Perpetrators of Crimes Against Prisoners in Eastern Ukraine Must be Held Accountable
Q&A briefing available here.
The Hague, Kyiv, Paris, 23 September 2020 – Yesterday FIDH and its partner organisation in Ukraine, the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG), submitted a 100-page Article 15 Communication to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on the crimes committed against detainees trapped in prisons seized and controlled by anti-government forces in Eastern Ukraine. Our organisations call upon the ICC Prosecutor to open an investigation into the international crimes committed in Ukraine since the beginning of the conflict in early 2014, including war crimes and crimes against humanity committed against prisoners – a vulnerable and largely forgotten group.
In the course of hostilities, 36 detention facilities holding 16,200 prisoners fell under the control of anti-government forces. The government of Ukraine took no adequate steps to evacuate the prisoners from the sites of active hostilities. Thus, the vast majority of prisoners, effectively transferred into the custody of anti-government forces, were simply abandoned to their fate and almost certainly faced ill-treatment. Those perceived to be pro-government have been subjected to the harshest forms of abuse.
“Prisoners have been held in terrible conditions, often without light, without being taken outside to exercise, in unsuitable facilities where they are extremely badly fed and deprived of medical care. Many have been tortured and some beaten to death”, said Yevgeniy Zakharov, Director of KHPG.
Systematic violence, intimidation, and debasement persisted for months, years, and, in some cases, to this day. In addition to the abuses directly inflicted by prison authorities, victims have regularly suffered from the effects of ongoing hostilities such as frequently disabled heating, electricity, and water supplies and damaged prison buildings. In addition, the ongoing hostilities have caused injury to prisoners and in some cases even caused their death.
These events have been taking place in the context of the armed conflict between Russian-backed (and controlled) anti-government forces and Ukrainian armed forces and paramilitary battalions. These abuses are part of the anti-government forces’ policy to conduct a widespread, systematic attack on the civilian population.
KHPG and FIDH collected and documented information about these crimes based on evidence provided by 266 victims and witnesses during in-person and phone interviews as well as nine monitoring visits to prisons on government-controlled territory between December 2017 and May 2018. The in-person and phone interviews were organised in response to inquiries sent to all prisons located on the territory controlled by anti-government forces.
“These atrocities, which amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, should be investigated along with all other conflict-related crimes in eastern Ukraine. The ICC Prosecutor should not forget this vulnerable group of people, who seem to have slipped through the gaps of justice efforts”, said Artak Kirakosyan, FIDH Vice President.
Thus far the Ukrainian government has not taken adequate actions in response to the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed on the territory controlled by anti-government forces. The victims of these crimes have had no effective remedy at the national level. With this submission, FIDH and KHPG continue their efforts to document international crimes committed in Ukraine and call on the ICC to take action by opening a full-fledged investigation into the situation of Ukraine and holding the perpetrators of crimes under its mandate to account.
A Q&A sheet summarising the reasons for this submission, its main findings, our organisations’ requests, and next steps can be found here.