Ukraine prisoner of war trials in Mariupol could be a war crime: OHCHR

23 August 2022

The UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) expressed concern on Tuesday after photos and videos released on social media appeared to show metal cages being built in the philharmonic hall in the devastated Ukrainian city of Mariupol, apparently to house prisoners of war (POWs) during an upcoming “show trial”.  

OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said the trials by the Russian-backed authorities could begin in the occupied city, possibly within days - and warned that such a process could amount to a war crime.

"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", Ms. Shamdasani told a briefing in Geneva. "This is not acceptable, this is humiliating," she said.

'Combatant immunity'

Ms. Shamdasani pointed out how “under international law, individuals entitled to prisoner of war status have combatant immunity and cannot be prosecuted for having participated in hostilities, or for lawful acts of war committed in the course of the armed conflict, even if such acts would otherwise constitute an offence under domestic law." 

The spokesperson added that OHCHR was concerned that prisoners of war have generally been held without access to independent monitors, exposing them to the risk of being tortured to extract a confession.

"There have also been worrying public statements by Russian officials and members of affiliated armed groups labelling Ukrainian prisoners of war as ‘war criminals, ‘Nazis’, and ‘terrorists’, thereby undermining the presumption of innocence."

‘Unprecedented’ attacks on healthcare

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned that it has seen “an unprecedented number of attacks on healthcare” since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which began nearly six months ago.

“As of 23rd of August, over 460 attacks on health care have been verified by WHO, leading to almost 100 deaths and over 100 injuries,” Dr. Jarno Habicht, WHO Representative and Head of the WHO Country Office said. 

Dr. Habicht stressed that while the attacks not only violate international law, “they are also a barrier for many who need to care.”

“It is not only the supplies and others we need to support – we need to ensure also that the services are available,” he added.  

Over 350 children killed

According to the UN Children’s Fund, (UNICEF), the official death toll for children during the conflict is 356 children, but that is “a low estimate”, according to UNICEF spokesperson in Geneva, James Elder.

He said the expectation was that it would be “many more based on the thoroughness of how verification is done”.

On Monday, UNICEF reported that nearly 1,000 children had been killed or injured in Ukraine – an average of five a day - but stressed that the real number is likely higher.

Reiterating the urgent need for peace, UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell pointed out that “once again, as in all wars, the reckless decisions of adults are putting children at extreme risk. There are no armed operations of this kind that do not result in children being harmed.” 

Lifesaving grain bound for Horn of Africa

According to the World Food Programme (WFP) the first vessel transporting Ukrainian wheat grain bound for the Horn of Africa is now due to berth in Djibouti on 30 August. 

The MV Brave Commander departed from the Black Sea port of Yuzhny on 16 August, as part of the Black Sea Grain Initiative signed by Ukraine, Russia, Türkiye and the UN in July. But Michael Dunford, WFP Regional Director for East Africa, warned that while this was “a very positive development,” it was “not the answer”. 

“That one ship, 23,000 metric tons of wheat, is the equivalent of feeding 1.5 million people for just one month. And yet we currently estimate that there could be upwards of 22 million people requiring assistance,” he said.

 

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