Oleksii Plotnikov, PhD, international judiciary

This article continues a series on war crimes committed by representatives of the occupying state in the Crimea. For previous parts check [1] and [2]. Let us briefly recall that an international armed conflict is taking place in Crimea between Russia and Ukraine. Although there were practically no active hostilities on the peninsula, the very fact of the occupation of part of the territory of one state by another state means the existence of an armed conflict in which the rules of international humanitarian law and the rules of international criminal law in relation to war crimes are applicable. Even without hostilities, the Russian invaders commit systematic and large-scale war crimes against the civilian population in the Crimea. The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court mentions such “peaceful” war crimes as:

– unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement;

– compelling a prisoner of war or other protected person to serve in the forces of a hostile Power;

– the transfer, directly or indirectly, by the Occupying Power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies, or the deportation or transfer of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory [3].

The Rome Statute implies by deportation the forced displacement of the persons concerned by expulsion or other coercive acts from the area in which they are lawfully present, without grounds permitted under international law. This offense refers to article 49 of the Geneva Convention for the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, which reads that “individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive.” [4].

It should be recalled that “protected persons” are generally the entire civilian population of the occupied territory. That is, the forced displacement of even one person, whatever the “formal grounds” for this, is a displacement on grounds not permitted by international law, and hence is a war crime.

The most obvious victims of such crimes are Crimean prisoners, both political and those serving sentences for “ordinary criminal offenses”. The examples of Oleg Sentsov, Alexander Kolchenko, Vladimir Balukh, Edem Bekirov, Yevgeny Panov are well-known. They were taken to the territory of Russia to serve the “punishment” imposed by the occupation “authorities”, and later returned to Ukraine. Such practices continue today, as exemplified by the cases of Ivan Yatskiv [5], Vladimir Dudka [6], Dmitry Shtiblikov [7], Konstantin Davidenko, Andrei Kolomiyets [8] and others. A separate group is made up of those accused in the “case of the Crimean Muslims”, such as Ali Bariev [9], Enver Mamutov [10] and dozens of others who were taken out of Crimea and are imprisoned on Russian territory.

The protection of the Geneva Convention extends to those convicted in “ordinary criminal cases”. The case of Andrei Lugin, who was serving a sentence of life imprisonment in Simferopol, received considerable publicity. In 2017, he went on a dry hunger strike and attempted suicide in protest against a possible deportation, however, he was “taken to a prison” in Mordovia [11]. This case became known due to the active protest of the prisoner, but there are reasons to believe that other persons were transferred to Russia from places of detention in the Crimea also.

Another category is made up of people who are “administratively expelled” from Crimea by the occupying “authorities”, allegedly for “migration violations”. This partly concerns the citizens of Ukraine who refused to “obtain a Russian passport”. Such expulsion may be accompanied by lengthy detention in a “detention facility for foreigners”. The illegal expulsion can take place both to the territory of mainland of Ukraine, as was the case in the case of the collective expulsion of 23 citizens of Ukraine [12], the case of Konstantin Sizarev [13], Yevhen Gayvoronsky [14], Oleksandr Kovalchuk [15], or to Uzbekistan, as happened in the case of Nedim Khalilov [16], or to Afghanistan, as in the case of Ukrainian citizen Kabir Mohammad [17].

By expelling Ukrainian citizens from Crimea, the occupiers simultaneously stimulate mass illegal migration of citizens of Russia to the peninsula. Our Association has already written [18] that, according to various estimates, the number of migrants from Russia to the Crimea can reach half a million, and is constantly growing, which obviously indicates a purposeful change in the ethnic composition of the population of the occupied territory. According to representatives of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, the intensive displacement of dissenters, along with the mass importation of loyal population, indicates the desire of Russian leaders to “legalize” the occupation of Crimea through a new pseudo-referendum [19].

Other measures of coercion are used against disloyal persons who remain in Crimea, some of which should be considered war crimes. One of them is the illegal destruction of property, not caused by military necessity. Our Association wrote about the destruction of the house of the Crimean Tatar activist Rustem Useinov [20], but the victims of such practices are hundreds of other people, the vast majority of whom belong to the indigenous people [21].

