Human rights organizations Media Initiative for Human Rights, Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union and Euromaidan Press presented the report “Prisoners of war” with recommendations on negotiating the release of Ukrainian citizens held in Russia and occupied Crimea. The event took place at Ukrinform.
“We included a number of recommendations in our report. The way we see it, the state needs a comprehensive strategy for negotiating the release of these people. Obviously, POWs as well as civilian hostages are powerful leverage in the hands of the Russian Federation, and they are being used for spreading propaganda in Russia and inciting hatred toward Ukraine,” said the project’s co-author and head of USAID program “Human Rights in Action” at UHHRU Nadiya Volkova.
She stressed the need to have legal clarity under humanitarian law, as well as to recognize and establish at the legislative level guarantees based on the status of persons involved in the armed conflict – POWs, civilian hostages – as part of an international armed conflict.
In particular, in their report the authors touched upon the need to engage professional negotiators with necessary skills and experience, as well as influential international organizations.
Follow this link to see the report.
This advice was seconded by former hostage held in occupied territories of Donbas, historian and student of religion Іgor Kozlovskyi.
“I speak from experience – torture stopped after the speech of the U.S. ambassador. True, there are unpleasant individuals, such as Zeman, who personally visited Putin to talk about me. Yes, I don’t share some of his views. But if through him we can expedite someone’s release, why not use it? There are issues that should be addressed in a coordinated manner,” concluded Mr. Kozlovskyi.
The authors also emphasized the need to introduce at the national level personal sanctions against Russian nationals responsible for violations of human rights in occupied Crimea and Russia. Moreover, criminal charges should be brought against Ukrainian citizens involved in violating the rights of imprisoned Ukrainians, with evidence of their unlawful actions collected.
The report also recommends making use of diplomatic channels to convince Western countries to introduce personal sanctions against said individuals – citizens of Russia as well as Ukraine. Spokesperson of Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Maryana Betsa supported the mentioned recommendation.
“It is crucial to strengthen personal sanctions. Russia doesn’t understand the language of law, only that of sanctions and strength. Sanctions make an impact, they eventually have an effect on people, it is currently the best and most effective way to influence Russia,” said Ms. Betsa.
Georgian ex-minister on reintegration Paata Zakareishvili also spoke during the roundtable. He talked about various aspects of negotiations for the release of hostages during armed conflicts.
“It is especially important not to mix humanitarian and political issues. The rhetoric should be moderate, neutral. An important thing to remember, first and foremost this is meant to help people whose fate depends on the result of these negotiations. Participants of negotiations win when it is virtually impossible to find fault in their words. Another important factor – when the other party respects the person handling the negotiations. Yet the main factor is how well you are performing your duties,” shared former Georgian minister.
Other participants that took the floor at the roundtable include representatives of state authorities – Deputy Minister of Justice Sergiy Petukhov, head of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Parliament of Ukraine Hanna Hopko, head of the Secretariat of the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights Bogdan Kryklyvenko, advisor to the head of the Security Service of Ukraine Yuriy Tandit, and Deputy Director of the Consular Service Department Vasyl Kyrylych.
As part of the process of securing the release of Ukrainian political prisoners held in Crimea and Russia, it is necessary to strengthen personal sanctions against Russian citizens responsible for violating the rights of Ukrainians. MFA spokesperson Maryana Betsa stated this during the roundtable “How to free the prisoners of Kremlin” hosted by Ukrinform.
The spokesperson also mentioned that MFA has been conducting #Crimeaisbleeding information campaign in social networks for several months now, involving global actors, in order to demonstrate existing problems in occupied Crimea – it is one more instrument in the fight for imprisoned Ukrainian citizens.
“As for the situation as a whole, it is important to have a clear understanding of who we are dealing with. Russia is the aggressor state, it’s a country that doesn’t value human life – be it the life of Russian or Ukrainian citizens. It is very unfortunate,” added Ms. Betsa.
She also expressed the idea that, as part of fighting for imprisoned Ukrainians, it is necessary to put pressure on Russia, particularly prior to international and important political events, such as the FIFA World Cup in the summer of 2018 and presidential elections in Russia.
One of the most efficient mechanisms for ensuring the observance of human rights in Crimea and Donbas by Russia is turning to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). This was mentioned during the roundtable at Ukrinform “How to free the prisoners of Kremlin” by Deputy Minister of Justice on European Integration Sergiy Petukhov.
“The main mechanism managed by the Ministry of Justice, which we all count on as the most comprehensive solution and classification of the situation in Crimea and Donbas, involves inter-state cases at the European Court of Human Rights. It is a long process, but previous ECtHR decisions on other armed conflicts show that ECtHR is able to give a comprehensive assessment of the situation, and hold Russia liable for the events in Crimea, which is more obvious. And also for the events in Donbas, considering that they are effectively in control of the territory as well as the armed groups and quasi-state entities that operate in the occupied territories of Donbas. And subsequently to hold Russia responsible for violating the rights of our citizens,” said Mr. Petukhov.
Mr. Petukhov noted that judging by past proceedings on other armed conflicts, such cases take years, but what is important, “ECtHR is not afraid to give an honest evaluation of the actions of aggressor states”.
“Unfortunately, the Russian Federation is already refusing to comply with ECtHR decisions, and we expect this practice to continue. At the same time, this makes it a political issue instead of a legal one, creating additional problems for Russia and offering additional ways to ensure the observance of our citizens’ rights by Russia,” added Mr. Petukhov.
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