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 the recent UN report as many as 3,660 people have been killed and over 8,756 have been wounded in Donbass since Kiev launched its military operation in April. Even though a ceasefire was announced on September 5th, 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. All these appeals, urges and calls are likely to remain voices in the wilderness.
Firstly, Kiev repeatedly denies responsibility for war crimes, even when it’s proved by independent observers that the Ukrainian Army has carried out the atrocities, e.g. OSCE confirmed that on June 2nd the Ukrainian air force bombed a public building in Lugansk , killing 8 civilians – Kiev claimed separatists mishandled a portable anti-aircraft missile system.
Secondly, even though the government keeps blaming ‘the rebels’, they don’t seem to be that motivated when it comes to investigating these crimes. Moreover, even international organisations seem to not be that keen on uncovering any new 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 intentionally omitted.
Thirdly, after this week’s Reuters’ special report about flaws found in Ukraine’s probe of the Maidan massacre, there are plenty of reasons to believe that even if Kiev 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 Kiev’s Independence Square on Feb. 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. One of these officials told Reuters that the investigators gathering the evidence are completely independent.”
“the former acting general prosecutor who oversaw the arrests of the three Berkut officers 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 18th and 20th 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 similar justice from the Ukrainian government. It is clear that without pressure from the international community and other organisations, Kiev’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, who 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.
Finally, as human rights lawyer, attorney and member of the International Criminal Bar Dr. Jonathan Levy wrote in his independent legal analysis: Novorossiya itself ‘must bring Kiev’s war criminals to justice’. According to him, whether we like it or not, ‘under international law, Novorossiya has the same status as any other member of the community nations – it is a sovereign independent nation.’ He explains:
“The “gold standard” of statehood is the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States enacted in 1933… [It] requires an aspiring state to have its own territory, population, a functioning government and the ability to enter into relationships with other states. Novorossiya…has maintained an undisputed presence in Lugansk and Donetsk backed up by a seasoned army and security forces. There is a sizeable population…There is a functioning government and diplomatic efforts are ongoing as evidenced by the Minsk process. In a just and fair world then Novorossiya would be welcomed into the fold of sovereign nations as its newest member.”
Dr. Jonathan Levy argues that Novorossiya itself ‘as a sovereign state must seize the initiative.’ 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.
Even if this may seem a long shot, Dr.Levy proposes an interesting radical alternative – that Novorossiya sets up its very own International Tribunal and gives it independence to act in lieu of the UN, ICC, and Council of Europe, giving a chance to lawyers and jurists from around the world, who seek to advance the cause of justice, to participate using the Internet and other technologies. He argues, that “it is international participation and support that will give the proposed tribunal substance”.
If this ever happens, it will be a remarkable step towards creating a real international civic society with its own justice system, powered by modern technology (more details here), which would be independent of international leaders and their lackey organisations, which so far showed little signs of being concerned about bringing justice for killed East Ukrainian civilians.