On the eve of Ukraine’s Independence Day, law maker Dmytro Lubinets, the recently appointed ombudsman and parliamentary commissioner for human rights in Ukraine, kindly gave an extensive interview to Kyiv Post’s Svitlana Sydorenko.
He highlights some of the problems and challenges his office is dealing with during this time of war, as well as his position and actions regarding reported human rights violations in the face of cruel Russian aggression.
This is the first part of that interview.
Kyiv Post: Thank you, Mr Lubinets, for talking to Kyiv Post. The entire international community has been shocked by the atrocious war crimes committed by Russian invaders in Mariupol, Kharkiv, Bucha, Hostomel, Borodianka, Irpin, Olenivka and other Ukrainian cities and villages.
Ukrainian military intelligence warned that the Russian criminals were staging a show trial of captured Ukrainian defenders of the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol exactly on Independence Day. Is it more difficult to control human rights violations in wartime?
Dmytro Lubinets: The greatest challenge in controlling the observance of human rights is physical access to the affected or violated site. It especially concerns the work of the Human Rights Commissioner whose mandate allows for unrestricted access to places that are closed to other agencies.
For example, through the national preventive mechanism, we can visit any place of confinement – from detention facilities and penal colonies to mental hospitals and induction centers.
The larger the uncontrolled area – occupied or under military action – the more difficult it is to control the observance of human rights. To stop all violations and restore rights, it is necessary that authorized bodies can function as prescribed, but the challenges in doing so do not mean that there is no control.
We can record violations through direct reports to the Commissioner’s Office, through military administrations, through initiatives of public organizations, or through open sources (such as media reports or posts on social networks). We convey that information to law enforcement agencies, formulate position statements and prepare appeals to international institutions etc.
The Ombudsman has one more special function: turning to court on behalf of persons that are unable to do so on their own. We used this authority when it was necessary to restore the ID of a child who had been forcibly deported to the Russian Federation. It was a “pilot” action, and we will make further use of this practice in the interests of others where it proves necessary. Indeed, we have sufficient legal instruments at our disposal to deal with human rights violations during conditions of armed conflict.
Kyiv Post: Why do you think the agreement on the exchange of Ukraine’s captured defenders of Azovstal didn’t work? What was done to prevent the shameful trial in Mariupol that was not supposed to happen?
Dmytro Lubinets: Let me say that I didn’t hold the post of Ombudsman at the time of the Azovstal negotiations. And there is no international law that the Russian Federation has not violated since the full-scale invasion.
I can only say that, from the day I took office as Ombudsman, I see that everything possible is being done to free the Mariupol defenders as well as other prisoners of war and civilian hostages.
When plan A doesn’t work, we use plan B or C. This work continues. Let me assure you that if you don’t hear details of a plan, it doesn’t mean that work is not going on. It’s the Main Intelligence Directorate that has the central role here.
Kyiv Post: What can you say about access to Olenivka for representatives of the United Nations (UN) and the International Committee of the Red Cross?
Dmytro Lubinets: We know that the mission team has already been formed. That’s the personal initiative and responsibility of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. According to his spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, the UN has a fact-finding team ready to investigate the attack on the Ukrainian prison in Olenivka.
The expert team includes a retired police-lieutenant-general from Brazil, a diplomat from Iceland, and a police officer from Niger. They are studying case materials remotely. A crime scene investigation is impossible at present because of the tense security situation.
Personally, I can say that Ukraine is ready to facilitate the mission and provide the necessary security guarantees. As before, I am ready to accompany the mission and I continue to demand access to the site of the tragedy, but so far there has been no response to my request for a meeting with the wounded Ukrainian survivors. We have information that Red Cross representatives still have no access to Olenivka either.
Kyiv Post: The whole world has been shocked by reports of torture of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians. Aside from taking criminal action, what measures has Ukraine taken to protect the rights of those people?
Dmytro Lubinets: Firstly, let me note that despite the ongoing fighting, the negotiating process is continuing to ensure our prisoners of war and civilian hostages come back home. Yes, this process is slow and not as productive as we would want, but it continues. We don’t and won’t disclose details until the last captured Ukrainian is safe.
Secondly, we use instruments and the mediation of international organizations, and we press for stronger sanctions against Russia to force it to give our citizens back and stop its aggression.
Thirdly, we are holding Russians on our territory and Russia also wants them back. So that’s one more lever of influence on the situation.
As far as mass violations of human rights and war crimes are concerned, these are cases for a separate tribunal which will definitely be held. The Foreign Ministry, the Justice Ministry and other government agencies, including our office, are working on it.
Kyiv Post: Does Ukraine have a patron or guardian state as provided for by the 1949 Geneva Convention on Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War?
Dmytro Lubinets: The Russian Federation disregards all the Geneva conventions concerning both prisoners of war and civilians, so the application of this convention in the “classical” sense is a problem.
For example, the Russian foreign ministry does not allow the Swiss embassy in Russia to provide services to Ukrainian citizens, even in cases concerning the rights of a child.
We can’t even get a confirmation of the presence of Ukrainian prisoners of war on Russian territory, let alone some more complex issues. But it doesn’t mean we will stop pressing for it.
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