It has already been 100 days since the start of the full-scale invasion of RF. We’re talking to the executive director of the Ukrainian Helsinki Union for Human Rights Oleksandr Pavlichenko as for whether these tragic events have influenced the government’s actions and how the situation with the provision of human rights in Ukraine has changed.
Mr Oleksandr, for any society a war inevitably leads to introducing restrictions in many areas of life. It has already been 100 days of the full-scale russian-Ukrainian war. In your opinion, which actions of the government improve or worsen the situation as for the provision of human rights in such conditions?
The first is that any war breaks the rules, the second is that it introduces severe restrictions, the third is that there appear to be a lot of armed people. The fourth is the question of mobilization: we have martial law, the principles of civil life are considered through the prism of reasonability of their compliance; prejudicial investigation bodies have stopped working in their usual mode. I can give specific examples. In fact, access of lawyers in places of detention under martial law has been forbidden. It was actually a self-willed prohibition, an internal order according to which lawyers were not simply allowed. Virtually all the judicial proceedings have been stopped.
Crossing the border by men aged under 60 appeared to be a significant restriction. Mobilization requirements must provide the arrival of those men who are obliged to fulfill their military duty at recruiting stations. However, in the situations when documentary evidence of possible reasons for the exemption from mobilization was needed, such documents couldn’t have been presented at the border crossing due to different reasons – the destruction of documents during shelling, the impossibility of their receiving during active combat operations, sudden changes of the personality status – when as a result of a parent’s death the other parent became the single guardian of a minor child, which again couldn’t be proved by a document as nobody was able to issue the death certificate to those who were killed during the evacuation.
At the same time, some of those who had the status of exemption from mobilization due to health conditions or the need to care for other family members, were mobilized into the ranks of the UAF. Several weeks ago there were such protests among the mobilised people because they had been in fact engaged in service in the UAF with a violation, as a result having much lower motivation to serve in the UAF.
I also said about violations concerning the elements of political opponents’ reprisals, when they are beyond the legislative field. One thing when it is an actual enemy working for an opposing platform, but these days, it basically happens without any substantial explanation. TV channels were simply cut off from the cable networks, including two TV channels belonging to Petro Poroshenko. They were cut off based on their oppositional agenda and for not praising the president. Nowadays, any oppositional traits are seen as adverse. Therefore, it has all been cut off by an unrightful decision.
How do you think the civil society in Ukraine proved itself?
The civil society manifested itself remarkably, it became an important component in resisting russian aggression. Both this society and the freedoms achieved, the freedom of assembly, the freedom of speech – exactly they became the strengthening factor for civil society. Rallies in Kherson when unarmed people were facing the armed russian soldiers and tanks, it demonstrated that people were ready to sacrifice their health and lives, because they didn’t agree with this occupation. Those were not some sporadic protests, but mass demonstrations happening on a daily basis. Not artificially organized by some “puppeteers”. Those were not some random paid people – it was the self-mobilized society. Similarly, self-mobilization of society resulted in the volunteer movement when volunteers were evacuating people from areas of fighting, delivered protective equipment and cargoes with humanitarian aid. Once again, it demonstrated how important it is to have an efficient and proactive civil society based on fundamental values, including the freedom of peaceful gathering, which is another value of the democratic world, and the freedom of expression. When these values are being targeted, the civil society itself is being threatened.
Can we say the same about the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada’s Commissioner for Human Rights?
The issue with the Commissioner for Human Rights Office and how it’s been handled indicates vividly how authorities follow their political beliefs. When there’s a simple need to deprive a person of a mandate, even if there is no sufficient legal basis for that, if they simply don’t like a person who takes that post, if that person says something wrong, took some wrong trips, etc. “We don’t like it, so we have to replace her with a person we like.” And that raises the issue of understanding who is the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights, what is this institution, what is it for and how it functions.
The attempts of “removing Denisova”, have been repeated. “Servants of the People” wanted to remove her before the war, even called some candidates, and said how they want to do it. And now there is such an opportunity, so they returned to the issue. The reason for this decision is, among other things, the fact that it allegedly disclosed incorrect or unverified information describing the facts obtained through the Commissioner’s hotline. I’m not saying that the information was disseminated correctly, that it was correct. No. But to what extent is this a reason to remove the Commissioner and appoint someone else?
Do you consider the restrictions imposed by the authorities to be proportionate or justified?
