What's In Blue

Posted Wed 7 Sep 2022

Ukraine: Briefing

This afternoon (7 September), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing on the situation in Ukraine. The expected briefers are Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights and head of the UN Human Rights Office in New York Ilze Brands Kehris, and a civil society representative. Ukraine, as well as Italy, Latvia, Poland and Slovakia, are expected to participate under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.

Albania and the US, the penholders on Ukraine, requested the meeting with the aim of highlighting concerns about reports of the forced displacement of Ukrainian civilians and the use of “filtration” operations by Russian and Russian-affiliated forces. Such reports have been highlighted by Ukraine since the early days of Russia’s military offensive against Ukraine, which commenced on 24 February.

Ukrainian officials and civil society organisations have alleged that Russian authorities are forcibly deporting Ukrainian civilians—including children—from areas occupied by Russian and Russian-affiliated forces, such as the Donbas region in the east and the city of Mariupol in the south, to Russia or to Russian-held territory inside Ukraine. They claim that civilians who are fleeing the hostilities are processed in so-called filtration camps, where Russian forces detain and interrogate civilians, subjecting them to ill-treatment and difficult conditions. Russia has denied these allegations, arguing that it has offered humanitarian assistance to civilians fleeing the violence and that Ukrainian civilians who have relocated to Russia have done so voluntarily.

The UN and other international organisations have not been able to access locations in which filtration operations are reportedly taking place. The UN has thus not been able to fully confirm such allegations and there is a lack of verifiable data on the filtration operations or on the forced deportation of civilians. In a 29 June report, covering the period between 24 February and 15 May, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) described the so-called filtration process, in part based on interviews with civilians who claimed to have undergone such processes. The report said that the apparent intent of the process is “to identify current or former Ukrainian law enforcement officers, state officials, and members of the Ukrainian armed forces”, but “practice shows that any individuals perceived as having pro-Ukrainian or anti-Russian views are also identified and are subject to violations and abuses of their rights”. It describes violations reportedly committed against individuals who underwent “filtration”, including intimidation, beatings and sexual violence. The report references “credible reports” of some children having been separated from their parents when the accompanying adult did not pass the “filtration” process. It notes that as of 15 May, OHCHR has not been granted access to individuals detained after failing to pass “filtration”, nor to those who reportedly passed “filtration” but were still detained.

Other international organisations and human rights actors have also raised concerns. In a 14 July report, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Moscow Mechanism mission of experts—a fact-finding team established on 14 March by the OSCE to investigate violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in Ukraine—expressed concern about the establishment and use of so-called filtration centres. It further noted that during a visit of its experts to Ukraine between 20 and 23 June, the mission “obtained confirmation of the existence of cases of deportations”, while adding that “the precise number is difficult to determine”.

On 25 August, the Conflict Observatory—a project aimed at collecting, analysing and making available evidence on crimes committed in Ukraine, which receives funding from the US State Department—issued a report that identified at least 21 facilities in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine used as part of the “filtration” system, based on open-source information and satellite imagery. In a 1 September report, Human Rights Watch provided a description of the forced transfer of civilians from the city of Mariupol and the Kharkiv region to Russia and Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine, based on interviews with civilians who underwent such processes and their relatives. The report says that: “[u]nlike combatants who, once captured, are held as prisoners of war (POWs) and may be moved to enemy territory, the forcible transfer of civilians is prohibited under international humanitarian law, or the laws of war, and can be prosecuted as a war crime and a crime against humanity.”

At today’s meeting, DiCarlo and Brands Kehris are expected to provide an overview of the adverse effects of the conflict in Ukraine on civilians. They might highlight the dangers faced by civilians who are displaced by hostilities, particularly unaccompanied children, and their heightened vulnerability to human rights violations and risks such as human trafficking. Brands Kehris may call on all parties to provide unimpeded access to the UN to all places of detention under their control.

The US has been among the most vocal Council members on this issue. It has consistently referenced allegations of forced deportations and the use of “filtration” centres by Russian forces in Council meetings on Ukraine since April. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a 13 July statement that estimates from a variety of sources indicate that “Russian authorities have interrogated, detained, and forcibly deported between 900,000 and 1.6 million Ukrainian citizens, including 260,000 children, from their homes to Russia”, adding that these practices are “an apparent effort to change the demographic makeup of parts of Ukraine”. He called for accountability, saying that Russia will not be able to carry out such operations with impunity. Albania has also often expressed concern about the matter, most recently during a 29 July Council meeting on Ukraine, at which it said that “the mass forcible transfer of civilians during a conflict to the territory of the occupying party is prohibited under the 1949 Geneva Conventions”, adding that it constitutes a war crime. These members may reiterate similar messages at today’s meeting.

European members of the Council may express concern about reports of “filtration” activities and call for the UN and other international organisations to be accorded unrestricted access to areas where civilians are detained. They might call on Russia to provide more information on civilians who have been moved to Russia, particularly children. It seems that the US and some European members are concerned that Russia’s practice of “filtration” is aimed at identifying civilians who will oppose living under Russian rule. These members have expressed concern that Russia may stage fraudulent referendums to annex the territories it has occupied in Ukraine. At today’s meeting, Russia is likely to seek to rebut such allegations, while denouncing the US and European countries for their treatment of refugees.

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