Another way to “increase the population’s loyalty to the occupiers” is to force them to serve in the armed forces – an action prohibited by Article 51 of the Geneva Convention for the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Under the Rome Statute, compelling a prisoner of war or other protected person to serve in the armed forces of an hostile power is a war crime. The fact that the occupying power regards the occupied territory as allegedly its own and extends to it the effect of its national legislation on military service does not relieve either the state itself of international legal responsibility for violating the Geneva Convention, or its “officials” from criminal responsibility for a war crime, the organizers, perpetrators and accomplices of which are all persons involved in one way or another in the organization of “conscription” and military propaganda in Crimea.

For the first time, illegal “conscription” for military service in the army of Russia in the occupied Crimea was carried out in the spring of 2015, and since then it has been taking place regularly. At the same time, only a part of “conscripts” remains to “serve” on the territory of Crimea, and most of them are sent to regions of Russia itself. Thus, conscription leads to the displacement of the population of the occupied territory, which, as shown above, is also a separate war crime. For example, in the fall of 2017, out of 2,400 Crimean residents were “called up” outside the territory of Crimea, 645 were “sent to serve” [22]. In 2019, according to a representative of the so called “Military Commissariat of the Republic of Crimea” in the spring of 2019, out of 2,800 Crimean residents were “called up”, only 400 remained on the peninsula to “serve”, the rest were sent to military units located in the Rostov, Moscow, Tambov, and Nizhny Novgorod regions of Russia [23].

The Russian invaders encourage the residents of the Crimea to “military service”, combining the tools of propaganda and coercion. A wide-spread practice are propaganda events arranged during “conscription campaigns”, as well as on the occasion of all kinds of “celebrations” associated with “memorable dates”, such as the anniversary of the so called “incorporation of Crimea into Russia””, propaganda events are organized. For example, in March 2019, a traveling exhibition of “trophy weapons” allegedly obtained by the Russians during military operations in Syria toured Crimea. The exhibition was accompanied by a “mobile recruiting station”. According to reports, attendance at the exhibition was compulsory for some Crimean residents: “students” from the Russia-controlled “Kerch Marine Technological Institute” were ordered to attend under the threat of “expulsion” [24].

Those who, despite aggressive propaganda, refuse to “serve” in the occupying army are prosecuted. As of 2021, Russian punitive “authorities” in the Crimea initiated more than 250 such “criminal cases” and already issued over two dozen “sentences” [25]. There are cases when the “initiation of a criminal case” induces Crimean residents to “voluntarily” appear in the Russia-controlled “military commissariats” and enter “military service”. Thus, in January 2018, the Russia-controlled “acting head of the Investigative Department for the city of Kerch” told the media that three persons against whom “criminal cases” on “evasion” were initiated “appeared at the military commissariat” to “make a public apology” and “promise to enlist” on spring 2018 [26].

“Conscription to the armed forces” or prosecution for refusal can be a form of punishment for those who refuse to recognize the “legitimacy” of the occupation of Crimea. Thus, the Russia-controlled “military commissar” of Crimea A. Maloletko and the official of this “commissariat” V. Meshalkin openly admit that among the “conscripts” there are citizens of Ukraine who left Crimea to study at Ukrainian educational institutions. Such persons are considered by “military commissars” as “evading military service”, and “criminal cases” may be initiated against them [27]. Crimean residents who openly declare their refusal to “serve” because of their political beliefs are also subjected to “criminal prosecution”. For example, in July 2019, a criminal case was initiated against G. Shcherbakov, a resident of Sevastopol, who, according to some sources, told the “military commissar” that he was not going to “serve in the army of the aggressor” and asked for the opportunity to perform “alternative service” [28]. Thus, it is indeed a matter of compelling protected civilians to serve in the military within the meaning of the Geneva Convention.

The militaristic propaganda among Crimean children deserves special attention. The Rome Statute contains a ban on the drafting of children into the armed forces and participation in hostilities. Some actions of the occupiers are on the verge of violating this prohibition, and the Ukrainian authorities sent relevant information to the International Criminal Court [29]. It is known about the illegal involvement of Crimean children in the Russian paramilitary children’s organization “Yunarmiya”. This includes not only “military-patriotic education”, but also teaching and performing exercises with weapons and military equipment by children. For example, servicemen of the Russia-controlled “68th Marine Engineering Regiment of the Black Sea Fleet” teach Crimean children to install explosive devices, openly admitting the fact that such classes are held in order to encourage participants to join the armed forces of the occupier in the future [30]. In Sevastopol, military parades on May 9 are attended by schoolchildren from the “Yunarmiya”, and some school children participate wearing the uniform of the Russian army [31]. Such practices can be interpreted, at least, as coercion to military service in the future.

