bodies could not be expected to exchange information regarding such activities.

Mr Polishchuk remains in his post and the Interior Ministry has seen no need to clarify what is a truly incredible statement.   This may, of course, be because the authorities knew exactly what was planned for Leonid Razvozzhaev and helped organize the actions which are in breach both of Ukraine’s legislation and international law.

The Russian website has looked into the situation and states that the UNHCR continues to consider Razvozzhaev an asylum seeker. If the latter informs international representatives that he was forcibly returned to Russia, the Russian authorities could be sent a note stating that Razvozzhaev’s access to asylum procedure must be reinstated. Razvozzhaev’s lawyer is presently preparing an application to the European Court of Human Rights.  

All of this has moral weight but there is no real clout to force Russia to comply. Nor is the situation made any easier given Ukraine’s failure to respond adequately and / or collaboration by the Ukrainian Security Service [SBU]. 

Human rights organizations’ demand that an investigation be undertaken and those responsible held to answer has thus far been ignored.  A member of the Human Rights Ombudsperson’s Secretariat stated that the Ombudsperson had asked for more information from the relevant authorities. Ukrainska Pravda has received an answer to their formal request.  There is so far no response from the Ombudsperson.

This is the second time in a matter of months that people have been returned by force to Russia. 

Human Rights Watch stated that “For an asylum seeker to simply vanish while lodging his asylum claims and then reappear in the country he fled is profoundly shocking”.  

The apparent ease with which this case is being shelved in Ukraine is equally shocking and highly disturbing. 

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