OSCE Moscow Mechanism will help bring the topic of civilian hostages to the international level – human rights defender

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On February 29, 2024, the OSCE launched the Moscow Mechanism regarding the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of Ukrainian civilians by the Russian Federation. The launch of this mechanism was supported by 45 countries. In the near future, a group of independent international experts will begin an investigation into crimes committed by Russia against Ukrainian civilians.

Photo: Media Center Ukraine

The Moscow Mechanism is a special procedure developed by the OSCE that allows for the creation of an independent international mission whose task will be to study information on human rights violations, war crimes and crimes against humanity, in particular against civilians and civilian infrastructure.

Human rights defenders of ZMINA and the Media Initiative for Human Rights told about this on March 4 during a briefing in Kyiv.

According to Yelyzaveta Sokurenko, the head of the war crimes documentation department at Human Rights Centre ZMINA, the adoption of the Moscow Mechanism will allow the issue of civilian hostages to be put on the international agenda:

“This topic is not as relevant at the international level and is not as clear to the international audience as it is to us, to human rights defenders, to thousands of relatives of those whose loved ones were illegally imprisoned by Russia”.

At the same time, the human rights defender does not expect quick results from this mechanism, but it is important to launch this process, because Russia does not respond to any calls and requests to provide access to civilian hostages.

People are being accused of terrorism, espionage, extremism, “anti-SMO” actions and so on, and these accusations are completely fictitious. Sokurenko noted that in a number of reports, ZMINA analysed the practice of persecution of civilians in the occupied territories: in all cases documented by the organisation, detentions take place outside of any legal procedures. During detentions, representatives of the Russian Federation psychologically intimidate and commit violence against Ukrainians, in most cases people are tortured in illegal detention.

Yelyzaveta Sokurenko

Victims of enforced disappearances also suffer from torture and are kept in terrible conditions, says Yelyzaveta Sokurenko:

“Both civilians and prisoners of war are systematically beaten and subjected to various forms of psychological pressure. And if this becomes known on the scale of the international community and is proven by an international mechanism, then this is only a good sign for Ukrainian society”.

However, according to the human rights defender, the exact number of civilian hostages is unknown.

“The latest figure from the Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War, which is also currently dealing with the issue of civilian hostages, is 1,600 people. It is obvious that there can be and are more of these people. Some of them have not been contacted for a long time, the whereabouts of some people are also unknown”, Sokurenko says.

The expert also believes that the adoption of the Moscow Mechanism will increase pressure on Russia to provide information on civilian hostages and allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to more actively seek access to Ukrainians held in Russian territory.

You can find the full video from the event here.