A few days after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, human rights organizations were already describing the situation as a “humanitarian catastrophe”.
Esteban Beltrán, director of Amnesty International Spain, says that the most urgent objective of the international community must be to protect the lives of Ukrainians, the right to dissidence in Russian society and establish an investigative commission to document war crimes in order to judge Vladimir Putin’s actions.
“The concern now is to protect the civilian population,” says the director of Amnesty International Spain the day before Russia’s agreement with Ukraine to establish humanitarian corridors.RELATED
From a human rights perspective, how do you define the Russian invasion of Ukraine?
We are facing a crime of aggression. That is to say, it is a penetration from one State to another, with a legitimately constituted Government. Russia violates international law in two ways. One, with the act of aggression itself. Another, with war crimes that have catastrophic consequences for human rights.
What are war crimes?
War crimes, according to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, are planned, systematic acts prohibited by the laws of war. In this case, Amnesty International has documented, for example, the attack on four schools leaving several wounded and dead, attacks against the civilian population in five cities that affected the local infrastructure, destroyed schools and hospitals. These are what we would call war crimes, they are the most serious crimes that can be committed in the context of an armed conflict.
War crimes are classified as such by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Has Ukraine ratified this document?
Since 2014, war crimes committed by both the Government of Ukraine and the Russian Government can be investigated, despite the fact that neither Russia nor Ukraine are part of the International Criminal Court. Ukraine, in 2014, accepted the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court to investigate war crimes. So, despite the fact that they have not ratified the statute, Ukraine has recognized the position of the Court, therefore any war crime that may be committed by Russia or by Ukraine can be investigated by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, which in fact has already launched an investigation.
And in the case of Russia?
War crimes can be investigated by any judge anywhere in the world. If justice finds those responsible for these crimes, they must be brought to justice. The first step is that there is an open investigation. Therefore, it is very important now that there is a commission that documents everything that is happening in the area, that is the discussion that we have had within the framework of the United Nations, because it is the documentation that is going to feed future investigations. judicial.
Is the main objective of the UN Human Rights Council right now to document crimes?
There are two, one that is very obvious and the other that we should not forget. The first is that the United Nations Human Rights Council establish an investigative commission of possible war crimes. The other element is that the Council appoints a United Nations rapporteur for Russia to monitor the human rights situation in Russia because what is happening there is an increase in repression by the state against its own citizens.
Has Amnesty International been able to record the situation in Russia?
We have been able to document that there are some 5,800 people who have been arrested in that country for demonstrating against the war. Talking about “invasion” or talking about “war crimes” in the Russian media can be censored. High-profile journalists on Russian television have been removed from their jobs and subjected to judicial pressure simply for saying that war crimes are being committed or that they are against the war.
How do you analyze the response of the UN Security Council?
The Security Council has an anachronistic system, the power to veto issues of war crimes should not exist. That is one of the issues that several NGOs and governments claim. For example, France, which despite having veto power, does not agree that it can be applied in war crimes or crimes against humanity.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has registered more than a million refugees
What must be achieved first is that there is an opening of borders in neighboring countries so that these people can go to Moldova, Romania, Poland, etc. The second thing is that, once they pass, there is an accelerated procedure that automatically grants a residence permit and a work permit to any person from Ukraine so that they can escape. And the third thing is to ensure that these people can have access to reasonable conditions wherever they are. This is important because asylum systems depend on the country, therefore, there must be a common pattern within the European Union to ensure that refugees from Ukraine are protected and can live.
And what is the situation of internally displaced persons?
Let’s not also forget that there is a part that is people who flee from their places and who are still in Ukraine. So what is crucial there is that humanitarian aid can arrive. That is the other fundamental point, to attend to the people who remain inside Ukraine as well.
How do you analyze the situation of refugees of other nationalities such as the Afghans who were in Ukraine and who now have to leave the country?
One of the things that Amnesty International is going to document on the ground is whether the same procedure is being carried out for people from other countries who were in Ukraine. If there was discrimination that would be completely unacceptable and would be based on racism and xenophobia. We haven’t been able to document that yet.
What do you think will be Europe’s response to this humanitarian crisis?
The European Union has a generally very restrictive policy towards refugees. But in the case of Ukraine, I think it is very likely that we will have a much more open policy that is more respectful of international law. I hope that this will make it more difficult in the future to reject refugee and asylum applications from other countries. There are 34 armed conflicts in the world right now. It is important that we recover the concept that anyone who flees from repression has at least the opportunity to request asylum.
Part of the Ukrainian civil society began to arm itself to face the Russian attack, what do you think about this issue?
The less confusion there is between the Ukrainian Army and the civilian population, the better. Any gesture by the Government of Ukraine to confuse the army with the civilian population, although we understand that it does so to defend its country, leads to an increased risk. The more separation we have between the Army and the civilian population, the more protection there will be for the civilian population, although this does not prevent Russian attacks.
What is the main immediate humanitarian objective?
The concern now is to protect the civilian population. The fundamental thing is to open the border crossings so that people can arrive legally and safely as refugees. The lesson should be that this type of conflict is not repeated. In 2014, in the Donbas region, there were also war crimes, and Russia did not pay for it. The situation is repeated seven years later. If we fail to break the circle of impunity, the conflicts will go on forever.