Since 2020, Ukraine and the Donetsk People’s Republic have not had the prisoner exchange, although dozens of people are expected to return home on both sides. RT had a conversation with the Human Rights Ombudsman in the DPR Daria Morozova, who has been dealing with these issues since 2014. Why is it difficult to bring prisoners of Donbass residents home from Ukraine and are there secret prisons in the DPR for Ukrainian citizens – in the RT material.
New exchange is not possible
– In March of this year, you said that a new exchange of prisoners between Donbass and Ukraine is impossible, because the Ukrainian side has slowed down this process. What happened?
– The fact is that Ukraine has not fulfilled its obligations within the framework of the exchanges that took place in December 2019 and April 2020 yet. In the agreements on exchanges of citizens, the condition was clearly spelled out: the parties must fulfil the “procedural cleansing” of the citizens who are being transferred, that is, stop criminal prosecution against them. The procedural “cleansing” procedure by the DPR and LPR was applied to all citizens who were transferred to the territory of Ukraine: our law enforcement agencies have no complaints against these people.
During the signing of the documents, Ukraine announced that it would not have time to carry out this procedure before the exchange, but promised that it would do this as soon as possible after the release of prisoners.
In December 2019, Ukraine transferred 51 people to our territory. In January 2020, the law enforcement agencies of the country fulfiled the “procedural cleansing” only one of them.
“50 people are still under investigation on the territory of Ukraine. Moreover, most of them were put on the wanted list by the Ukrainian law enforcement agencies, including the international one. People face problems when moving and traveling abroad because of this.”
The agreement on the exchange says that it is considered incomplete until the parties fully fulfill all obligations. For our part, we have completed the exchange, and Ukraine, unfortunately, has not.
– What exactly should the Ukrainian authorities do to complete the procedure?
– The investigating authorities must complete the investigation and refer the case to the court, which will issue a verdict. If it guilty verdict, then documents for pardon will be submitted to the president. Exactly a year ago, Ukraine reported that in relation to nine citizens who were transferred during the exchange, the court sentences entered into force, which makes it possible to prepare their documents for pardon by the president. At the moment, there are already 16 such people. Unfortunately, the President of Ukraine has not found the time to sign these acts of pardon yet. I understand that the issue of the prisoner exchange is politically biased and Ukraine delays this process on purpose.
– When was the last time you raised this issue at the talks?
– At the last meeting of the humanitarian subgroup, on April 27. I was amazed by the behavior of the Ukrainian representative, who, instead of talking about the “procedural cleansing”, told an anecdote. I will not retell it, it is unfunny and uninteresting.
– How are lists for the exchange of citizens compiled in general?
– This work has been going on since 2014. Every citizen who knows about the retention of his/her relative, colleague or just an acquaintance in Ukraine can write a statement to the Ombudsman’s Office. Through the technical center in Minsk, we send a request to the territory of Ukraine, which, in theory, should answer us where the person is, in what condition he/she is, under which sectionof law he/she was detained.
“But Ukraine ignores our requests. At the moment, it is impossible to say for sure how many prisoners from the DPR and LPR are being held on the territory of Ukraine in places of imprisonment. We have a tentative list of 90 people, but there is no confirmation of them from the Ukrainian side.”
– Do you agree to exchange only prisoners of war? If a person is accused, for example, of stealing, will not you to try you not try to transfer him/her from Ukraine?
– In the order of the Minsk agreements, we consider only those citizens who were detained by the Ukrainian side in connection with the conflict. In general, this is a very meticulous work. When we receive a statement about the detention of a citizen of the DPR in Ukraine, we study under which articles of law he/she is accused. For example, articles on treason and coup d’etat are clearly related to the military conflict.
But the Ukrainian side is using a trick. When a person charged with treason is detained, Ukrainian law enforcement officers “add” more articles to him/her that are not directly related to the conflict, for example, about robbery or possession of weapons. If they need a person to be removed from the exchange list, they remove the articles related to the conflict and leave the so-called ordinary crimes.
