The IRCT and its 160 members today stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine and denounce in the strongest possible terms the war of aggression launched against them by Russian President Vladimir Putin and the grave threat of killing, torture and other human rights abuses it brings.
“Based on the scale of the war already and reports of civilians being targeted, if Russia occupies Ukraine there will be torture on a massive scale against anyone who resists,” said Lela Tsiskarishvili, IRCT’s President and Executive Director of the Georgian Centre for Psychosocial and Medial Rehabilitation of Torture Victims (GCRT). “We know this from our own experience in Georgia following the Russian invasion of 2008 and from the brutal history of Russian forces in Chechnya.”
The IRCT has evidenced torture in Belarus, which participated in Russia's war on Ukraine.
The GCRT was established in 2000 with the support of the IRCT and has since treated hundreds of survivors of torture by Russian forces and their allied militias during Putin’s war on Chechnya and his war against Georgia in its breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Tsiskarishvili said many Georgians who suffered trauma from Russia’s war were experiencing flashbacks as they watched what she called ‘the same playbook’ of deceit and excuses being used by Putin to justify a far greater military invasion of Ukraine.
“We know all about the creeping occupation of Russian forces here in Georgia, moving borders as they wish, abducting people from border villages,” said Tsiskarishvili, whose GCRT centre near the border of South Ossetia has treated survivors captured by Russian-controlled forces and subsequently tortured. In at least two cases known to GCRT, captured Georgian soldiers were tortured to death by Russian-controlled forces during the 2008 war. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is also a direct threat to civil society, said Tsiskarishvili: “We know the Russian government has lists of civil society representatives it wishes to silence, including LGBTQ activists and human rights defenders.”
In 2016, in the absence of national proceedings in Georgia or Russia, the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague opened an investigation into responsibility for alleged crimes against humanity committed during Russia’s 2008 war on Georgia. Although Russia is not a State Party to the ICC’s Rome Statute, Georgia ratified the treaty in 2003, and the IRCT has supported the GCRT in presenting its evidence of torture by Russian-controlled forces to the ICC investigation, which is ongoing.
The IRCT has a member centre, the International Medical Rehabilitation Centre for the Victims of Wars and Totalitarian Regimes (IRC), based in Kiev’s Obolon suburb, the scene of heavy fighting today as Russian troops attempted to enter the capital. In 2021, the IRC provided rehabilitation to a total of 373 clients, the majority from Ukraine, but including survivors of torture and severe trauma from Belarus, Russia, Syria, and Afghanistan, among others. In January this year, IRC reported 25 new clients had asked for psychological and medical assistance: 14 from Belarus; 11 from Russia; and nine from Ukraine.
The IRCT also has member centres in the region in Russia itself, Turkey, Romania, Poland, Moldova and Albania who all stand ready to provide expert assistance to victims of the violence unleased in Ukraine.
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As well as working to provide the best possible rehabilitation to as many survivors of torture worldwide as possible, the IRCT and its members fight to uphold international law through prevention of the international crime of torture, listed as one of the crimes against humanity under Article 7 of the Rome Statute.
Under Article 8 of the Rome Statute a war of aggression is an international crime incurring individual liability for the use of a State’s armed forces in an attack on another State in manifest violation of the UN Charter, whose Article 2(4) permits war by one State on another only in exceptional circumstances of self-defence. The international crime of aggression is also applied to the individual exercising power over a third-party State’s territory when that territory is used by the aggressor State to launch an illegal war, as has occurred in the past two days with Russian forces attacking Ukraine from Belarus. The IRCT has recently evidenced torture as State policy in Belarus.
Following the Russian annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and the subsequent fighting in eastern Ukraine between Russian-controlled forces and Ukrainian government forces, Ukraine accepted ICC jurisdiction for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed on its territory since February 2014. In December 2020, the office of the prosecutor announced it had reason to believe war crimes and other crimes were committed during the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
On 25 February, the ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said he was following developments in Ukraine with “increasing concern”. "I remind all sides conducting hostilities on the territory of Ukraine that my office may exercise its jurisdiction and investigate any act of genocide, crime against humanity or war crime committed within Ukraine," he said in a statement.