Detainee Operations in Ukraine

Risk or Opportunity for International Law?

In: Journal of International Humanitarian Legal Studies
Cristina Teleki School of Law, Bern University, Bern, Switzerland,

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Detention operations have been a salient feature of the military conflict in Eastern Ukraine. Often referred to as exchanges or swaps of detainees, the operations leading to the simultaneous release and transfer of detainees (srtd) offer fertile terrain for inquiring about the applicability of international humanitarian law (ihl) and international human rights law (ihrl). This article attempts to fill a gap in the literature on detention operations outside the war on terror framework. It offers a chronological review of the detention operations that have taken place in Ukraine since the beginning of the military conflict. This paper then follows a classical two-step analysis first of ihl, ihrl and domestic law provisions applicable to srtds and, second, of the impact of these provisions on the human rights protection of the persons involved. The preliminary conclusions of this analysis indicate that, despite the praise of the international community for the srtds in Ukraine, human rights violations have resulted from srtds. More specifically, the legal framework under which srtds take place appears to be a ‘cocktail’ of ihl and ihrl provisions. Certainly, srtds have attracted international media coverage and support for Ukraine. At the same time, however, the ‘hidden cost’ of these operations begins to be understood as well because the legal status of many participants in the srtds appears to worsen, access to justice appears to be hampered and the independence of justice appears to be threatened as a result of these operations.

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