In the second half of Kyiv Post’s interview with law maker Dmytro Lubinets, the recently appointed ombudsman and parliamentary commissioner for human rights in Ukraine, Lubinets talks about access to information for families of prisoners of war; the return of forcibly deported Ukrainians and the challenges associated with bringing home children sent to Russia; and the protection of foreign citizens and the current fragile situation at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.

Part 1 of his conversation with the Kyiv Post’s Svitlana Sydorenko is available to read here.

Kyiv Post: Has Ukraine set up the Information Bureau as required by Article 136 of the Geneva Convention?

Dmytro Lubinets: Yes, the National Information Bureau at the Ministry for Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories started working on March 17, 2022.

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Just let me remind you that relatives of prisoners of war can dial the Bureau’s short number 1648 for all available information. Russian citizens can turn to the Bureau as well.

The Bureau also interacts with the Central Agency for the Search of Missing Persons which was set up in compliance with the Geneva conventions. Shortly after I took office, I met with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) president and received compliments for the organization of work in relation to Russian prisoners of war. We demand mirror actions from Russia.

Kyiv Post: How would you explain the fact that the bill passed by parliament on May 20, 2021, which amended legislation on the implementation of norms of international criminal and humanitarian law, is still in the drawer and the Statute of Rome is still unratified?

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Dmytro Lubinets: We have been interacting with the International Criminal Court since the start of Russia’s armed aggression, and I believe that, ultimately, those war criminals will face a tribunal. As to the ratification of the Statute of Rome, it is the parliament’s prerogative. Ratification is a matter of time.

Kyiv Post: Do you think it is necessary to create a special tribunal to prosecute the Russian leadership for the crime of aggression against Ukraine?

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Dmytro Lubinets: Yes, I do. We fully support this initiative.

Kyiv Post: A great many Ukrainian citizens are being held in Russian filtration camps. To what extent are their rights protected? What legal advice could they be given, or is it pointless in conditions of lawlessness?

Dmytro Lubinets: Ukrainian citizens should act in a way that will save their lives. The system of filtration camps is one example of systemic violations of human rights and war crimes committed by the Russian Federation on Ukrainian territory.

In those filtration camps, civilians are subjected to searches, checks, examinations and torture. There are reported facts of extrajudicial executions and hostage holding. These are all violations of the Geneva conventions which preclude civilians from being persecuted.

At present, the occupiers are planning to open a new filtration camp in Vasylivka, Zaporizhzhia region. Until recently, it’s been the place where people could cross into safe and free Ukrainian territory. All this information is collected, processed and forwarded to the law enforcement agencies.

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Kyiv Post: Do you think all those forcibly deported Ukrainians will be able to return from Russia? If so, when?

Dmytro Lubinets: We are working on setting proper conditions for each and every illegally deported Ukrainian to be able to return to Ukraine.

Of course, we understand that the longer the armed conflict lasts, the more difficult the process. It will be especially difficult to return children who the Russian Federation forcibly makes Russian citizens. Firstly, one or both of their parents may have been killed; secondly, following separation from their families, those children are handed over to Russian families for adoption.

International law terms such actions as genocide, because a forcible transfer of children to another group is one of the indicia of genocide. All of these facts are documented.

I should note that deported children may have relatives on Ukrainian territory who would wish to take them in, but the Russian authorities do nothing to let their children live with their relatives. Instead, they plant them into the homes of strangers.

This is overt kidnapping. Russia disregards the norms of international law and its own commitments.

The adoption of Ukrainian children in Russia brazenly violates Article 21 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and Articles 49 and 50 of the Geneva Convention on Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War.

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Child adoption in another country can only be an alternative if there is no possibility for a child to be adopted in their country of origin.

Forcible resettlement or deportation of persons from an occupied territory obliges the occupying power to take all necessary measures to facilitate the identification of children and their relatives. ​​

Kyiv Post: What would you say about violations of human rights by the Ukrainian military, if there have been any?

Dmytro Lubinets: Such cases are very rare and unsystematic. Each fact that becomes known is investigated under the supervision of the Specialized Military Prosecutor’s Office.

It’s where you should turn in such cases, but I can tell you that the hotline of my office has not received such calls.

Kyiv Post: Does Ukraine protect foreign citizens who have been captured while fighting for this country?

Dmytro Lubinets: It’s a very important question. We protect each and every military serviceman who defends Ukraine. Let me explain that, in international law, the serviceman’s citizenship does not matter as long as he wears the insignia of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and is subordinated to the Ukrainian military command.

So, whether he is a Ukrainian citizen or a British member of the International Legion, the norms of the Geneva conventions apply to him. We fight every day to free all prisoners of war, including foreign citizens.

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As to the work of the Ombudsman’s office, we are constantly in touch with the relatives and lawyers of foreign citizens who have been illegally convicted in the so-called “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk. We keep track of each case.

Russia labels them “foreign mercenaries”, but it’s clear that it’s all just part of Russian propaganda. The Russian Federation constantly ups the ante and tries to get Ukraine’s partners to the negotiating table with the so-called “LNR” and “DNR”. But the world knows what’s what.

Kyiv Post: Is it possible now to protect the rights of employees of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant and the people living within the 30-kilometer area around it who are hostages to Russia’s nuclear terrorism and blackmail?

Dmytro Lubinets: The Ukrainian side is doing everything possible to draw international attention to Russia’s nuclear terrorism. Let me stress that, in international law, the very fact of an attack on any nuclear facility is considered an act of nuclear terrorism.

The term “nuclear terrorism” also applies to actions aimed at disrupting, sabotaging or manipulating process operations if such actions might lead to radioactive contamination.

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According to the Main Intelligence Directorate, the premises of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant have been mined and some of the personnel are known to have disappeared or been tortured or threatened. This gravely affects the plant’s normal operation.

On August 22, another employee of the plant was reported to have been killed.

We appealed to the UN and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to send a security mission to the Zaporizhzhia plant and demanded that they completely demilitarize its premises. We also demanded that they provide security guarantees for employees to maintain the site’s safe operation and that of Energodar city residents.

We have received responses, but again, Russia refuses to provide such security guarantees. Ukraine is ready to provide them.

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