I witnessed or fell victim to a Russian military war crime. Where to go? How to design everything correctly? What evidence is needed? Babelʼs Instruction

Oksana Kovalenko
Serhii Pyvovarov
I witnessed or fell victim to a Russian military war crime. Where to go? How to design everything correctly? What evidence is needed? Babelʼs Instruction

Kate Ban / «Бабель»

Since the start of full-scale Russian aggression, the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine has been investigating 6,000 war crimes and has declared suspicions against 501 members of Russiaʼs military-political leadership. According to Prosecutor General Irina Venediktova, investigators were able to identify one of the Russian servicemen who raped Ukrainian women. But the number of war crimes is growing every day. Lawyers, attorneys, and human rights organizations help prosecutors and investigators document crimes. However, the Prosecutor Generalʼs Office and the authorities call on Ukrainians who have been victims of war crimes to report it. Babel correspondent Oksana Kovalenko spoke with prosecutors and lawyers and drew up instructions on what war crimes are, how to properly provide information about them, and why they should do so immediately.

Where did the concept of war crimes come from?

As early as the end of the 19th century, the worldʼs cranes began to agree on exactly how to fight, as well as what actions during the war are strictly prohibited under any circumstances. Thus, in 1899 and 1907, the countries concluded two Hague Conventions on the Laws and Customs of War.

As early as 1949, the countries also agreed on exactly how to treat the wounded, and also wrote down how the military should treat the civilian population — so signed the Geneva Conventions. These documents are part of international humanitarian law. Their violation is considered a war crime. Their main feature — they have no statute of limitations. That is, these crimes must be investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice in 30 years and in 50 years.

What is considered a war crime?

You must notify law enforcement in the following cases:

  • If you were wounded by the actions of the Russian military: shelling, if they aimed close, etc.
  • If you have witnessed how the Russian military killed or wounded other civilians.
  • If you or your loved ones have been a victim of sexual abuse, or you are aware of such facts. In international law, sexual violence is not only rape, but also cases where a person is undressed, or forced to undress in the presence of the opposite sex, or other acts of a sexual nature. All this in terms of war is considered a war crime.
  • If you have been a victim or seen the Russian military use violence against civilians, deprive them of their liberty, shoot them, deny them medical care.
  • If you have witnessed how the Russian military used violence against medics, fired on their medical vehicles or hospitals, maternity hospitals. Or if you are a doctor and it happened to you.
  • If you witnessed the Russian military shelling kindergartens, schools.
  • If you have been traveling in a humanitarian corridor and you have been fired upon or detained, this is also a reason to provide information.
  • If you were detained and forcibly deported or deported to the occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, Crimea or Russia, this is also a war crime.
  • If the Russian military placed their equipment in your yards and fought from there. Or if you saw the same thing but in the yard of your neighbors or your town or village.
  • If your house, car or other property is damaged by shelling by the Russian military.
  • If you have fallen victim to looting by the Russian military.
  • If you have witnessed how the occupiers disguised themselves in civilian clothes, or in Ukrainian military uniform, or used the emblems of the Red Cross or other humanitarian organizations.
  • If you are detained and forced to join the ORDLO armed forces or forced to take part in hostilities on their side, this is also a war crime.
  • If you know about the facts when the Russians took hostage mayors or government officials and under pressure demanded to side with the occupier or take certain actions in the interests of Russia, or you are such a person — this should also be reported, because it is a war crime.

Why do you need to report this and why is it better not to procrastinate?

It is important to provide information on war crimes, not to withhold it. This gives a chance to bring to justice the Russian military who committed crimes in Ukraine. In addition to identifying your perpetrator directly, it will identify Russiaʼs top officials involved in these crimes: they could either give orders or turn a blind eye to the atrocities committed by their subordinates. International law also provides for this responsibility.

Why should it be done as soon as possible? Because over time, you can forget important details, forget and erase the photo or video evidence that you have left on your phone. And so the probative value of your testimony is reduced.

