On December 12th, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) monitoring mission in Ukraine released its 28th report. The report may be found on the OHCHR’s website: [.PDF]
In it, the body accused Russia of ill treatment of the prisoners handed over to Ukraine in the 35:35 prisoner exchange that took place on September 7th, 2019. In particular, this is based on the testimony of 5 Ukrainian detainees: Oleh Sentsov, Oleksandr Kolchenko, Volodymyr Balukh, Yevhen Panov, and Edem Bekirov.
“The released men informed OHCHR of torture and ill-treatment suffered either upon apprehension or in detention facilities in both Crimea and in the Russian Federation. In the majority of incidents, the Russian FSB and penitentiary workers were cited as perpetrators. The torture and ill-treatment included electroshocks, threats of sexual violence, suffocation, and beatings with wet towels, fists, metal objects, and bats.
In several cases, the FSB apprehended the victims with excessive force and without giving reasons for the arrest.
The victims were then held unofficially, with no formal status, until their arrest was subsequently registered several hours/days later.
It appears the FSB used the periods of unofficial detention to engage torture and ill treatment to try to force the victims to self-incriminate or testify against others. In one case, the FSB coerced the detainee to refuse private legal services by threatening to return him to the location of unofficial detention where he had previously been brutally tortured. The victims and their lawyers raised several incidents of torture and ill-treatment at the pre-trial stage as well as during their trials. While in some cases pro-forma investigations reportedly took place, these have not resulted in any prosecutions.”
In addition, the OHCHR claimed that the individuals from Crimea – Messrs, Sentsov, Kolchenko, and Balukh — suffered from the automatic imposition of Russian Federation citizenship, although none of them had Russian citizenship prior to that.
“Some of them reported being subjected to psychological pressure and threats by the FSB and later by penitentiary workers to accept Russian Federation passports in exchange for leniency.91 One consequence of treating the detainees as Russian citizens was the denial of Ukrainian consular visits to the detention facilities in the Russian Federation.”
The OHCHR claimed that the prisoners were denied visits by their relatives in facilities in Crimea and the Russian Federation during the pre-trial stage, as well as restrictions of visitation rights upon conviction. The aforementioned persons claimed that they would get punished for arbitrary reasons, such as failing to say “Hello” to prison guards.
They also allegedly had limited access to medical care. Bekirov was allegedly forcefully administered with insulin and got an allergic reaction, and then an insulin dependency.
Finally, the OHCHR described the alleged events surrounding the arrest of Oleh Sentsov.
“Oleh Sentsov, a filmmaker and a resident of Crimea with pro-Ukrainian views, was apprehended by the Russian FSB in Simferopol on 10 May 2014. The FSB officers physically attacked him near his home, beat him, and drove him from the scene without offering any explanation for his arrest. The perpetrators did not disclose to Mr. Sentsov where they were taking him or identify themselves as law enforcement officers. Upon arrival at the FSB building, the victim was tortured for about three hours while being pressured to incriminate himself and others in the coordination of alleged terrorist acts in Crimea. The FSB beat Mr. Sentsov with their fists and a wooden bat, and suffocated him with a plastic bag until he fainted. He was also subjected to sexual violence; FSB officers stripped him and threatened to rape him with a bat. Mr. Sentsov was held in the FSB office overnight in unofficial detention and was only formally arrested the following day.”
Before and during the trial he reported on the alleged torture but nothing was undertaken. Accidentally, the report did not mention that the “filmmaker” was involved in preparing and carrying out terrorist attacks in Crimea.
At even a slight glimpse, seeing the 35:35 prisoner exchange, the numerous photographs and videos of the situation, one can see that all of the prisoners released by Russia were in a much better condition than those released by Ukraine.
Here are the Ukrainian sailors, detained on November 25th 2018, who were potentially subject to the same conditions as the ones mentioned by OHCHR.
Nadiya Savchenko also seemed to be in great shape, all the while she was accused of assisting in killing of Russian journalists.
The state of the prisoners released from Ukraine can also be seen in videos, and their condition is also quite showing.
The testimony of Vladimir Tsemakh of how he was abducted and treated by Kiev forces, for example, was completely unmentioned by the OHCHR.
The Russian Foreign Ministry published an official comment to the OHCHR report, categorically denying the accusations of ill treatment.
“The Foreign Ministry contests the Monitoring Mission’s perspective on the outcome of the prisoner exchange that took place on September 7, 2019. We reject the groundless accusations of ill treatment of Ukrainian nationals by the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation. We urge experts to rely on official sources of information when drafting their reports.
We have to emphasise once again that the Monitoring Mission’s mandate does not cover third countries. The Republic of Crimea and the Federal City of Sevastopol are part of the Russian Federation. Consequently, once again including into a report on Ukraine an assessment of the human rights situation in this Russian region is unlawful.”
This is a mild and surprising response, since there is a plethora of evidence of how prisoners in Ukraine were treated in some of the black sites and other locations. There are many eyewitness testimonies and various facts that could have been provided by the Russian side.
Russia could have reminded of the reports and evidence of torture and supposed killings by Ukrainian special services in their prisons [FOR EXAMPLE]. There is even a UN report on specifically that. The report can also be found on the UN’s website: [.doc]
The OHCHR’s Monitoring Mission in Ukraine’s 28th report is clearly politically motivated and the entire of its accusations are based on claims from 5, out of 35 prisoners exchanged, with no other evidence presented. It is also a very apparent attempt at covering the crimes of the Nazi-like behavior of the Ukraine law enforcement bodies and their atrocities.
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