Russia poised offer immunity to soldiers committing rape
Ukraine: Russia using rape as a 'weapon of war' says Zelenska
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Russian soldiers in Ukraine will get the green light to commit war crimes including rape and torture if Vladimir Putin rubber-stamps controversial legislation making its way through the country’s legislature, campaigners have said. Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued its warning in a month in which more disturbing reports have emerged concerning alleged abuse by troops almost ten months after Putin ordered his invasion on February 24.
It was last week announced that Sexual Violence Mobile Justice Team, launched by international human rights law firm and foundation, Global Rights Compliance, will advise and support the documentation, investigation and prosecution of rape and other horrific abuse committed by Russian soldiers.
However, HRW says Moscow shows little appetite for holding their soldiers to account, with the State Duma earlier this month unanimously adopting a bill which would provide effective immunity for certain crimes committed in occupied areas of Ukraine, in stark violation of Russia’s international legal obligations.
The bill seeks to impose the Russian criminal code and code of criminal procedure in Russia-occupied areas of Donetska, Luhanska, Zaporizka, and Khersonska regions.
It mandates dropping criminal cases and overturning convictions against those who committed crimes prior to September 30 while acting “in the interests of the Russian Federation” in those regions. These crimes would likely include war crimes and grave human rights abuses.
The legislation will become law pending a second and third reading in the Duma, adoption by the Federation Council, the parliament’s upper chamber, and Putin’s signature.
Putin issued his annexation order daye after Russian authorities purportedly held illegal “referendums” in these areas, with hastily staged “voting,” in some cases at gunpoint.
Similar to the claimed referendum in Russian-occupied Crimea in 2014, these exercises hold no legal value and do not provide a basis for annexation or transfer of sovereignty.
Russia remains an occupying power in these regions under the Fourth Geneva Convention, which continues to protect the civilian population.
Tanya Lokshina, associate director for Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia division, told Express.co.uk: “When the law comes into force, as it almost certainly will, it would apply to anyone, including soldiers, who had committed crimes in the four regions prior to the date Putin issued his order.
She explained: “It gives them a way, a supposedly legal way of ignoring human rights abuses which they are ignoring and violations of the laws of war.
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“What’s particularly ironic here is that basically, they’re ignoring them anyway. They’re denying them, they’re ignoring them, but they also want to write this into law.
“So it’s not sufficient enough for them to just ignore and deny, they literally want to have a legal document saying that whatever’s been done in the best interests of Russia is fine.”
Rachel Denber, HRW’s deputy Europe and Central Asia director, said: “Russia’s proposed new law would ensure domestic impunity for Russian officials and their proxies who have committed war crimes and grave abuses in Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine.
“The bill shows utter disregard for Russia’s obligations under the Geneva Conventions and international human rights law.
“Russia should drop this immunity bill instead of licensing further lawlessness.”
If adopted, the bill would also deny damages to those who had been unlawfully prosecuted in Russian-occupied territories.
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HRW documented multiple grave violations of international law by Russian forces and their proxies in Ukraine’s occupied territories, including apparent war crimes, human rights abuses, and possible crimes against humanity, notably torture, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, and the forcible transfers of civilians.
The bill violates Russia’s obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law.
Article 64 of the Fourth Geneva Convention provides that in situations of occupation, the penal law and other local laws with rare exception remain in effect.
Imposing Russia’s criminal code and code of criminal procedure is unlawful.
Russia also has an obligation under international humanitarian law to investigate and prosecute alleged war crimes by its forces or which were committed on the territory it controls.
The bill also violates article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees a remedy to anyone whose rights have been violated, including through the courts.
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