A Russian trial of Ukrainian POWs has caused international controversy

A Russian trial of Ukrainian POWs has caused international controversy
FILE PHOTO: Light emanates from a window of a block of flats behind a residential building damaged during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine July 16, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

For months, the Ukrainian city of Mariupol was under siege, with Ukraine’s national guard attempting to keep Russia away before finally surrendering in May. Hundreds of the national guard’s Azov Regiment’s members have been imprisoned by Russia since then, with the head of the Russian-backed separatist government in Ukraine’s Donetsk region saying they would be put on trial by the end of the summer. Now, it seems the trial could take place within a few days.

On Tuesday, the UN human rights office said the Russian trial process of Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) could amount to a war crime. It reported that it looks like Russian-backed authorities have built metal cages in a hall in Mariupol for a so-called “international tribunal." Under the Geneva Conventions, the right to a fair trial must be granted to POWs, and the organization has had no access to these Ukrainian POWs. But, the organization has also expressed concerns over the Ukrainian convictions of some Russian POWs.

At the same time, Ukrainian President Zelenskiy has warned that this trial could end any negotiations between Kyiv and Moscow. He views it as a sham trial and mentioned speaking with French President Emmanuel Macron and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan about it. He’s expressed that he expects a reaction from the UN.

Key comments:

“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. This is not acceptable. This is humiliating," said Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

“Now there are enough reports in the media that, in Mariupol, the scenery is being prepared for an absolutely disgusting and absurd show trial of Ukrainian defenders, of our warriors who are captives of the occupiers. No matter what the occupiers are thinking, no matter what they are planning, the reaction of our state will be absolutely clear. If this despicable show trial takes place, if our people are brought into this scenery in violation of all agreements, all international rules, if there is abuse … This will be the line beyond which any negotiations are impossible," Zelenskiy said in a national address on Sunday.

When he announced the invasion in February, Putin mentioned future trials, saying, “We will seek to demilitarize and de-nazify Ukraine, as well as bring to trial those who perpetuated bloody crimes against civilians."