The prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine has become one of the key issues in media in recent weeks. “Antifascist” visited the DPR Human Rights Ombudsman Daria Morozova to discuss the issue. We also discussed when the long-awaited exchange of prisoners between the Republics of Donbass and Ukraine might take place.
We recall that the latest one took place in December 2017. What prevents the exchange, why DNR representatives need to develop legal mechanisms themselves to the release their people from Ukrainian prisons, as well as what has changed in the Minsk process since the new Government took office in Ukraine.
– Ms Morozova, how many people are being held in the territory of Ukraine and how many are in the territory of the Republic? How many of them will be exchanged?
– At the moment, we have established the presence of 103 people in the territory of Ukraine whom we request for the upcoming exchange. For our part, we have confirmed and are ready to transfer 50 people to the Ukrainian side. In total, we are searching for 256 people, 103 of them have been confirmed, 153 – haven’t been yet.
– What does “confirmed” and “not confirmed” mean?
– It means that the whereabouts of people are either well-documented/confirmed or not. As for 103 people who will be exchanged, I have an official response from the Ukrainian authorities that these people are detained and are present on the territory of Ukraine. There are also a small number of people who have documents establishing their whereabouts, such as court sentences or investigators’ decisions that confirm the fact that people are in Ukraine, but this was not officially confirmed by the Ukrainian side in Minsk. Therefore, at the moment we are requesting 103 people, for whom we have an official and full response from the Ukrainian side that they are being held in Ukraine.
– What can you say about the upcoming exchange between Russia and Ukraine in the nearest future? What is the formula, who are on the lists, who compiled the lists?
– In fact, we have nothing to do with this exchange. The Russian Federation is a sovereign state with its own authorities and representatives who negotiated for the exchange. Neither Donetsk nor Lugansk were involved in this exchange. We know nothing about what people and on what grounds have been included in the list, how they were included, and how the negotiation process was conducted. As far as I understand, this is a gesture of goodwill by President Vladimir Putin, and this is part of Russia’s foreign policy. But, again, we are not involved in this process.
– Do the lists include people who are requested from Ukraine by the Republic?
– I cannot answer this question, but, nevertheless, if they are in the lists, it will be much welcomed, and I will be very grateful to the authorities of the Russian Federation.
– Is the exchange between the Republics and Ukraine expected?
– Of course, it takes about 10-12 weeks to prepare for it, we are constantly discussing it, we have elaborated the formula 103 to 50. Seven weeks ago we proposed a mechanism for the exchange, providing for the procedure of how it should be held. The people who are in our territory and in Ukraine are held legally. Accordingly, in order to release them, certain procedural actions are needed: these are either a presidential pardon or procedural clearance of those under investigation or participating in legal proceedings. The category of people who have already been convicted is, so to speak, the easiest category for procedural clearance, because they already have sentences, and they just need to write an appeal for pardon to the president, after which he grants pardon, and then these people are clear of charges.
But what about those people who are subjects of litigation or pre-trial investigation? This category of people is a matter of concern for us, because we had the bitter experience of the previous exchange, which transpired in late December 2017, when the Ukrainian side also needed about a month and a half to process the clearance, and in the end they only changed the measure of restraint, and all the people remained wanted, their criminal prosecution continued. Therefore, we were very interested in this issue and seven weeks ago we agreed that both us and the Ukrainian side needed time to process the procedural clearance of the people whom we are going to hand over.
We needed about a month to process because we have fewer people. Three weeks ago, at a previous meeting in Minsk, I said that the DPR is fully prepared for the procedural clearance of 50 people whom we are going to transfer to Ukraine. At the same time, the representative of Ukraine (then it was a temporarily appointed person), failed to update us on the stage of the process of discontinuing legal proceedings against people that we are requesting. We had high hopes for that meeting, which was held recently in Minsk because an official representative on this issue has already been appointed in Kiev. We have been informed that 26 people from our list had been convicted. Accordingly, they will be pardoned, and for the rest of the people, they proposed the following option. There are four types of preventive measures in Ukrainian law: detention, house arrest, recognizance not to leave, and personal commitment. The Ukrainian side offers to release the rest of people under a personal commitment. What does it mean? It provides unhindered travel throughout Ukraine and travel abroad. But, we can see that under the article of personal commitment the judge can impose any ban under this personal commitment, the article contains the list of such bans.
– What kind of bans?
– For instance, a ban on leaving the region, and a ban on leaving Ukraine, and the non-return of personal documents, in particular, a passport, which prevents a person from going somewhere. The list is large. Accordingly, I raised two questions: 1) Do you guarantee that after people move to our territory Ukrainian judges will not change their measure of restraint for house arrest or detention? 2) Must all judges agree in order to choose a personal obligation without these restrictions? At the same time, the Ukrainian representative clearly stated that neither the president of Ukraine, nor law enforcement agencies, nor anyone else would put pressure on the court in these matters. If I am not mistaken, there are 131 such people in the DPR and LPR, who are waiting for a court decision. Take, let’s say, 100 Ukrainian judges. What is the guarantee that all of them will issue verdicts without imposing these bans? After all, you cannot interfere with their work, can you? The question is rhetorical, of course.
