war crimes in Ukraine

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Ukraine may answer to the Court in Strasbourg for abduction-like deportation of three Georgians

Halya Coynash

The three Georgian nationals who were abducted in the centre of Kyiv on October 21 included a military trainer who has defended Ukraine in Donbas and a man with a Ukrainian wife and child.  Any links that some or all of the three men have to former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili may explain the motives behind this extraordinary move, but can surely not excuse its apparent lawlessness.

David Makishvili came to Ukraine in 2014, and used his military expertise both in the zone of military conflict in Donbas and in training units of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, National Guard and Interior Ministry. 

He had a residency permit in Ukraine and had been given no warning of plans to revoke it.

He has described what happened to him on October 21.  He says he was crossing a road in the centre of Kyiv at around 2 p.m. when a Volkswagen minivan with darkened windows stopped.  A man in camouflage gear without insignia and an automatic rifle leapt out, ordered Makishvili to the ground and put handcuffs on him. He was forced into the minivan where a bag was put over his head.  He was eventually transferred to a van used for prisoners, with all his questions about what was happening ignored. He asserts that the people in the car were in National Guard uniform, and that it was they who forced him into a plane. He refused to answer any questions without a lawyer, and was told he didn’t need one.

The bag was taken off his head, but his handcuffs were not removed, only inside the plane where he found himself surrounded by six armed men in balaclava’s and uniform, again without insignia.  

Soon two other men were brought onto the plane, also with bags over their heads until inside.  They proved to be Georgy Rubashvili and Mikheil Abzianidze.  The latter began objecting very strongly, saying that he has a Ukrainian wife, child and a residency permit.   The armed men responded only by tying him up with scotch tape and putting six pairs of handcuffs on him. 

A border guard then appeared  He did not identify himself, but he was wearing a uniform that Makishvili has previously seen at Zhulyany Airport. 

The three men were effectively left at the airport in Tbilisi.  Their personal items were purportedly returned, though Makishvili notes that their money had disappeared. 

The Georgian police could not believe that the men had been ‘deported’ in this way, with Makishvili not having his passport or anything similar on him.

This, of course, is Makishvili’s version of events.

The problem with a conflicting version, provided by Ukrainian officials, is the lack of crucial details.

Serhiy Hunko from the State Migration Service, for example, claimed that the three Georgian nationals did not have “legitimate grounds for being in Ukraine”.  He asserts that they had been informed of “the infringement of migration legislation long before the deportation”.

When this occurred, and on what grounds, he did not reveal.  This is a very major omission particularly in the case of Abzianidze, whose wife is Ukrainian.  The European Court of Human Rights will certainly wish to know what grounds Ukraine could possibly have for infringing their right to family life.

Unfortunately, it is likely that the Court in Strasbourg could have many other questions also, since there do seem to be strong grounds for believing that the three men were forcibly deported, without a court order.  This, in itself, is in breach of Ukrainian law, not to mention the disturbing degree to which this ‘deportation’ looks much more like an abduction. 

Rubashvili is a former guard to Mikheil Saakashvili, while Abzianidze is a former driver of the ex-Georgian President whose soured relations with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko have led to a number of highly controversial moves by the authorities and by Saakashvili and his supporters over recent months. Makishvili and Saakashvili are friends.

There are strong grounds for viewing Poroshenko’s decision in July 2017 to strip Saakashvili of his Ukrainian citizenship as unconstitutional and politically motivated.  The excuse that Saakashvili had concealed the fact that a criminal investigation had been launched against him in his native Georgia seems very feeble, and not only because Saakashvili denies having signed the offending document.  It was common knowledge that the ex-President was under investigation when Poroshenko bestowed Ukrainian citizenship on him and made him Governor of the Odesa oblast.

There was still further concern in early September when Saakashvili’s brother was detained, shortly before the date on which Saakashvili was threatening to return to Ukraine.  Then too, it was claimed that David Saakashvili was ‘illegal’ because his work permit had been revoked. No explanation was provided as to why it had been revoked.

The situation at present with Saakashvili is fraught and controversial. He has chosen, for reasons best known to himself, to not appeal against the Migration Service’s refusal to grant him asylum.  This is after the stripping of his Ukrainian citizenship effectively left him a stateless person, something which Ukraine’s Law on Citizenship expressly prohibits.  The Prosecutor General Yury Lutsenko has been swift to say that there are no grounds now for not extraditing Saakashvili to Georgia.  This can also be disputed, since he faces charges in his native country that may well be politically motivated.

However much the ‘Saakashvili connection’ may seem to prevail in this case (fuelled by the politician himself), it should not be exaggerated.  If Ukraine’s enforcement bodies had any reason to view the three men’s presence in Ukraine as undesirable, there were avenues to follow, each providing the men with means of defending themselves and appealing such decisions.    The apparent infringement of all procedural requirements in this case makes it seriously difficult to believe in the woolly assurances that there were compelling grounds for suddenly depriving a man living with his Ukrainian family and a man who has risked his life defending Ukraine in Donbas of their right to live in the country.  It is no accident that human rights defenders have come forward, offering to provide the three men with legal assistance in reinstating their infringed rights.



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