But we learned to work with this too: we study his/her indictments and determine whether the person actually falls under the prisoner exchange agreements. For example, a person can be accused of a coup d’etat, but if we see that this happened while he was working as an official in Kiev, then this case is clearly not our profile.
– That is, in fact, you are conducting your own investigation?
– You can say so.
– How many people are there in the DPR now that Ukraine can apply for extradition?
– Ukraine is asking us to extradite 85 people, although in the media I very often hear from the Ukrainian representatives the figure of 280, 300, even 400 people. The official list for a year and a half, which, by the way, Ukraine sent us only two weeks ago, contains the names of 85 people.
“We work cleanly and transparently”
– There are publications in the media that there are secret prisons on the territory of the DPR where political prisoners and prisoners of war are kept.
– I recently conducted an examination on the subject of illegal places of detention of prisoners. We have not identified such places: all places of detention of accused or convicted persons on the territory of the DPR have an official, legal status.
– Are the people who were captured from the Ukrainian side kept there?
– Yes, but separate rooms have been allocated for them so that there are no conflicts between the prisoners. It is clear that it is dangerous to keep the Ukrainian military personnel together with the citizens of the DPR or with those who stood for the DPR or LPR.
– Do the Ukrainian military in the colonies turn to you for help?
– Yes of course. I communicate with them quite often. On the whole, everything is fine, we did not reveal any torture against them. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about the detention of our citizens in Ukrainian prisons.
“Any prisoner in the colony can write me an appeal and pass it on through the administration of the institution. The administration cannot examine appeals to the Ombudsman, they are confidential. By the way, there are a lot of such letters: prisoners, not only Ukrainian ones, complain about the conditions of detention, infringement of rights by the guards, someone asks for medical assistance.”
– You check the conditions of detention in colonies and pre-trial detention centers. How do you assess the situation in these institutions?
– I was personally in all the colonies of the DPR and I cannot say that I saw terrible conditions of detention somewhere. Several years ago, a UN rapporteur came to us to check the penitentiary system in the DPR. He noticed that in one pre-trial detention center, the standard of detention was violated: one person has less than 2.5 square meters. I answered him that the pre-trial detention center was built at the end of the 19th century, we got all the colonies and pre-trial detention centers from Ukraine, so it is not entirely correct to say that we have violated something, taking into account the fact that we have been existing for seven years in the context of war. So far, it is impossible to allocate a lot of money from the DPR budget to reconstruct the colony or build a new one.
– Another sore subject: there are reports that the investigation is being delayed in the DPR and the accused have to wait for years for trial. Why is this happening?
– I want to start with this: when the war broke out on our land, all government bodies were removed from here. We were forced to build our statehood from scratch. For example, when we started to create the Ombudsman’s Office for human rights, there were almost no qualified workers in this area – the Office of the Commissioner was located in Kiev until 2014. I believe that over seven years our statehood has developed in a very professional way, in some moments our bodies work more efficiently than in Ukraine, for example.
“Problems with the prolonged investigation do exist, we receive such complaints. The reason is that not all spheres have enough specialists. Of course, government agencies are also responsible for this, but the work that has been carried out in seven years, especially in the context of war, is already enormous.”
– How many people who have been awaiting trial for more than a year are now in jail in the Republic?
– About 150 people are awaiting trials for over a year, about 250 people – over two years and about 300 people – over three years. That is, we are not talking about thousands of people.
– Do you support the idea of publishing the transcripts of negotiations on the settlement of the conflict in Donbass?
– I can say for myself and our Office: we have nothing to fear. If these negotiations become public, then I will be absolutely comfortable and calm, because we work cleanly and transparently, the truth is on our side.
– What international organizations do you cooperate with in the field of protecting human rights?