If your property has been damaged, you can receive compensation. But this requires an investigation, in which investigators will establish the damage, which will be the basis for compensation. In order to establish them, an assessment of this property will be carried out, and the necessary documents for this property will be required, and an expert examination may also be appointed. Over time, property will become more difficult to assess.

In addition, the number of appeals will only grow, and further investigation will be more difficult.

Where to go?

The information is collected by the Office of the Attorney General. It can be submitted in several ways.

This can be done remotely on a special website launched by the Prosecutor Generalʼs Office. There is a form to fill out, answer questions and submit. Everything is confidential. Alternatively, you can apply directly to law enforcement. If you have fled the occupied territories and are not in your area — you can still go to any law enforcement agency and apply. This could be the Security Service, the National Police, the Prosecutorʼs Office, and now even NABU and the State Bureau of Investigation.

If you have left for Eastern or Western Europe, keep in mind that 10 European countries have already opened their criminal proceedings for Russian war crimes in Ukraine. For example, in France there are as many as three: for crimes in Mariupol between February 25 and March 16, in Gostomel between March 1-12 and in Chernihiv after the start of a full-scale war. In addition to France, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Germany and Sweden are among those who opened the proceedings.

Many lawyers, advocates and human rights organizations are now working together to help document war crimes. Lawyers can help you properly design the materials you submit to the site. And lawyers in the prosecutorʼs office are advised to help you apply to law enforcement, and then represent your interests during the investigation, including submitting evidence.

What information should be provided?

You must provide as much information as possible about the event: what exactly happened, the exact place where it happened, and the date. It is important to state all the circumstances, if there are other victims or other witnesses to the event, it is desirable to indicate this and provide information about them. If it is clear why they fired, provide this information. If you saw the chevron on the sleeve of the Russian military, it is also worth describing. If you can describe the military equipment used by the military, do not forget to indicate this. If you remember your abuser, describe him as well. It is necessary to paint the consequences of the actions of the Russian military. If there are photos or videos, it is better to add them to the materials.

For example, you can start like this: "On a certain number, there I heard explosions and/or a shell hit our house", etc.

Which photos and videos will be considered evidence?

Photo and video evidence play a very important role in the investigation. But they can be used as evidence only when there is a device on which they were filmed. And it is desirable that there was information about the person who filmed them, who can confirm that it is not mounted, including.

It is very important to keep the original photo and video without edits, tags, text, do not apply filters to this video. This all changes the metadata of the video, in which case the recording will not be valid evidence.

When recording a video, it is advisable to specify the date, time and place, as well as what you are shooting. You should refrain from commenting with obscene language. When shooting a video, take your time so that you can see what you are shooting (of course, if itʼs safe for you). If you filmed the event, it is important to film the consequences of this event.

If we are talking about a photo, it is better to take several versions of photos from different angles and distances — from general to detailed photos. If we are talking about damage from shelling, it should be removed so that it is possible to measure the extent of this damage.

What if Iʼm afraid to keep it all on my phone?

Lawyers also recommend using an eyewitness program to record crimes, especially for people who record crimes in the occupied territories or where fierce fighting is currently taking place. The program allows you to take photos directly in the application and transfer them to the server and not save them in the phone. The program saves all the necessary metadata for the court and the verification of photos and videos is automatic. The International Criminal Court, which investigates war crimes, trusts this program.

Everything was collected, registered, sent. Whatʼs next?

All these statements and notifications are registered in separate proceedings. And investigate the crimes of every Russian military. To do this, investigators are already taking all possible measures to establish who is involved in these crimes.

If the national authorities fail, an international tribunal will be set up, or rather a special mechanism, or an additional tribunal, to study the war crimes of the Russian military.

In addition, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has already begun its investigation. But he does not consider the war crimes of every Russian military. It only establishes the responsibility of the highest officials responsible for the most massive or egregious crimes. That is 10-12 people, among whom, obviously, will be Vladimir Putin.

The ISS may itself conduct investigative actions and study information in open sources, and may also apply to the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine for information that is of interest and importance to the investigation. Then Ukraine will provide all the necessary information, in particular it may be information from you.

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