August 24, 2014

Armed men with bayonet-equipped automatic rifles parade several dozen captured soldiers, their hands tied behind their backs, through the streets among crowds shouting “fascists” and other insults. Behind the parade, three cleaning trucks “cleanse” the streets where the detainees just walked.

Sadly, this is not a scene from an old black-and-white news reel about World War II. This took place today in Donetsk, a city in eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatist forces. The soldiers were captured members of Ukrainian forces. And it’s now in color, all over YouTube and other social media.

Apparently inspired by a parade of 60,000 German prisoners of war in Moscow in 1944, rebel forces in Donetsk decided to mark Ukrainian Independence Day with a blatant violation of the laws of war. A few days ago, pro-rebel media said that “Prime minister of DPR, A. V. Zakharchenko, just now ordered the presentation of damaged military vehicles of the Ukrop [Ukrainian] army on the Lenin square on August 24. And prisoners will be escorted through the city, like their German inspirers were in Moscow.” 

The Geneva Conventions’ common article 3, which applies to all non-international armed conflicts, prohibits “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment.” This parade is a clear violation of that absolute prohibition, and may be considered a war crime.

Russia should exert its considerable influence over the separatist forces in eastern Ukraine to ensure that detainees are treated humanely and with dignity. That means also not parading detainees through the streets for public insult and scorn.