Trials of Ukrainian prisoners of war (POW) by Russian-backed authorities in occupied Mariupol could start within days, the UN Human Rights Office said, as it warned such proceedings could amount to war crimes under international law.
Photos and videos circulating in news reports and on social media “appear to show metal cages being built in Mariupol’s philharmonic hall, apparently to restrain prisoners of war during proceedings”, dpa news agency quoted Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, as saying in a statement on Tuesday.
The number of prisoners to be tried, the charges and the composition of the court were all unclear, she said.
The UN has demanded the prisoners be allowed access to independent visitors.
Shamdasani said the UN Human Rights Office fears deaths sentences will handed out by what occupation authorities are falsely calling an “international tribunal” and that credible reports have been seen that suggest some of the Ukrainians being held have been tortured.
“We recall that international humanitarian law prohibits the establishment of courts solely to judge prisoners of war and that wilfully depriving a prisoner of war of the rights of fair and regular trial amounts to a war crime,” she said.
According to the Moscow-backed separatist leader in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region, Denis Pushilin, “investigations” have been completed in 80 cases and 23 people have been arrested.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it has been able to see some POWs since the Russian attack began in February, but not all.
In many cases, access has been denied or there have been no security guarantees for staff, it said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said that negotiations between Ukraine and Russia will be cut off if trials in Mariupol take place.