COMMENT: No Justice for East Ukrainians

By bne IntelliNews October 21, 2014

Vera Graziadei -


A day after winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Kailash Satyarthi, in an interview with RIA News, urged the Ukrainian government to protect Ukrainian citizens and especially children: "It is the responsibility of the Ukrainian government to save their citizens, particularly children. Safety of children will be their utmost priority. I will appeal to the Ukrainian government so as to ensure that such incidents against children will not occur in future."

According to a recent UN report as many as 3,660 people have been killed and more than 8,756 have been wounded in the Donbass region since Kyiv launched its military operation in April. Even though a ceasefire was announced on September 5, more than 330 people have died since, including 20 children. UNICEF stated that at least 35 children have been killed in the Ukrainian conflict and 87 have been wounded.

Human Rights Watch already called on Ukraine’s international supporters to "urge the Ukrainian government to strictly adhere to international humanitarian law, including by ending all use of Grad rockets in populated areas by Ukraine's army". Amnesty International also urged the Ukrainian government to "stop abuses and war crimes by volunteer battalions operating alongside regular Ukrainian armed forces", such as Aidar. 

However, all these appeals, urges and calls are likely to remain voices in the wilderness.

Firstly, Kyiv repeatedly denies responsibility for war crimes, even when it is confirmed by independent observers. For example, the OSCE confirmed that on June 2 the Ukrainian air force bombed a public building in Lugansk , killing eight civilians, but Kyiv claimed separatists mishandled a portable anti-aircraft missile system.

Secondly, even though the government keeps blaming 'the rebels', they don't seem to be motivated to investigating these crimes. But even international organisations seem to not be that keen on uncovering atrocities. For example, the UN promised to investigate reports of mass graves in areas near Donetsk which were controlled by the Ukrainian Army, but when the report came out the issue of mass graves was omitted.

Thirdly, after a recent Reuters' special report about flaws found in Ukraine's probe of the Maidan massacre, there are plenty of reasons to believe that even if Kyiv decided to carry out investigations of crimes, they are unlikely to be unbiased and fair.

There was a lot of pressure from Maidan activists to investigate the February killings of 100 protesters, which the new leaders were quick to blame on Berkut (special forces) police. They even arrested three suspects. However, Reuters discovered some remarkable blunders:

"Among the evidence presented against Sadovnyk (one of the arrested suspects) was a photograph. Prosecutors say it shows him near Kyiv’s Independence Square on February 20, wearing a mask and holding a rifle with two hands, his fingers clearly visible. The problem: Sadovnyk doesn’t have two hands. His right hand, his wife told Reuters, was blown off by a grenade in a training accident six years ago."

Another huge problem uncovered by Reuters was that "the two prosecutors and a government minister who have led the Maidan shooting probes all played roles in supporting the uprising”.

The former acting general prosecutor who oversaw the arrests of the three Berkut officers also declared on television that they “have already been shown to be guilty”. That statement, said legal experts, could prejudice the cases. Ukraine is a party to the European Convention on Human Rights, which states that criminal defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Needless to say, to date no-one has been apprehended in the shooting of Berkut policemen. Between 18- 20 February, 189 of them suffered gunshot wounds and 13 died.

In such a context, all the 3,360 dead Eastern Ukrainians and their families, including the victims of the Odessa massacre, can expect scant justice from the Ukrainian government. It is clear that without pressure from the international community and other organisations, Kyiv's regime is neither going to stop the Ukrainian Army and other battalions from committing war crimes, nor is it going to investigate them.

Undoubtedly, all involved would make more effort to not commit atrocities, like targeting schools, if there was a serious risk of being indicted for war crimes from a recognised tribunal, but even the International Criminal Court (ICC) ignored the people who died from sniper shootings on Maidan, the Odessa massacre victims, and other civilians who died from indiscriminate shelling. 

Russia is the only country which is taking active steps towards bringing justice to East Ukrainian victims. Moscow has called on the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to take responsibility for investigations into crimes committed in Ukraine. The Public Chamber of the Russian Federation filed 30 petitions in EHCR over war crimes in Ukraine and will file several hundred more by the end of the year. Ten petitions were already declined.

Human rights lawyer Jonathan Levy suggests rebel-held East Ukraine should “seize the initiative” and set up its very own International Tribunal and give it independence to act in lieu of the UN, ICC, and Council of Europe. In his independent legal analysis, he says  “Novorossiya has the same status as any other member of the community nations - it is a sovereign independent nation.”

In a 'just and fair world' one would hope that international organisations tasked with enforcing human rights, such as ICC, the UN, the EHCR, and the Council of Europe would not completely abandon their responsibilities to the people of Novorossiya and would make sure that the guilty are eventually brought to justice. However, the world is not ideal and, alongside murky investigations of the MH17 downing, East Ukrainians should also not expect to see justice from the existing international organisations.

COMMENT: No Justice for East Ukrainians

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