The United Nations human rights office (OHCHR) on Friday condemned the death sentences of three foreign fighters in Ukraine by a court in the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic.
The three men – Britons Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner, and Moroccan Saaudun Brahim – were captured while fighting for Ukraine, apparently defending the southern port city of Mariupol.
“Such trials against prisoners of war constitute a war crime,” OHCHR spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said in Geneva.
Fierce fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion has leveled the town, where UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet has previously condemned attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure that likely have caused thousands of deaths.
“OHCHR is concerned about the so-called Supreme Court of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic which has sentenced three servicemen to death,” Ms Shamdasani said.
“According to the Chief Command of Ukraine, all the men were part of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and if so, they should not be considered mercenaries.”
Responding to a question at Thursday’s regular briefing in New York on the death sentences handed down, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric, said the organization has always “and we always will” oppose the death penalty in all circumstances.
“And we call on the combatants who have been detained to be granted international protection and to be treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions,” he added.
The spokesman for the UN human rights office also highlighted long-standing concerns about fair trial violations in breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine bordering Russia.
“Since 2015, we have observed that the so-called judicial system within these autonomous republics does not respect the essential guarantees of a fair trial, such as the publicity of the proceedings, the independence, the impartiality of the courts and the right not to be compelled to testify.
Ms. Shamdasani added that “such trials against prisoners of war constitute a war crime. In the case of the use of the death penalty, the guarantees of a fair trial are of course all the more important.