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Oksana Bashuk Hepburn: Putin’s 'Dark Ages' show trials and the feckless international organizations

August 20, 2022 6:27 amby Oksana Bashuk Hepburn
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Oksana Bashuk Hepburn: Putin’s 'Dark Ages' show trials and the feckless international organizationsA photo of destroyed buildings in the Russian-occupied city of Mariupol, Donetsk Oblast, shared by the Mariupol City Council on Aug. 3, 2022.(Mariupol City Council/Facebook)

Russia’s horrors in Ukraine illustrate what the dark ages were like. Now, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin wants to go darker. He plans to do it on the anniversary of Ukraine’s independence with sham show trials for the Azovstal defenders as ‘terrorists’. Instead of music the Mariupol Symphony Concert Hall will fill with insults hurled at the heroes caged like wild animals for maximum public humiliation and abuse. 

After months of heroic fighting some two thousand defenders were evacuated from the steel complex as prisoners of war. They agreed to “evacuate” not “surrender” believing the transfer from death as defender to “safety” as political prisoner was the work of the UN and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). They were duped.

Political prisoners are protected by four Geneva Conventions. Article 13, 3rd Convention, states: “Prisoners of war must… be humanely treated. Any unlawful act by the Detaining Power causing death or seriously endangering the health of a prisoner of war in its custody is prohibited…no prisoner of war may be subjected to physical mutilation…prisoners of war must… be protected…against acts of violence or intimidation…insults and public curiosity.”

Russia signed the Geneva Conventions. Russia fails to meet them.  War prisoners are denied humane treatment including deprivation of sleep, proper food and water.  The hygene conditions are disgusting.  Russia subjects them to physical mutilation — broken bones, beatings, engraved trident —the Ukrainian emblem —on their bodies, castration. Russia murders. Last week, sixty of the tortured Azov defenders were bombed in Olenivka to cover up evidence of torture.  

In Russia’s hands lives of normal Ukrainians are unbearable. The lives of the war prisoners surpass the agonies depicted by George Orwell of life in Ukraine under Big Brother—Russia — in his cautionary tale, 1984. It was written in 1949 when Stalin — Putin’s role model — was conducting massive show trials, executions and starvation. 

It is now 2022.  Russia’s war is crashing civilization back to the dark ages. The show trial means to set a new low. Motivated by pure hate it will aim to humiliate and destroy the spirit of the prisoners to stroke perverse Russian nationalism. It’s an equivalent to the gladiators-to-the-lions human sacrifice frenzy aimed at bolstering support for Putin’s mad war.  

This outrage rubs the collective noses of the free world in Russia’s endless river of broken agreements which have gone unpunished for too long.  Show trials shatter the Convention’s prohibition of “public humiliation and curiosity” of prisoners.  Allowing Putin to proceed with this barbaric Kafka-like maltreatment is Russia’s descent into moral depravity.

Neither Russia nor its Mariupol proxies have any legal basis for the “trial”. Their war is illegal so everything stemming from that is insupportable.  Furthermore, Mariupol has no judicial institution to conduct a trial for “terrorist” or implement its “verdict”.  Again: Russia is a signatory to the Conventions.

So what!  The show is going ahead while propaganda-filled Russians shout for the warriors executions by hanging. This might happen. There’s speculation in the media that Russia will once again bomb the war prisoners then blame Ukraine.  

The only way to stop this madness is with a military victory for Ukraine. Until then Russia is home free while the Azovstal heroes are endangered and alone; abandoned by international entities mandated to help them. (The UN and ICRC have had brief access to some prisons and assessed them as inadequate.)

The UN peacekeepers— the Blue Helmets — might have had some impact on Russia’s behaviour but because of its veto they are not currently operating in Ukraine.  Amnesty International –specifically created to uphold the rights of prisoners — has disgraced itself recently with its pro-aggressor bias in Russia’s war. Strange how “impartial” organizations are rendered feckless by Moscow when needed.

A possible intervenor is the ICRC whose mission is “to protect the lives and dignity of victims of armed conflict and violence … to provide them with assistance…to prevent suffering by promoting and strengthening humanitarian law and universal humanitarian principles.”  

To date, however its efforts are questionable. A March 29 Facebook entry notes that its President Peter Maurer visited Ukraine. Also Russia: Was it them that he discussed the shameful filtration and holding camps for Ukraine’s political prisoners?  

He should be in Ukraine now, ensuring his mandate is providing “assistance” and “preventing suffering” to such visible defenders of Ukraine like Azovstal is working.  Instead, lower level officials were dispatched to negotiate perhaps the most sensitive deal of his ICRD career: the transfer of the defenders. The deal was bungled. Then silence.  Now the Azov warriors are in Russia’s hands without any assurances of war prisoners’ rights. Those not murdered in Olenivka will be exhibited in Putin’s show trial despite fine Geneva Convention words prohibiting such “humiliation.” Here has yet to be a statement from the ICRC president. Putin smirks.

Peter Maurer must return to Ukraine immediately “to protect the lives and dignity of victims of armed conflict” and stop Russia’s horror show trial. His credibility and the Red Cross reputation demand this. He might consult with other humanitarian organizations including the lately shamed Amnesty International – it should take this opportunity to recalibrate it’s pro-Russia stand the Pope — yet to make good on his inexplicable justification of Putin’s war as a ‘provocation’ while his counterpart, the leader of the universal Orthodox Church, to his credit clearly condemns it — as well as other church and charity leaders dedicated to and collecting billions of dollars in the name of helping political prisoners and humanity. (Red Cross in America alone has a $3 billion annual budget. Its CEO’s salary in 2019, was near $700,000; Peter Maurer’s salary today must be considerably more.)

Peter Maurer must start acting in support of the Geneva Convention and the UN Declaration of Human Rights or be seen as a party to Russia’s determination to be damned in hell and take the rest of civilization down into darkness with it. The alternative is for the Red Cross president to resign. 

Oksana Bashuk Hepburn
Author:  Oksana Bashuk Hepburn

Oksana Bashuk Hepburn is the former Director of the Canadian Human Rights Commission and President of U*Can Ukraine Canada Inc., a management firm specializing in democratization projects for Ukraine. Bashuk Hepburn has been commenting on international issues in global media for decades.

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