Ukrainian government says Russian POWs ‘will work to revive’ economy

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Ukraine’s government has reportedly said it wants to employ Russian prisoners of war in order to “revive” the country’s war-torn economy, but the statement has raised questions about whether Ukraine’s plans violate international law.

In a tweet Tuesday, Illia Ponomarenko, a defense reporter with The Kyiv Independent, wrote: “The government now says that Russian POWs will ‘work to revive Ukraine’s economy’ in full accordance with international law.” The fact that prisoners of war perform work is, it seems, in accordance with international law.

In order to uphold “full respect for international law”, Ukraine will have to follow the Geneva Conventions of 1949, the protocols that set standards for humanitarian treatment in times of war.

Section III of the Conventions, which specifically covers the work of prisoners of war, stipulates that “the Detaining Power may use the work of physically fit prisoners of war, taking into account their age, sex, rank and physical aptitude, and with a view in particular to maintain them in a good state of physical and mental health. »

Detained prisoners of war may only be compelled to work in the fields of agriculture, manufacturing, public works, handling or transporting non-military goods, business affairs, domestic services and services. utility, stipulate the conventions.

The Ukrainian government has declared that Russian POWs will “work to revive the Ukrainian economy“. In this photo, prisoners from the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic march between Ukrainian and Russian forces February 21, 2015, during a prisoner swap.
Vasily Maximov / AFP/Getty

Prisoners of war are prohibited from performing humiliating or dangerous work, such as clearing landmines, unless they volunteer. They must benefit from working hours and conditions corresponding to those of other workers in their country and must be paid according to a sliding scale fixed either by their military rank or by the salaries of the army of the country which detains them. POWs must also be given a one-hour break and monthly medical check-ups to ensure they remain in good health.

Any violation of the Geneva Conventions can be investigated and prosecuted by any country or, in certain circumstances, by international bodies such as the International Criminal Court (ICC) or the United Nations Security Council. .

However, Amnesty International, a human rights organization, is concerned that the public treatment of Russian prisoners of war by Ukrainian authorities has already violated other parts of the conventions, in particular a section prohibiting prisoners of war from be turned into a “public curiosity”.

It is unclear how many Russian prisoners of war are currently being held in Ukraine, as well as their exact location or conditions of detention. Ukraine has said it hopes to swap Russian prisoners of war for Ukrainians as negotiators from the two countries work to establish a possible ceasefire and humanitarian evacuation corridors for fleeing Ukrainians .

In early March, Ukrainian authorities presented a dozen Russian prisoners of war to a Ukrainian news agency to describe their capture and treatment. While the prisoners “seemed exhausted [they] showed no outward signs of being abused,” The New York Times reported.

Ukraine’s Interior Ministry has also posted grisly photos and videos of killed and captured Russian soldiers on Telegram, Twitter and YouTube. The goal, Ukrainian officials said, according to The Washington Post, is to alert Russians to “the devastating war effort the Kremlin has sought to cover up” and to help Russians identify their relatives.

Other videos released by Ukrainian authorities show Russian POWs telephoning their families; being tied up, blindfolded and interrogated by Ukrainian captors; or say they were deceived by Russian President Vladimir Putin as to why they were sent to Ukraine.

“[Ukrainian authorities] don’t want to turn the international community against them, said Rachel E. VanLandingham, a professor at Southwestern Law School who has studied war crimes. To post. “They have to be on the straight and narrow here. It’s really dangerous for them out of desperation to do things that are clearly forbidden.”

Newsweek contacted the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington, DC, for comment.

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