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Russia
29.07.22
Urgent Interventions

Russia: Torture and ill-treatment in detention of humanitarian volunteers in occupied Ukraine

URGENT APPEAL - THE OBSERVATORY

RUS 009 / 0722 / OBS 064
Torture and ill-treatment /
Arbitrary detention /Release
Russian Federation / Ukraine
July 29, 2022

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), requests your intervention in the following situation in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, partly occupied by the Russian Federation.

Description of the situation:
The Observatory has been informed about the acts of torture and ill-treatment while in detention against 33 volunteers who helped to deliver humanitarian aid from the city of Zaporizhzhia to the city of Mariupol, and to evacuate residents from Mariupol to safer and unoccupied Ukrainian territories.

On July 15, 2022, 32 out of the 33 above-mentioned volunteers were released from Olenovka penal colony Nº 120, in Donetsk Oblast, after over four months of arbitrary detention. Humanitarian aid volunteer Mr. Serhiy Tarasenko remained detained in Olenovka penal colony Nº 120 at the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal. All of them were arbitrarily detained between March and April 2022 by Russian military forces. Their whereabouts and the ground for detention remained unknown to their families for several weeks.

On June 16, 2022, the mother of one of the detained volunteers who was sporadically allowed to bring food to the detainees in Olenovka penal colony Nº 120, was informed by the Russian prison security officers that the 33 humanitarian aid volunteers had been declared prisoners of war (POWs). All of them might be prosecuted for “participation in a terrorist group” under Article 233(2) of the Criminal Code of the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic”. If convicted and sentenced, they face between five and ten years of imprisonment.

According to the volunteers’ families and information from other verified sources, none of them was involved in any military operation nor assisted the Ukrainian army. They were arrested while delivering humanitarian aid and evacuating people from Ukrainian cities under attack by the Russian armed forces. They should be treated as civilians and declaring them as POWs is a violation of the four Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols.

Following his release on July 15, 2022, humanitarian aid volunteer Mr. Volodymyr Gnatovsky provided the OMCT with information about the detention conditions he was subjected to, as well as about the acts of torture and ill-treatment perpetrated against him and other detainees. Initially held in the building of the Department for Combating Organized Crime of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the so-called "Donetsk People's Republic", Mr. Gnatovsky was beaten between ten and 15 times by unidentified individuals after they reported to have found on the Internet a namesake of Mr. Gnatovsky who is allegedly a member of the Ukrainian army. Mr. Gnatovsky was then transferred to Olenovka penal colony Nº 120, where he was systematically beaten on the chest and on the head by Russian officers and forced to stay in an uncomfortable position for a long time. He was kept in an overcrowded punishment cell, where he was denied a mattress, access to a shower, drinking water and medical assistance. His and the other detainees’ access to food and to a toilet was severely restricted. Mr. Gnatovsky further informed the OMCT that from his cell he could hear his fellow detainees screaming while they were being subjected to acts of torture and ill-treatment. He saw several of them being taken out of the facilities in an unconscious state, while one detainee was taken out dead. According to Mr. Gnatovsky, some of his fellow detainees told him they had been tortured with electric shocks and forced to dig their own graves.

Mr. Gnatovsky’s mental health has seriously deteriorated since his release as a result of these acts of torture and mistreatments, and he suffers from severe insomnia and recurrent nightmares.

On July 21, 2022, released humanitarian aid volunteers Mr. Kostyantyn Velychko, Ms. Hanna Vorosheva and Mr. Stanislav Glushkov held a press conference in Warsaw, Poland. They described the detention conditions in Olenovka penal colony Nº 120, where both civilians, including pregnant women, and Ukrainian soldiers, are detained.

According to them, detainees are held in overcrowded cells in decayed buildings with poor sanitation and without running and drinking water. Severe overcrowding forces detainees to take turns to sleep. According to Ms. Vorosheva, detainees are only given between 150 and 200 milliliters of drinking water per day. Women do not have access to hygienic products, including pads and tampons, and detainees with torture-related injuries as well as sick individuals are denied medical assistance. From her cell, Ms. Vorosheva could hear sounds of beating and men screaming. Mr. Velychko stated that the civilians and the Ukrainian military and ex-military officers he shared the cell with informed him that they had been brutally beaten and tortured with electric shocks.

Regardless of whether in peacetime or during the time of war, international human rights law, including the Convention Against Torture, and international humanitarian law, including Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, require that all detainees be treated humanely and not be subjected to acts of torture under any circumstances.

The Observatory condemns in the strongest terms the above-mentioned acts of torture and ill-treatment while in detention against individuals in the Russian forces’ custody, including the 33 humanitarian aid volunteers. The Observatory urges the Russian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Serhiy Tarasenko and to guarantee his physical integrity and psychological well-being.

The Observatory recalls that since the beginning of the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Russian authorities have brutally repressed independent journalists, media outlets, peaceful protesters, human rights defenders and civil society organisations both in Russia and Ukraine. The OMCT has documented a pattern of abduction or detention of Ukrainian civilians, including human rights defenders and humanitarian aid volunteers, by the Russian military, and their transfer to pre-trial detention centres, penal colonies, and other places of detention in Russia or Russian-occupied territories in Ukraine, where they are kept incommunicado for months. Ukrainian civilians not involved in any armed hostilities or resistance to the Russian army are also subject to torture and extrajudicial killings in territories under Russian control.

The Observatory urges the Russian authorities to put an immediate end to the above-mentioned acts of torture and ill-treatment and other grave human rights violations perpetrated against Ukrainian civilians, including human rights defenders and humanitarian aid volunteers, and urges them to publish the lists of civilians who have been detained in the context of the armed conflict and provide information about their whereabouts and status of health to their families. The Observatory further calls on the authorities to guarantee their right to freedom from torture and ill-treatment and to grant them access to their families, lawyers, as well as to adequate medical care.

Actions requested:
Please write to the authorities of the Russian Federation asking them to:

  1. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Serhiy Tarasenko and all human rights defenders and humanitarian aid volunteers arbitrarily detained by the Russian military, and immediately release them;
  2. Put an immediate end to the acts of torture and ill-treatment perpetrated against human rights defenders and humanitarian aid volunteers arbitrarily detained by the Russian military and carry out immediate, thorough, transparent and independent investigations into the above-mentioned allegations of torture;
  3. Guarantee to all detained human rights defenders and humanitarian aid volunteers the unhindered access to their lawyers, families as well as to adequate medical care;
  4. Immediately take all measures to respect and to ensure respect to the Forth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War.

Addresses:

  • Mr. Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, Twitter: @KremlinRussia_E
  • Mr. Mikhail Mishustin, Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, Twitter:@GovernmentRF
  • Mr. Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, E-mail: ministry@mid.ru
  • Mr. Sergei Shoigu, Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation, Twitter: @mod_russia
  • Mr. Igor Krasnov, General Prosecutor of the Russian Federation, pressa@genproc.gov.ru
  • Ms. Tatiana Nikolaevna Moskalkova, Commissioner for Human Rights in the Russian Federation,
  • Mr. Alexander Bortnikov, Director of Federal Security Service (FSS), fsb@fsb.ru
  • Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. E-mail: mission.russian@vtxnet.ch
  • Embassy of the Russian Federation in Brussels, Belgium. E-mail: mission.russian@vtxnet.ch
  • Permanent Representation of the Russian Federation to the Council of Europe, France. Email: russia.coe@orange.fr

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of the Russian Federation in your respective countries.
***

Paris-Geneva, July 29, 2022

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

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