If we assume that all Ukrainian judges, as one, do not impose any bans on our people released under a personal commitment and a person leaves for our territory without any obstacles. But! Their trials are still ongoing, which means that they must be present at court hearings, that is, go to the territory of Ukraine. There were cases when people left the DPR to attend these proceedings and were arrested again. Accordingly, the majority of people released under this procedure will probably refuse to go back to Ukraine, which is a legal ground to put the person on the wanted list and impose a preventive measure on him/her, as they violated a personal commitment. So, is it really a procedural clearance?! And the question arises for the Ukrainian representatives: guys, what have you been doing during these six weeks? I cannot but conclude that for six weeks the Ukrainian side did nothing to advance in the process of making our people clear from charges.
– And what can we do now?
– We had no other option but develop a mechanism of procedural clearance for Ukraine. Because we are waiting for this exchange like nobody else, because we have given hope not only to people in custody in Ukraine, but also to their families, their parents, children and loved ones that they will soon be reunited, so now we have no moral right to block or disrupt the exchange. We are looking for the exchange, and we had to study the Ukrainian legislation and eventually proposed a mechanism in line with the legislation of Ukraine that offers the way to change the preventive measure followed by a complete procedural clearance of our people.
– What is it?
– I can’t reveal this now, because the Ukrainian side took several days to study our proposals and give their response, whether they agree or not. If they accept our offer, then this will help 70% of our people to be clear of charges. Therefore, if the Ukrainian side confirms its agreement to act under this mechanism, which, again, is in full compliance with the Ukrainian legislation – and we will not accept any other option, we want our people to be clear of charges – then there is every chance that the exchange transpires before the end of September.
– That is, until the end of this month?
– Yes, as I said. If the Ukrainian side agrees to use the mechanism, it will take them about 2 or 3 weeks to implement it, and we will be able to exchange the detainees.
– Is the ball on the court of Ukraine? And now it all depends on the Ukrainian side?
– Yes, absolutely. Once again, the DPR was ready for the exchange three weeks ago, which I reported at a previous meeting in Minsk. This time, I stated this once again that we are 100 per cent ready and asked Mr. Frisch to report this at the meeting of the Trilateral Contact Group, and he did it.
– Why is the Ukrainian side delaying this process, in your opinion?
– Firstly, because they actually didn’t have this procedural decision. They just don’t know how to do the procedural clearance. And secondly, they do not have the political will to do this. I had previously suggested several options for how to make people clear of charges, but this requires political will. At that time, the Ukrainian side was not ready to make this political decision, to show political will. Let’s see how it goes this time.
I will give you a small example. In this exchange, which we expect at the end of September, there are people who have been in the dungeons of the Mariupol pre-trial detention centre for about five years! They were detained in May 2014, and there is still no court decision on them. A trial has been going on for five years because Ukraine cannot prove their guilt. Moreover, people who testify against them have already been prosecuted for giving false testimonies! Nevertheless, the ungrounded trials continue. And I often remind about this in Minsk: guys, if you failed to prove guilt for five years, do you think you still need more time? Maybe you better show political will, close these cases or issue a verdict of acquittal and let the guys go?
– Does the quality of the exchange list satisfy you? Has Ukraine included everyone we request?
– Yes, everyone. At the moment, I have no claims regarding the lists. Yes, I sent additional requests to the Ukrainian side, but I can tolerate it due to the fact that they were sent within two to three weeks, and it is necessary to check them, including by law enforcement agencies, to find them, prepare the answer, which requires much time. I hope that they can cope with that in a few weeks. I can’t say that I don’t have any complaints about the lists at all, but at the moment this is the maximum that we can do.
– Do you have any information about the conditions of detention of our people in Ukraine? Are they being tortured?
– The information differs a lot; it depends on the place. Some people have simply adapted to the conditions of detention, to the conditions of life in prison, they can stand up for themselves. Some continue to be subjected to moral, psychological pressure and often, it must be recognized, physical pressure. Again, all those people who have been arrested recently, let’s take Mr. Tsemakh, for instance. Everyone could observe his condition when he was shown in media, and that is bearing in mind that he has just been arrested. The Ukrainian side uses torture both now and then. I believe that if the Ukrainian side wanted to change something, then we would have long signed a joint declaration prohibiting torture and ill-treatment of prisoners. But the Ukrainian side has not yet done so.
– Has anything changed at the Minsk negotiations after the new Government took office in Ukraine and new representatives were appointed in Minsk?
– The negotiations have become more diplomatic. The people are more reserved, more respectful and diplomatic now. We could be able to talk about positive changes if we had already conducted the exchange, launched the process of searching for missing persons and signed the Declaration. Then one could argue that after the new Government took office in Ukraine something has changed. But, in fact, unfortunately, nothing has changed. Resolution of all issues on the agenda, not only in my subgroup, but also in all other subgroups are in the same stage as before, so I cannot say that something has changed dramatically. Communication has become more diplomatic. But in fact, everything remained as it was.
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