33 Crimean citizens of conscription age faced criminal prosecution for refusal to join the ranks of the Russian Armed Forces. Three more sentences may be announced in the near future. This was reported by human rights defenders during a press briefing at the Ukraine Crisis Media Center.
These facts were discovered during collection of evidence intended for subsequent submission by Ukraine to the International Criminal Court – facts of compulsory conscription of citizens of the occupied Crimea to the Russian army. Under international humanitarian law, such actions by the occupying power are considered a war crime.
“The important thing here is that in all this time [since the beginning of the occupation] its citizens have not just been conscripted to the Russian army – they are forced to do it through a system of compulsory recruitment that threatens people with criminal liability for evasion from service in Russia’s Armed Forces”, said Maksym Tymochko, lawyer of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union. According to the Rome Statute, such prosecutions by the occupying power is also considered an international crime.
According to other documented testimonies, some Crimeans of conscription age had to leave the peninsula to avoid the army and prosecution. “This gives us reason to speak about another international crime – forced displacement of population (…) People might not be displaced by some authority, but the environment they live in forces them into displacement,” said Vitaliy Nabukhotnyi, lawyer of the Regional Center for Human Rights.
During monitoring activities, experts collected in total 165 legal acts confirming compulsory conscription of Ukrainian citizens to the Russian army in the occupied Crimea. “Those are decrees of the President of the Russian Federation on the launch of the conscription campaign, the orders of the Minister of Defense, the laws that “allow” conscription in the occupied territory, the orders of administrations on allocation of funds for the campaign in certain Crimean regions”, elaborated Oleksandr Siedov, Crimean Human Rights Group analyst. In addition, experts collected 199 publications from the media and websites of the administrations of Russia’s occupying authorities in Crimea with names of specific officials responsible for the conscription, and it is possible to accurately calculate the number of conscripts each year in every Crimean region.
In addition, 2000 pages on social networks were studied, documenting the handing out of 57 draft cards signed by Russian military commissariats in Crimea. It also turned out that at least 9 Crimean recruits were decorated for participating in Russia’s military operations in Syria. Oleksandr Siedov also noted that no deaths of conscripts from Crimea in Syria have been discovered, although there is information about deaths of Crimean contractors. There is also no concrete evidence of involvement of Crimean conscripts in the fighting in Donbas.
All collected information was included in Ukraine’s fourth report to the International Criminal Court. According to Yelizaveta Dzigora, Prosecutor of the Prosecutor’s Office of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, over 12 volumes of systematized information on this issue is kept at the Prosecutor’s Office. “We have a clear strategic plan regarding the dates of submissions and addenda to them. All this is done systematically and consistently, to supplement the previous reports on other war crimes with new facts,” stressed Yelizaveta Dzigora.
The report is currently at the stage of preliminary examination by the Secretariat of the Prosecutor’s Office of the International Criminal Court.
“Another conscription campaign is taking place in Crimea right now, with plans to conscript 3 thousand Crimeans. This shows that Russia’s crimes are still being committed, which is why our work on evidence collection will continue,” said Oleksandr Siedov.
The Prosecutor of the Crimean Prosecutor’s Office stressed that voluntary service of Crimeans in the Russian Armed Forces would not automatically result in criminal liability. “There will be no indiscriminate prosecution. In each particular case, specific aspects will be considered. (…) After studying concrete facts on how this happened, it will be possible to understand the presence or absence of a criminal component in the actions of specific persons, and only then we’ll be able to decide whether to bring criminal charges against a person,” clarified Yelizaveta Dzigora. Maksym Tymochko added that in and of itself compulsory conscription and service in the ranks of the Russian army are not grounds for the loss of Ukrainian citizenship under current Ukrainian legislation.