Russian armed forces veterans and mercenaries from Russian private military companies (PMCs) have asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague to start an investigation into the organizers of the PMCs and the entities assisting them.
Yevgeny Shabaev, chairman of the All-Russian Officers’ Assembly, told Radio Liberty that the petition to ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has been signed by 357 delegates from 52 regions of Russia, who represent 18 all-Russian and international public organizations. The text itself was discussed at a session of the All-Russian Officers’ Assembly held on Sunday titled “PMCs. The death of the army - #WeAreNotThere”. The document states that, according to the veteran organizations’ estimates, the PMCs have caused hundreds of Russian deaths in the Donbas, Syria, Libya, Central Africa and Gabon. However, the Russians are fighting abroad with the status of “volunteers” and without any official recognition from the Russian government.
Shabaev says that in July 2018, PMC fighters asked the Russian presidential administration to legalize the PMCs. However, the Defense Ministry responded that the organization and activity of private military companies is unconstitutional. Russian armed forces veterans believe that PMC participants are being deliberately deprived of their legal status. In this way, they do not receive the rehabilitation and economic support from the government that is given to veterans, but are rather prosecuted according to the Russian Criminal Code for carrying out mercenary activities.
However, the “divisions comprised of ‘illegitimates’ (PMC Patriot, PMC Wagner etc.) and the companies affiliated with them (e.g. Lobaye Invest which operates in the Central African Republic, and Yevro Polis which is active in Syria) sign contracts on gold and oil mining on the international level and receive concessions as a result of official intergovernmental negotiations”. But with the Russian mercenaries, they sign contracts which are legally untenable, and do not regulate operation under combat conditions.
“In effect, civilians are being led astray and are being taken out of their country of permanent residence to be illegally utilized for military purposes,” the authors of the petition to the ICC believe. “Because the situation has remained unchanged for three years already, we ask the prosecutor to initiate a criminal case based on Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the ICC, especially point (i) - “Enforced disappearance of persons” (which is defined as “the arrest, detention or abduction of persons by, or with the authorization, support or acquiescence of, a State or a political organization, followed by a refusal to acknowledge that deprivation of freedom or to give information on the fate or whereabouts of those persons, with the intention of removing them from the protection of the law for a prolonged period of time”).
On the basis of article 25 of the Statute, they also ask the prosecutor to bring charges against the organizers of the mentioned PMCs, their owners, and those who offer them organizational, logistical, military, technological or any other kind of support.
“If a decision is made to initiate criminal proceedings, we are prepared to give testimonies and any other support we can,” the statement reads.
Last week, western media reported that nearly ten Russian veteran organizations want to have the ICC investigate the recruitment of Russian mercenaries in a range of countries, including Ukraine, Syria, and several African countries. The persons filing the lawsuit said that they have witnesses who are prepared to testify that they were taken out of Russia, deceived, and “illegally used for military purposes” in conflicts abroad.
The Kremlin said that it is unaware of any ICC lawsuit. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the Presidential Administration “knows nothing about an initiative by any veteran organizations whatsoever”.