Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Foreign Policy Research Institute

tel. +38 (044) 287 52 58

Russia’s withdrawal from the Geneva Convention

Back on October 14, 2019, the UN recognized Russia's violation of the Geneva Сonventions, through the deliberate resettlement of people from the mainland to the Ukrainian Crimea in an attempt to change the demographics of the occupied Peninsula. The report of UN Secretary General, António Guterres provided data from the court register of the Russian Federation, according to which, in 2017-2018, the courts in the Crimea decided to displace at least 947 persons considered foreigners under Russian law, in particular the displacement of 518 citizens of Ukraine. In addition, at least 109 residents of Crimea were "forcibly evicted" by law enforcement agencies of the Russian Federation.  "In most cases, the victims were allegedly Ukrainian citizens who were considered by the Russian Federation as those who have no right to reside in Crimea" the report said.  Vice-Chairman of the UN Committee on Information from the Eastern European Regional Group,  Oleg Nikolenko commented on the report and noted that it is important for Ukraine that the UN Secretary General spoke about it.[1]

On November 12, Putin signed a federal law to recall ratification of the Additional Protocol to the Geneva Convention on the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflict. The law recalls the statement made by the USSR upon ratification of the Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions of  August 12, 1949 concerning the protection of victims of international armed conflicts (Protocol I), adopted in Geneva on 8 June 1977. Among the reasons for the recall, it is noted that allegedly since 1991 the Commission has not actually performed its functions, there is no Russian representative in its composition, and at the same time the Russian Federation pays an annual contribution to the Commission's budget. In addition, in the current international environment, the risks of abuse of the Commission's powers for political purposes by unscrupulous states are significantly increasing. The Russian Federation withdraw from its obligations to protect and assist the wounded and sick (both military and civilian), regardless of which party they belong to, to prevent attacks on medical units and personnel, to ensure the protection of the civilian population, the clergy, as well as other persons under the protection of the Convention.

Also, the Protocol from which the Russians refused to perform:

  • it is prohibited to use weapons, projectiles, substances and methods of warfare capable of causing excessive damage or suffering;
  • it is prohibited to kill, injure or take prisoner of the enemy by resorting to treachery. Treachery is considered to be actions aimed at evoking the trust of the enemy and making him believe that he has the right to protection and is obliged to provide such protection according to the norms of international law applicable during armed conflicts, in order to deceive such trust (the description fully corresponds to the events in the so-called "green channel" in Ilovaisk);
  • it is prohibited to attack a person who leaves the aircraft by parachute;
  • it is prohibited to attack or reprisal civilian objects;
  • it is prohibited to attack or destroy, remove or render unusable objects necessary for the survival of the civilian population, such as food supplies, agricultural areas producing food, crops, livestock, drinking water facilities and water supplies, as well as irrigation facilities specifically to prevent their use by the civilian population or the opposing party as a means of preserving the existence, regardless of motives, to cause hunger among civilians, to force them to leave or for any other reason.
  • it is prohibited to extend military operations to zones to which with consent they granted the status of demilitarized zones if such extension is contrary to the provisions of such an agreement;
  • and other.[2]

What will be the practical consequences of this recall? Henceforth, Russia does not recognize the article of the Additional Protocol to the Convention, which enshrines the role of the UN Special Commission as a judicial body, which has the right to judge the state for violating the rights of civilians in war. The motivation of the decision as simple as possible – " enemies everywhere". Or, using the language of Russian legislators "in the current international situation, the risks of abuse of the Commission's powers for political purposes...are growing substantially". Why Russia took such a step is not difficult to understand. Suffice it to say that the recent widespread video where four "Wagners" crushed bones of the prisoner with a sledgehammer, cut off limbs by a MPL-50, and poured the corpse with gasoline and burned it. Therefore, Vladimir Putin has no other choice but to cover his thugs in uniform and without it. And recall from the Protocol, which provides for real control over the implementation of the Convention. As well as the International Criminal Court – and all the other few mechanisms that provide for the real punishment for war crimes.

At the time, the Soviet "great leaders" and "wise teachers" did not sign the Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War, 1929. Perhaps they hoped to wage an offensive war, and were in no hurry to deal with the fate of foreign prisoners of war. But then, when the real war came, at least one and a half million Soviet prisoners of war died in Nazi concentration camps. Now pattern is repeated. The Russian authorities are creating a new international and legal reality to achieve its pragmatic goals. But there is a flip side of the coin. When war comes to Russia – that is the nature of our world that sooner or later it comes everywhere - then even Russian citizens will not have a guarantee of the right to life in case of conduct of hostilities. But now, when Russia has withdrawn from the Geneva Convention on the Protection of Civilians, the vast majority of citizens of this state have not even considered to protest or otherwise demonstrate their disagreement with this decision.[3] 

Thus, the Russian Federation once again demonstrates its disregard for human rights and international agreements. And the consequences of this decision can significantly harm our state. Therefore, neither Ukraine nor the international community should ignore Russia's aggression and allow it to be unpunished.