Amnesty International (AI) reported that Russia sentenced 33 Ukrainian soldiers in the Supreme Court of the Luhansk People’s Republic in Russian-occupied Luhansk on Monday for “alleged war crimes.”
Russian authorities captured the soldiers as prisoners of war (POWs). Their sentences range from twenty-seven to twenty-nine years. AI reported that Russian authorities prosecuted the POWs for alleged “war crimes,” including “the use of artillery in the early days of Russia’s full-scale invasion resulting in one civilian death, one injury and damage to 42 houses.”
AI has denounced the sentencing, calling it unlawful. Anna Wright, a researcher at AI, recognized the need for war crimes to be prosecuted but criticized Russia’s prosecution in this instance by stating:
While there must be accountability for all human rights violations and war crimes committed by either side during the entirety of this conflict, prisoners of war cannot be prosecuted for merely taking part in hostilities. The war crime in this instance is by Russian authorities, who have not given prisoners of war fair and regular trials.
She also called for an end to such sentencing by stating, “Russia must respect the rights of captured Ukrainian soldiers and end such sham trials.”
AI has criticized Russia for not meeting the minimum international standards of fairness proscribed under international humanitarian and human rights law. In particular, POWs are protected under the Third Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. “Wilfully depriving a prisoner of war of the rights of fair and regular trial prescribed in [the] convention” is considered a “grave breach” of the Convention.
Similarly, last month, more than 200 Ukrainian POWs were sentenced to lengthy sentences, some even receiving life in prison.
Russia initiated a full-scale military invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, which has been alleged to be a violation of the UN Charter and international criminal law. The invasion triggered extensive human rights and displacement crises, as Russian authorities have allegedly forcibly transferred and deported civilians from occupied areas of Ukraine.