In response to a video shared online that appeared to show Ukrainian fighters shooting POWs Human Rights Watch (“HRW”) has issued a statement:
“Ukraine should ensure an effective investigation into alleged abuse by Ukrainian fighters of Russian prisoners of war (“POWs”). If confirmed, the beating and shooting of captured combatants in their legs would constitute a war crime, and Ukraine needs to demonstrate that it is able and willing to prevent and punish serious violations of international humanitarian law.”
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“All the information in the videos that suggests abuse, and maybe worse, of POWs needs to be subject to an effective investigation,” said Aisling Reidy, senior legal advisor at HRW. “It should be possible to verify if abuse took place, and from there to hold those responsible to account.”
Videos posted online early on 27 March 2022 appeared to show Ukrainian forces abusing captured Russian fighters or combatants, who have prisoner of war status, including shooting three of them in the leg. The video location was identified as a dairy farm in the village of Malaya Rohan, about 18 kilometers east of the center of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. Ukrainian officials had announced retaking Kharkiv two days earlier.
On 28 March, the Ukrainian journalist Yuri Butusov, editor of Censor.net, posted a video from the same dairy farm that he said he recorded a few hours after fighting in the area had ceased. It shows the badly burned remains of three people who were wearing what he thought were Russian uniforms.
In the video, also reported on by The Intercept, some of the buildings at the farm are damaged by explosions or fire. Those buildings did not appear to be damaged in the video that seemed to show the POWs being abused. How the people were killed and the bodies were burned, and if they are the same men as in the earlier videos, is not yet known.
The Third Geneva Convention governs the treatment of prisoners of war, effective from the moment of capture. This includes obligations to treat them humanely at all times. It is a war crime to wilfully kill, mistreat, or torture POWs, or to wilfully cause great suffering, or serious injury to body or health. No torture or other form of coercion may be inflicted on POWs to obtain from them any type of information.
The International Criminal Court (“ICC”) prosecutor has opened an investigation into potential serious war crimes in the conflict in Ukraine, which would include war crimes against Russian prisoners of war. Under the principle of complementarity, the ICC can exercise its jurisdiction to prosecute crimes if the Ukrainian authorities are unable or unwilling to carry out their own effective domestic proceedings.
“The potential abuse of POWs would be a war crime that requires effective investigation and, if proved true, prosecution and punishment by Ukraine,” Reidy said. “Protection of POWs from all parties to the conflict and by all parties to the conflict is fundamental to the laws of war.”
Read the full statement: Ukraine, Apparent POW Abuse Would Be War Crime, Human Rights Watch, 31 March 2022
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