It is difficult to say which restrictions will be truly proportional, as there is no result of the end of the war. It is just as difficult to say that it is justified. Decisions were made due to the ultimate requirement of martial law. The mobilization was even more effective than expected because there was no shortage of those who were ready to join the ranks and regain independence and defend Ukraine. As of February 24, we know that there were queues at the military enlistment offices, everyone was short of ammunition, and weapons and the number of volunteers exceeded the number of prepared reserve seats in the Armed Forces. This became a problem because Ukraine was not prepared for war, which was worth thinking about in advance and having adequate supplies of weapons, ammunition, equipment, and medicines to be effective, to be more prepared for such defensive actions.
Oleksandr, in these 100 days that have passed, are there any steps that civil society expected, but the authorities did not take?
Society is always looking forward to the effective resolution of problems. In such acute situations, the problems only increase, including security, registration, and social or other support.
I would like to draw attention to the lack of amnesty, which was actively discussed in the past 2021, and which was expected by the convicts, declaring their desire to defend Ukraine. This is also the issue of penitentiaries left in the occupied territories, together with convicts…
These are the issues where the authorities were not ready to make any decisions to resolve the situation.
From the beginning of the full-scale invasion, UHHRU in cooperation with other partners has been documenting the war crimes of russian federation’s army across the whole country.
We can say that, basically, the task at hand is to record all violations in maximum detail which will allow investigating them and take maximum accountability measures re all perpetrators. Anything that may serve as legal proof should be documented. Thus, the evidence base of committed violations is being formed. To rewrite the information about the committed violations in the legal evidence-based language is the actual aim of documenting. And we say, that this refers not only to tortures or murders but also to war crimes committed against civilians.
The statistics with tragic numbers of killed, wounded and missing people grow concrete and find confirmation in particular documented materials, containing details about the location, time and circumstances of commitment of the particular crime. This tragic page in the history of aggression of Russia against Ukraine killed thousands of people and destroyed hundreds of thousands of human lives.
What happens further to the data received?
We collect a database and pass it on to particular lawyers and attorneys. But these will be separate prepared cases, most information is collected for the most complete recreation of the picture of the committed crime.
As far as I understand, these documental facts will then be used by international bodies?
It is possible that particular cases will become the evidence base and the factual proof in international bodies. In such international bodies as The International Criminal court, for instance. One of the criteria of proving the fact of committing a war crime is their high incidence and systematicity. This is more than obvious with regards to ruining the civil infrastructure. This is something that Russia has been doing consistently, and has already gathered enough proof.
A separate criterion is the scale of crimes, and it is obvious that intentional shelling of civil infrastructure is ubiquitous.
Oleksandr, is Ukraine using all existing mechanisms to hold Russia accountable for the crimes committed?
First, such mechanisms are not numerous. Secondly, as anyone can see, they cannot stop aggressive actions, deescalate fighting or influence our adversary in some other way. No judicial mechanism can end the attack – only enough adequate weapons in the hands of Ukraine’s defenders.
We cooperate with international courts: the International Criminal Court and the European Court of Human Rights. Still, the Russian authorities ignore the decisions of international organizations.
Then, the efficiency of the mechanisms you listed is in question.
To bring a criminal to justice, it is necessary to catch him red-handed – like Shishimarin, who was captured on the charge of murdering a civilian. In the light of available evidence, war criminals like him can be brought to trial. In other situations, there is no real possibility to prosecute them yet, but we hope it will emerge.
And how do you assess the government’s efforts to integrate international law into the national legal system?
We have not implemented the Rome Statute and other international humanitarian and criminal law norms in the national legislation. This issue must be addressed and remains on the agenda if we are to bring justice to the victims of this unprovoked act of war.
Article 438 of the Ukrainian Criminal Code is imperfect and, for that reason, is rarely applied.
What are the most afflictive questions that now arise in the future protection of human rights?
The civil society is seeking support to continue volunteering and providing documentation.
The issue of human rights and protection of fundamental freedoms is now being resolved mainly on the military front.
So this issue correlates with the assessment of Ukraine by foreign partners as a valuable partner.
If we neglect human rights, use torture on prisoners of war and destroy such institutions as Commissioner for Human Rights, this all will result in a decrease of confidence in Ukraine, and the issue of providing weapons may become more problematic.
We can not make such mistakes and remain silent when the authorities intentionally do the following – persecute the opposition, unjustified restriction of rights, arbitrary decision-making. It will have a negative effect, undoubtedly correlating with the expected support.