It is trivial to say that ignorance of the law does not exempt from punishment. Even if individual Russia-controlled “servicemen” in Crimea allegedly “do not realize” that they are in the occupied territory, and that their activities during the deceitful “peace” are still a war crime, this does not relieve them of responsibility for crimes under the national criminal law of Ukraine and international criminal law.

Sources:                                                                                

1. https://arc.construction/25576

2. https://arc.construction/25512

3. https://www.icc-cpi.int/itemsDocuments/2020-PE/2020-pe-report-eng.pdf

4. https://www.icrc.org/en/doc/assets/files/publications/icrc-002-0173.pdf

5. https://24tv.ua/okupanti-krimu-11-rokiv-zasudili-ukrayintsya-ivana-novini-krimu_n1633785

6. https://suspilne.media/179235-pat-rokiv-ak-batko-u-vaznici-urodzenec-sum-volodimir-dudka-dosi-za-gratami-v-rosii

7. https://glavcom.ua/columns/gonchar/viyskoviy-ekspert-dmitro-shtiblikov-znovu-zustrichaje-den-narodzhennya-v-rosiyskih-zastinkah-797239.html

8. https://krymsos.com/kostyantyn-davydenko/

9. https://islam.in.ua/ua/ali-bariiev

10. https://prisonersvoice.app/ua/enver-mamutov

11. https://krymsos.com/ukrayinecz-yakyj-vidbuvaye-pokarannya-v-krymu-ogolosyv-suhe-goloduvannya-proty-etapuvannya-na-terytoriyu-rf

12. https://www.unian.net/society/2393022-sud-okkupantov-vyidvoril-iz-kryima-23-ukraintsev-smi.html

13. https://crimeahrg.org/ru/deportirovannyiy-iz-kryima-konstantin-sizarev-bolshe-goda-boretsya-za-svoe-vozvrashhenie-domoy

14. https://ua.krymr.com/a/velyke-interviu-z-yevhenom-haivoronskym/30362874.html

15. https://ua.krymr.com/a/news/28892903.html

16. https://ru.krymr.com/a/nedim-halilov-intervyu/29879186.html

17. https://krymsos.com/tag/kabir-mohammad/

18. https://arc.construction/13208

19. https://espreso.tv/news/2019/03/17/okupanty_posyleno_zavozyat_u_krym_naselennya_z_materykovoyi_rosiyi_bo_zbyrayutsya_provodyty_sche_odyn_quotreferendumquot_schob_spodobatysya_yevropi_medzhlis

20. https://arc.construction/23446

21. https://ru.krymr.com/a/polyana-protesta-simferopol-krym-snos-domov/31174952.html

22. https://crimeahrg.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Crimean-Human-Rights-Group_Oct_2017_EN.pdf

23. https://crimeahrg.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Crimean-Human-Rights-Group_Apr_2019_EN.pdf

24. https://crimeahrg.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Crimean-Human-Rights-Group_Mar_2019_EN.pdf

25. https://atr.ua/news/200909-17-novih-sprav-za-vidmovu-sluziti-v-armii-zagarbnika-okupanti-prodovzuut-nezakonni-prizovi-zaman

26. https://crimeahrg.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Crimean-Human-Rights-Group_Jan_2018_ENG.pdf

27. http://yalta.tv/news/2440-krymchane-begut-ot-armii-na-ukrainu.html

28. http://sevkprf. ru/су-ск-рф-севастополя-возбудил-уголовн/

29. https://zmina.info/news/ukrayina-povidomyla-mizhnarodnyj-kryminalnyj-sud-pro-nezakonnu-militaryzacziyu-ditej-v-krymu/

30. https://crimeahrg.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Crimean-Human-Rights-Group_Jan_2018_ENG.pdf

31. https://crimeahrg.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Crimean-Human-Rights-Group_May_2019_EN.pdf