Mariupol POW Hearings In Ukraine May Disregard Combatant Immunity: OHCHR

Mariupol POW Hearings In Ukraine May Disregard Combatant Immunity: OHCHR
Ukraine's servicemen being evacuated from the captured Mariupol's Azovstal steel plant | Image source: Hindustan Times

In a statement, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has expressed concern about reports that Russia plans to try Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) in Russian-occupied Mariupol. During proceedings, OHCHR spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani informed that metal cages had been built in a Ukrainian city’s concert hall, apparently to restrain the POWs. She said that such plans are “inacceptable” and “humiliating”.

According to the UN, prosecuting POWs for taking part in hostilities is a war crime. The Russian government has previously denied that prisoners of war are unfairly treated. Recently, photos have emerged showing metal cages being built on the stage of the city’s philharmonic hall, including by Ukrainian authorities. Photos taken within the last four to five days match the interior of the venue, according to the BBC. Russia allegedly plans to hold show trials of Ukrainian POWs captured during the city’s defence before falling to Russian forces in May, according to Ukraine’s intelligence service.

Mariupol POW Hearings In Ukraine May Disregard Combatant Immunity: OHCHR
The BBC has reportedly verified that the photos taken match the interior of the Mariupol concert hall | Image source: BBC

“We recall that international humanitarian law prohibits the establishment of courts solely to judge prisoners of war and that wilfully depriving a prisoner of war of the rights of fair and regular trial amounts to a war crime,” said Shamdasani in a statement released by the UN on Tuesday. Before being taken over by Russian forces, the port city of Mariupol in southern Ukraine had seen a brutal siege and severe bombardment.

Furthermore, she said that the UN is concerned that if prisoners of war are charged with crimes, they will not be able to receive a fair trial. In addition, Shamdasani expressed concern about Russia’s refusal to allow Ukrainian POWs access to independent monitors such as the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which could expose them to torture.

The UN spokeswoman noted that individuals who have been granted a prisoner of war status have combatant immunity, which means they cannot be prosecuted for participating in hostilities or for lawful acts of war committed in the course of an armed conflict, even if such acts would otherwise be crimes under domestic law.

“There have also been worrying public statements by Russian officials and members of affiliated armed groups labelling Ukrainian prisoners of war as ‘war criminals, ‘Nazis’, and ‘terrorists’, thereby undermining the presumption of innocence,” said Shamdasani.

The OHCHR does not yet know who will hear the cases, who the defendants are, or what offences will be taken into consideration, and nor does it know how many persons may be tried.

Other Updates On Ukraine

In the last six months, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has resulted in “an unprecedented number of attacks on healthcare”, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

According to Dr Jarno Habicht, WHO Representative and head of the WHO Country Office, there have been 460 attacks on healthcare workers as of August 23, causing almost 100 deaths and over 100 injuries. According to Dr Habicht, the attacks are not only a breach of international law, but also a barrier to care for many people.

“It is not only the supplies and others we need to support – but we need to ensure also that the services are available,” he added.

The UNICEF spokesperson in Geneva, James Elder stated that the official death toll for children during the conflict is 356 children, but that is “a low estimate”. He said the expectation was that it would be “many more based on the thoroughness of how verification is done”.

In Ukraine, on average, five children were murdered or injured each Monday, according to a study by UNICEF. The organisation cautioned that the actual figure is likely higher.

UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell reiterated the urgent need for peace, and said, “Once again, as in all wars, the reckless decisions of adults are putting children at extreme risk. There are no armed operations of this kind that do not result in children being harmed.” 

The first ship carrying Ukrainian wheat grain destined for the Horn of Africa is now scheduled to dock in Djibouti on August 30, according to the World Food Programme (WFP).

As part of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, and the UN signed in July, the MV Brave Commander left the Black Sea port of Yuzhny on August 16. Although this was “a very positive development”, Michael Dunford, the WFP Regional Director for East Africa cautioned that it was “not the answer”.

“That one ship, 23,000 metric tons of wheat, is the equivalent of feeding 1.5 million people for just one month. And yet we currently estimate that there could be upwards of 22 million people requiring assistance,” he said.

 

Read more: Russia Detains IS Recruit Allegedly Plotting A Suicide Bombing On India’s Governing Party “Representative”

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