GENEVA (Reuters) – The U.N. human rights office expressed concern on Tuesday about plans by Russian-backed authorities to try Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) in the port city of Mariupol, possibly within days, saying such a process could itself amount to a war crime.
The Russian-backed authorities appear to be installing metal cages in a hall in Mariupol as part of plans to establish what they were calling an “international tribunal”, Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), told a briefing.
“We are very concerned about the manner in which this is being done. There are pictures in the media of cages being built in Mariupol’s philharmonic hall, really massive cages and apparently the idea is to restrain the prisoners,” Shamdasani said, citing images on social media.
“This is not acceptable, this is humiliating.”
Willfully depriving a prisoner of war of the right to a fair trial would amount to a war crime by Russia, she said, adding that Ukrainian POWs were entitled to protection under the Geneva Conventions.
Shamdasani said the OHCHR also had concerns about cases where Ukraine had put Russian POWs on trial, including the apparent sentencing of some for merely participating in hostilities.
NO UN ACCESS
The head of the Russian-backed separatist administration in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region said earlier this month that a trial of captured personnel from Ukraine’s Azov Regiment would take place by the end of the summer.
The city of Mariupol was under siege for months as fighters from Ukraine’s Azov Regiment, a unit of its national guard, sought to stave off the invading Russian forces. After fighting for weeks from the bunkers and tunnels below Mariupol’s vast steelworks, hundreds of Azov fighters surrendered in May.
Shamdasani said the OHCHR, which has dozens of monitors in Ukraine, has not been granted access to the prisoners and did not expect to be able to attend the planned trials.
“We are worried that denial of access to independent monitors leaves prisoners of war open to torture to extract confessions from them,” she added.
Russia denies torture or other forms of maltreatment of POWs. It says its forces in Ukraine are engaged in a “special military operation” to disarm the country and remove far-right nationalists it deems a threat to Russia’s own security.
Kyiv and its Western allies accuse Russia of waging an unprovoked war of aggression and an imperial-style landgrab.
(Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Madeline Chambers and Gareth Jones)