Written in response to the atrocities of World War II, the Geneva Convention was born in 1949, after collaboration between the international community and the Red Cross. It sought to establish the legal and moral boundaries of modern warfare. A total of 195 countries - including the then Soviet Union - signed.
The Convention was written at a time when the armies of Communist Russia faced off against the NATO allies in the Cold War. Both sides were backed by substantial nuclear arsenals. Terrorism was in its infancy and seen more as a tactic than a strategy.
Since then however the whole nature of war has changed beyond recognition and as a result the Geneva Convention has been modified seventy-four times to reflect the changing patterns of war.
The Russian invasion of Crimea and its subsequent annexation did more than breach the Geneva Convention - it was specifically designed to bypass it all together. It was a deliberate and premeditated act of international defiance and therefore an affront to the entire world community.
Russia had the right under the Sevastopol port agreement to house 25,000 troops within the prescribed area of the port. The Kremlin was required to obtain permission from the Ukrainian government for all troop movements. This agreement was ignored.
Russia invaded Ukrainian sovereign territory in Crimea using specialised troops who had been deliberately dressed in uniforms without clear markings. Russia consistently denied that they were their troops, with President Putin insisting that they where “local partisans who had bought their clothes and weapons in Crimean shops”
The status of these unmarked and disowned troops is not clearly defined under the Geneva Convention, making it extremely difficult for the Ukrainian military to respond within any form of international law. Had they assumed that these were terrorists or partisans and defended their country then Russia could easily have used this as an excuse for a full scale invasion of Ukraine – a response which many believe was their intent.
These ‘local partisans’ supported a coup d’etat in which the democratic government was overthrown and an illegitimate, pro-Moscow regime installed. Furthermore they supported the regime in the organisation of an internationally-rejected referendum and continue to this day to support an illegal regime as it violates international law and the rights of the minority Jewish and Tartar populations, again clearly in breach of the Geneva Convention.
Crimea referendum and independence
Crimea referendum and independence
1/14 Crimea Referendum
A man shows his shirt with the Russian emblem as he celebrates the results of the Crimean referendum at the Lenin Square in Simferopol
2/14 Crimea Referendum
An elderly retired Soviet Navy officer and his wife take a walk in Sevastopol the morning after the referendum
3/14 Crimea Referendum
A man plays accordion as people dance during celebrations in Sevastopol
4/14 Crimea Referendum
People wave Russian flags as fireworks explode in the sky over Sevastopol following the announcement of the result of the referendum
5/14 Crimea Referendum
A member of a Ukrainian "Maidan" self-defense battalion takes part in training to qualify for service in the newly-created National Guard.
6/14 Crimea Referendum
Pro-Russian protesters hold a Russian, Crimean and Soviet flags during their rally at Lenin Square in Simferopol, Ukraine
7/14 Crimea Referendum
A member of the Crimean election commission waits for voters at the polling station in Belogorsk near Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine
8/14 Crimea Referendum
Polling stations opened in Crimea for a referendum about whether the Ukrainian Black Sea region should join Russia. The vote has been widely condemned by Western governments, who call it illegal and have announced sanctions against Russia if it goes ahead. Thousands of unmarked forces, believed to be Russian, have appeared in Crimea after local Moscow-backed authorities asked Russia for protection against 'extremists' in the new Ukrainian leadership
9/14 Crimea Referendum
A lettering on the facade of the Council of Ministers building reads 'Spring in Crimea' in Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine
10/14 Crimea Referendum
People wave Crimean flags at Lenin square in Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine
11/14 Crimea Referendum
A poster in Crimea presents a stark choice - Nazism, or Russia - to voters ahead of the referendum
12/14 Crimea Referendum
Protesters against Ukraine’s referendum gather in Simferopol
13/14 Crimea Referendum
Action stations: Preparations for today’s referendum in Simferopol, where Crimea will vote to become part of Russia
14/14 Crimea Referendum
Cossacks guard the regional parliament building in Simferopol during the Crimean referendum
The ‘local partisans’ surrounded all the Ukrainian military facilities with heavily armed troops preventing the free movement of Ukrainian forces, therefore, despite war not being declared, they held the Ukrainian forces as ‘prisoners of war’. The incident at the Belbeck Air Force base is a clear illustration of their imprisonment when unarmed Ukrainian personnel sought to go about their duties they were surrounded by machine guns and ordered back to their barracks. As a result these forces were entitled to all the protection of the Geneva Convention and attention by the International Red Cross.
"prisoners of war are protected against any act of violence, as well as against intimidation, insults, and public curiosity. International humanitarian law also defines minimum conditions of detention covering such issues as accommodation, food, clothing, hygiene and medical care"
This was denied. The Ukrainian military were subject to threats and psychological abuse, their families were threatened, they were denied food and provisions and they were under constant fear of attack from their captors.
Under the Convention opposing forces are required to have open lines of communication through the Red Cross to ensure that casualties and POW’s are treated in accordance with international law. The Crimean regime categorically refused to honour this commitment making it impossible for the Ukrainian authorities to arrange for the systematic withdrawal of their forces.
In addition, despite Crimea being annexed into the Russian Federation the Russian military has not lived up to their obligations to protect their prisoners of war. As a result anarchical thugs bearing military weapons have seized naval ships and installations using hand grenades and machine guns. A truce was agreed between the military commands in Kiev and Moscow giving credence to the claim that the ‘local partisans’ were in fact Russian soldiers but this too was ignored by the regime which now appears to be acting outside of Moscow’s command and in clear violation of international law.
Whilst Putin’s disrespect for international law is clear the depth to which he is prepared to descend is deeply worrying. In the sieges of Ukrainian military installations in Crimea they have used human shields, hiding their troops behind walls of civilians and local militia in total violation of all the rules of war.
Clearly the international community cannot simply sit by and allow a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and a signatory to the Geneva Convention to ride rough shod over international law in such a calculating and premeditated way. Since 1949 those that flout international law have invariably faced justice. Whilst in this case the world has, thankfully, not had to bear witness to mass murder - the intent to flout international law is deliberate. Therefore it is time for the International Criminal Court in the Hague to open an investigation into events in Crimea.