As Russia Threatens Captured American Veterans, US Invokes Laws of War

APTOPIX Russia Ukraine War

Soldiers hold flares as they attend the funeral of activist and soldier Roman Ratushnyi in Kyiv, Ukraine, June 18, 2022. Credit – Natacha Pisarenko—AP

A day after the Kremlin said two American veterans captured by pro-Russian forces in Ukraine had committed war crimes and faced the death penalty, the Biden administration expressed outrage and called on Russia to respect the international law.

The State Department said Tuesday that US officials were in talks with Russian authorities about the two men, Alexander Drueke, 39, and Andy Huynh, 29, who had volunteered to fight with the forces of the Ukrainian government. The United States is also in contact with the families of the two men, both from Alabama, and with the International Committee of the Red Cross, the department said.

Drueke and Huynh were detained by pro-Russian forces while fighting in eastern Ukraine, and their case raises concerns about the status of thousands of foreign volunteers currently fighting in the war-torn country. . Human rights monitors and legal scholars say that foreign fighters serving under Ukrainian military command are entitled to prisoner of war (POW) status and that, under the long-established rules of the Geneva Conventions, they should not be prosecuted.

But Russian officials have instead referred to all foreigners who fight alongside Ukrainians as “mercenaries,” a legal term that means many international protections don’t apply. Earlier this month, two British men and a Moroccan national caught fighting in Ukraine were sentenced to death by firing squad for ‘war crimes’ in court proceedings that have been widely condemned as a “show trial” in the pro-Russian separatist republic of Donetsk.

These men had spent more than a year in Ukraine, apparently as part of the Ukrainian marines, and had a month to appeal their verdicts. But even other foreigners, like Drueke and Huynh, who were part of Ukraine’s International Legion, should also be eligible for POW status, international law experts say. “If they were drafted into the Ukrainian military, they would be entitled to prisoner of war status,” said Laura Dickinson, a professor at George Washington University School of Law. “Even if they weren’t, if they openly carried arms, then in many cases they would qualify for POW status.”

Read more: TIME interview with Volodymyr Zelensky

Any combatant claiming to be a legal combatant is entitled to a hearing to find out whether his conduct violated in any way the laws of war, such as failure to wear a uniform or insignia of any kind during operations military,” said Mary Ellen O’Connell, professor of international law at the University of Notre Dame. “US officials are right to insist that Russia abide by international law, which provides that no person in the power of a foreign enemy during an armed conflict may be mistreated,” she said. “It protects due process in any type of trial or hearing.”

If in doubt about their status as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions, they are entitled to a decision by a competent tribunal, said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “They should be presumed to be prisoners of war and with all the rights of a prisoner of war until proven otherwise,” she said. “And the process to prove otherwise must go through a fair and competent hearing in court. Denying someone due process is a serious violation of the Geneva Conventions.

Apparently, no such tribunal took place. Chief Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov acknowledged on Monday that an investigation into Drueke and Huynh was still ongoing in an interview with NBC News. However, that didn’t stop Peskov from calling the pair “soldiers of fortune.” Drueke and Huynh were involved in shelling and firing on Russian forces, he said, and should therefore be “held accountable for the crimes they committed”.

The comments, which were the first from Moscow about the detained Americans, came days after Russian media released a video showing the men tied up, blindfolded and expressing fears of execution. When asked if they faced the death penalty, Peskov said he “can’t guarantee anything” and that it “depends on the investigation”.

Read more: “Hope gives you the strength to act.” Portraits of Russians risking everything to support Ukraine

Peskov’s statements were condemned in Washington. “It is appalling that a public official in Russia is even proposing the death penalty for two American citizens who were in Ukraine,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters at the White House on Tuesday. . The administration is still collecting information, he said.

European officials have accused Russia of trying to distract from what they say are real war crimes its forces are committing in Ukraine. They believe Moscow may be trying to lay the groundwork for a prisoner swap for Russian soldiers who were detained and convicted of rape, murder or other violent crimes during the president’s invasion of Ukraine. Russian Vladimir Putin, almost four months ago. In May, a Ukrainian court sentenced a captured Russian soldier to life in prison for shooting and killing a 62-year-old unarmed civilian.

During an unannounced trip to Kyiv on Tuesday, US Attorney General Merrick Garland met with Ukraine’s top prosecutor and announced the creation of a war crimes accountability team. “There is no hiding place for war criminals,” he said. “Working alongside our domestic and international partners, the Department of Justice will be relentless in its efforts to hold accountable anyone complicit in the commission of war crimes, torture and other grave abuses during the unprovoked conflict. in Ukraine.”

Ukraine’s military repelled a week-long Russian offensive in and around the capital, Kyiv, surprising better-equipped Russian forces, but now faces escalating fighting in the east of the country. At least 4,597 civilians, including more than 300 children, have been killed in Ukraine since February 24, according to the UN human rights office, although the agency acknowledges that the true death toll is likely high. higher.

About admin

Check Also

Tensions between countries could disrupt aid delivery to people in need – Red Cross

UNITED NATIONS (UrduPoint News/Sputnik – September 21, 2022) Tensions between countries around the world could …