Forcible transfer of Ukrainian population to Russia constitutes a war crime

Press release
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Leon Klein / Anadolu Agency via AFP

Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has triggered a blood-curdling humanitarian and human rights crisis that continues to grow. Evidence of the forced displacement of civilians from besieged Mariupol to Russia adds to the already documented array of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by Putin’s regime since 2014. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Centre for Civil Liberties (CCL), its member organisation in Ukraine, call on international organisations to ensure international on-the-spot monitoring of the situation in Ukraine, which is vital to establish humanitarian passages and protect those forcibly transferred to Russia.

About 15,000 residents of Mariupol have been deported to Russia, the CCL, FIDH’s member organization on the ground, reported on March 28. The Russian military forces civilians onto buses, without qualms separating families, taking away their Ukrainian passports and phones. They send them to Crimea and the occupied Donetsk and Luhansk regions, or else so-called filtration camps, from where they are "redistributed" to various distant cities in Russia. While some 100,000 civilians remain trapped in the city without access to water or energy, Russian forces have stepped up their shelling of Mariupol and are not allowing civilians to pass through humanitarian corridors into the unoccupied parts of Ukraine. According to CCL, Russian forces have opened fire on civilians fleeing war zones to safer areas controlled by the Ukrainian government.

The residents of Mariupol are not the only ones being forcibly transferred. According to Ukrainian officials, Russia has begun transfers from the Ukrainian cities of Sumy and Kharkiv to a Russian border city, Belgorod. Several hundred residents of Kiyv and its surroundings ended up in Belarus as their passage to the west to Chernihiv region was blocked by the Russian military. From the beginning of February 2022, about 100,000 Ukrainians, residents of the occupied regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, were transferred to Russian territory.

FIDH and CCL deplore the forced transfer of the Ukrainian population by Russia, while it continues to sabotage the evacuation of civilians to the non-occupied parts of Ukraine. The forcible transfer of civilian populations to other areas against their will may constitute a war crime under international humanitarian law and customary international law because it is carried out without a visible humanitarian purpose. If these violations prove being committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population, forcible transfer may also constitute crime against humanity punishable under the Statute of the International Criminal Court. FIDH and its member organisations have repeatedly condemned Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and continues to denounce the numerous violations of humanitarian law and human rights committed by the Russian army in Ukraine.

FIDH and its member organisation in Ukraine call on the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the Permanent Council of the OSCE in Vienna, the European Commissioner for Human Rights, monitoring mechanisms of the European Council, the relevant regional initiatives and mechanisms of the United Nations (UN), including the UN Human Rights Council, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the International Committee of the Red Cross to use all available mechanisms and resources to ensure international on-the-spot monitoring of the situation in Ukraine, which is vital to enforce Russia’s compliance with the norms of international humanitarian law, including the establishment of humanitarian passages and the protection of forcibly transferred persons in Russia.

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