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OSCE invokes special mechanism to address arbitrary detentions of Ukrainian civilians by Russia

by Martin Fornusek March 1, 2024 8:43 AM 2 min read
Illustrative purposes: A garage at a preliminary detention center believed to have been used by Russian forces to jail and torture Ukrainian civilians in Kherson on Nov. 16, 2022. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
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Fourty-five members of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) invoked the Moscow Mechanism in response to cases of arbitrary detentions of Ukrainians by Russia, according to a joint statement published on Feb. 29.

The Moscow Mechanism allows for an expert mission to be dispatched and assist a country "in the resolution of a particular question or problem relating to the human dimension."

Russia's occupation of Ukrainian territories has been accompanied by widespread human rights abuses. According to Ukraine's Ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets, roughly 28,000 Ukrainian citizens remain in Russian captivity.

Moscow also abducted over 19,500 Ukrainian children, sending them to "foster families" in Russia or to re-education camps.

Previously, OSCE members invoked the Moscow Mechanism in 2022 and 2023. The resulting expert missions confirmed the concerns about Russia's violations of humanitarian law and human rights during the full-scale invasion.

"We remain particularly alarmed by the findings of the expert missions that some of the violations amount to war crimes and that some violations may amount to crimes against humanity," the statement read.

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Citing a number of independent sources, including previous Moscow Mechanism missions, the UN, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), and civil society organizations, the statement points to numerous instances of arbitrary detentions and "enforced disappearances" of Ukrainian civilians.

The detainees, including representatives of local authorities, volunteers, activists, journalists, clergymen, and teachers, are often held incommunicado, and many are considered missing. Russia also continues to illegally hold three Ukrainian OSCE officials.

"According to testimonies of victims and witnesses, Russia's actions towards civilian detainees are marked by the profound disregard for human dignity, including the use of torture, sexual violence, and ill-treatment," according to the statement.

The countries supporting the declaration requested the ODIHR to ask Kyiv whether it would invite an expert mission to build upon previous findings.

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said he welcomes the invocation of the Moscow Mechanism.

"I anticipate that invoking the OSCE Moscow Mechanism will assist us in determining the true scope of this crime and establishing facts," Kuleba said.

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