Just Security: Russia’s Forcible Transfers of Ukrainian Civilians: How Civil Society Aids Accountability and Justice

2023-03-09 | Expert publications, International tribunal

By Oleksandra Matviichuk, Natalia Arno and Jasmine D. Cameron. Since the start of the February 2022 illegal invasion of Ukraine by Russia, countless heinous war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed by the Russian military and its proxies. Evidence has shown bombings of civilian targets including health-care facilities, as well as rape and other forms of sexual violence, mass killings and mass graves, and destruction of humanitarian convoys and corridors. Some estimates put the number of war crimes reported to date at more than 71,000 cases.

In recent months, increasing attention has been focused on Russia’s so-called “filtration” camps. The process that Ukrainian civilians are subjected to in these locations includes screening (“filtering”) by checking their identity, fingerprinting and photographing them, searching their belongings and phones, and interrogating them, and then most often forcibly transferring and deporting them, children included, from Ukraine to Russian-occupied territories in Ukraine or to the Russian Federation.

International law doesn’t specifically define a crime of “filtration.” But the actual forcible transfers and deportations of civilians, including children, from Ukraine to occupied territories of Ukraine or to Russia, the occupying state, is a breach of international law and a violation of a cluster of international human rights norms as well as other relevant statutes.

And the forcible transfers of civilians from Ukraine to Russia or Russian-controlled territory is not only a legal violation. The Russian government also is manipulating reports of the transfers within its propaganda machine to fuel a range of disinformation and nationalistic narratives, such as the false idea that it is “saving” the Ukrainians from Nazis who supposedly dominate Ukraine’s government and military.

Ukraine’s civil society, with the help of international partners, has taken on the arduous, challenging, and laborious work to help document and counter this illegal practice, as we outline in a broader forthcoming report by our organizations – the Center for Civil Liberties (CCL), the Free Russia Foundation (FRF), and the American Bar Association’s Center for Human Rights (ABA/CHR), respectively. The report will analyze various aspects of the filtration system and examine individual cases based on international humanitarian law, international criminal law, and international human rights law and standards.

Read the full publication.