Human Rights Watch warn Ukraine against posting videos of POWs

A Telegram account with close to 870,000 subscribers operated by the Ukrainian government's main security arm has taken to posting videos of captured Russian soldiers revealing personal information.

 A Ukrainian serviceman is seen, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in the Sumy region, Ukraine, March 7, 2022. (photo credit: Irina Rybakova/Press service of the Ukrainian Ground Forces/Handout via REUTERS)
A Ukrainian serviceman is seen, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in the Sumy region, Ukraine, March 7, 2022.
(photo credit: Irina Rybakova/Press service of the Ukrainian Ground Forces/Handout via REUTERS)

Ukraine has been urged to respect the rights of Russian prisoners of war by the international NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW), who urged Ukrainian authorities to stop posting videos of captured Russian soldiers on social media, calling it a violation of the Geneva Convention. 

A Telegram account with close to 870,000 subscribers operated by the Ukrainian government's main security arm, the Security Services of Ukraine (SBU), has taken to posting videos of captured Russian soldiers who are being pressured to reveal their names, ID numbers, and other personal information, said HRW, including their parents' names and home addresses. 

Additionally, the Ukrainian Internal Affairs Ministry runs a similar Telegram channel, on which they share the same information with close to 850,000 subscribers. The Ministry claims on the channel's page that their aim is to share information "about captured and killed Russian soldiers in Ukraine since the beginning of the occupation," saying that it is for people with relatives and friends "participating in the war against our people - here you can get information about their fate."

However, HRW has released a statement urging these Ukrainian government bodies to cease this practise, saying that "such treatment of prisoners of war, or POWs, violates protections under the Geneva Conventions intended to ensure dignified treatment of captured combatants on all sides."

“The obligation to protect POWs from being objects of public curiosity, as well as protecting them from intimidation or humiliation, is part of the broader requirement to ensure their humane treatment and protect their families from harm,” said HRW Senior Legal Advisor Aisling Reidy. “The Ukrainian authorities should stop posting these videos online.”

 Members of the Ukrainian Territorial Defence Forces take a position on the front line, in the north Kyiv region, Ukraine March 17, 2022. (credit: GLEB GARANICH/REUTERS) Members of the Ukrainian Territorial Defence Forces take a position on the front line, in the north Kyiv region, Ukraine March 17, 2022. (credit: GLEB GARANICH/REUTERS)

Additionally, HRW called for social media platforms to clarify their rules regarding the posting of such videos and, if their current policies do not explicitly rule out this practise, to update the policies to prevent it from happening.

Although HRW said in their statement that they had contacted the SBU and Interior Ministry regarding their request for the websites to be removed on March 10, they had yet to receive a response.

HRW also reminded Ukrainian officials that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has made it clear that "any material that allows viewers or readers to identify individual prisoners should not be transmitted, published or broadcast."

They urged Ukraine's government to work with the ICRC to ensure it has access to all prisoners of war and stressed that any data on POWs is handled in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.

However, HRW clarified, while Ukraine has "clear obligations that it must uphold, including lawful treatment of POWs," it has also documented "extensive laws-of-war violations and apparent war crimes by Russian forces."

In a similar line, Ukraine's Defense Ministry issued a warning on March 16 to their soldiers regarding the treatment of Russian war prisoners.

"Ukrainian serviceman must be clearly aware that according to all the rules of warfare, "it is FORBIDDEN to kill prisoners of war," read the statement.

"Always remember that: we are a cultural nation, which, despite all the desire to avenge the wrongs done to our country, must act in a civilized manner. Therefore, it is not necessary to kill those who surrendered, because an armed enemy is the responsibility not of an individual (commander), but of Ukraine as a state responsible for its fate.

"Cruelty breeds cruelty! After all, the inhumane treatment of prisoners of war can cause a chain of revenge against their comrades, who are now held captive by the Russian occupiers," the statement continued.

"Humane treatment of prisoners will allow the international community, in particular partner countries, to demonstrate the simple truth that Ukraine fully meets the criteria of a democracy where human life, even a former enemy, remains the highest value."

The statement continues, outlining the best practises for Ukrainian soldiers to employ when a Russian soldiers surrenders or is captured. 

In particular, the statement urges Ukrainian service members to "hold prisoners of war without degrading human dignity, without descending to the level of the Russian occupiers, while demonstrating the superiority of the moral values ​​of a warrior-defender who protects his homeland from invaders."