– We work with all organizations that are on the territory of the DPR, there are three of them: the OSCE, (Council. – RT) UN Human Rights and the International Committee of the Red Cross. For example, we interact with the Red Cross on all humanitarian issues: this organization provides humanitarian assistance to the population, builds greenhouses in the DPR for growing vegetables, and supports people who are in a difficult life situation. The OSCE performs an monitoring sunctions: if there is any violation, I ask them to record it.
– Are they responding to your requests?
– Sure. An international organization must not ignore our requests.
– Do Ukrainian humanitarian missions work in the DPR?
– No, why should they work here?
– The Ukrainian state considers the DPR and LPR its territory.
– If they considered this territory to be its, then officials would be present here. Let’s remember which of them was here during these seven years. In April 2014, local residents went to a peaceful rally and demanded only one thing, namely the officials who came to power as a result of an armed coup d’etat should come from Kiev and talk to Donbass. Instead, tanks were sent at us, an anti-terrorist operation was announced on our land, and so on.
“It is impractical to restore houses on the Contact line”
– What worries Donbass residents the most? What complaints do people make to you?
– With the most diverse issues, ranging from difficulties with law enforcement agencies and ending with the needs in the housing sector.
– While we were communicating with the residents of the Republic, the impression was that one of the main problems is housing. Someone’s houses are completely destroyed, someone fled from the territory controlled by Ukraine. How many people are there now who have no roof over their heads?
“- We have a separate category – citizens in difficult life situations (DLS). There are now 9 thousand of them in the DPR, of which 7 thousand are internally displaced persons, just those who lost their homes as a result of the bombing or were forced to flee from the territories controlled by Ukraine due to political and military persecution.”
– As for their accommodation, long-term accommodation centers have been created in each city of the DPR. In fact, these are dormitories that have been refurbished so that people can live there until the authorities resolve the issue of housing.
Last year, the DPR adopted a law on internally displaced persons, and now all regulations are being developed for it. I hope that soon the work will be completed and we will finally have a legal mechanism to protect the rights of such citizens who find themselves in the DLS.
– How do you help people whose houses have been damaged or destroyed?
– The apartment buildings damaged by the bombing are being restored throughout the seven years that the war has been going on. People are returning to their homes. But there are difficulties with the restoration of houses that are located on the Contact line. People from these areas are turning to us, but now the active phase of hostilities has begun again, there are constant shelling – and, unfortunately, it is inappropriate to restore houses on the Contact line. They will be restored, but tomorrow a shell may fall there again.
– As for the armed conflict and its consequences, are residents of the DPR trying to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to protect their rights?
– This is a very difficult process. The ECHR examines applications from DPR citizens and even makes decisions in their favour. For example, this was the case when in 2014 the Ukrainian authorities refused to pay pensions to residents of Donbass. However, in my opinion, the process of considering complaints by the international court is very slow.
“The fact is that applications to the ECHR must be submitted through Ukrainian courts, but many of our citizens are afraid to enter the territory of Ukraine, as they may be detained.”
– That is, international law has turned its back on the people who live here now?
– I would not say that it turned back, but residents of the DPR and LPR cannot use it in full to protect their rights. I am sure that when the military conflict is over, the ECHR will receive a lot of claims from the residents of Donbass.
– How often do they ask you to help them get a passport of the Russian Federation or DPR? Do you have information that during this procedure people are being asked for money?
– Over the seven years of my work as an Ombudsman, I have never received a complaint that people are being asked to bribe to obtain passports. There are statements from people who find it difficult to go through this procedure. We check every appeal: sometimes the problem is in delays on the part of officials, but more often people just don’t collect carefully a package of documents to apply for a passport. In the latter case, we help the citizen to obtain all the necessary documents. For example, I can personally apply to law enforcement agencies with a request to issue through me a specific certificate addressed to the applicant.
– Do you think your participation really helps to solve a person’s problem?
– I am constantly asked how often law enforcement agencies, in response to my inquiries, admit that human rights have been violated. But this is not the most important thing. Sometimes you just need to convey to the authorities that we see this or that violation, to show that the case is under our control. In most cases, this is sufficient to correct human errors.