Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 08.01.2019
On 25 November 2018 the Russian Federation committed an act of war against Ukraine. In a purposeful and unprovoked attack, Russian forces rammed, shot at, pursued, and captured three Ukrainian naval vessels. 24 Ukrainian Navy sailors were captured.
The Ukrainian captives are prisoners of war and are entitled to the protections of the Third Geneva Convention. All 24 Ukrainian service members have demanded to be treated as prisoners of war. The Russian Federation, though, breaches international humanitarian law by subjecting the Ukrainian POWs to a criminal proceeding. The Putin regime refuses to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit the POWs.
In a commentary to the Third Geneva Convention published on 29 October 2010, the International Committee of the Red Cross stated: “POWs cannot be prosecuted for taking a direct part in hostilities. Their detention is not a form of punishment, but only aims to prevent further participation in the conflict.”
The Russian Federation and Ukraine are both members of the Council of Europe. The most prominent body of the Council of Europe is the European Court of Human Rights (the ECHR), which enforces the European Convention on Human Rights. Because the Russian Federation is violating international human rights law with respect to the 24 Ukrainian Navy sailors who are POWs but aren’t being treated as such, Ukraine is filing suit in the ECHR.
Dr. Ulana Suprun, acting Minister of Healthcare of Ukraine, tweeted on Orthodox Christmas Day: “Ukraine has filed a lawsuit in the ECHR concerning the violation of the rights of 24 Ukrainian sailors captured by the Russians in the Kerch Strait. The lawsuit calls for the dropping of all charges against them and declaring their imprisonment illegal. #FreeAzovSeaSailors”
On November 25, the Ukrainian Navy notified the Russian side of the plans to redeploy three vessels from one Ukrainian port to another – from Odesa to Mariupol. Ukraine did so in advance, in accordance with international maritime law to ensure the safety of navigation. The Ukrainian side followed the exact same procedure as was the case on September 23, when two Ukrainian naval vessels transited the Kerch Strait.
Unlike on September 23, on November 25 the Russian Federation launched a purposeful and unprovoked attack on the Ukrainian Navy near the Kerch Strait. The Russian coast guard ship "Don" rammed the Ukrainian tugboat “Yany Kapu,” damaging the Ukrainian vessel. The “Yanu Kapu” and two Ukrainian armoured gunboats, the “Nikopol” and the “Berdyansk,” set course to return to Odesa, but were pursued into international waters of the Black Sea by Russian forces. The Russians shot at the Ukrainian boats from the sea and air, prevented their safe passage, boarded them, and took the crew hostage.
The Russians treat all resistance to their imperialist aggression as criminal. The Putin regime concocted a charge of “violating the state border of the Russian Federation” and attempted to apply it to the 24 Ukrainian Navy personnel who it holds prisoner. Russian plans to shape the narrative are coming to nought. The Ukrainians insist they are POWs and demand to be treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention. The Ukrainian government is launching suit in the ECHR.
Global attention must be focussed on the act of war the Russian Federation committed against Ukraine on November 25 and on the war crimes which it commits since against Ukrainian Navy sailors. Ukraine is strengthening the rules-based international order by seeking redress in the ECRC and it must be supported by all like-minded nations. Unity in the defence of Ukraine and international human rights law against the predations of imperialist Muscovy is how civilized nations can hope to free the Ukrainian POWs.