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Russian Veterans Appeal To ICC Over Moscow's Alleged Use Of Mercenaries

Russian veteran Yevgeny Shabayev (file photo)

An umbrella organization of groups representing Russian military veterans has appealed to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate the alleged mercenary activities of Russian private security firms.

Yevgeny Shabayev, head of the All-Russia Officers Assembly, told RFE/RL on November 19 that the group approved the appeal to ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda at its meeting in Moscow the previous day.

It was not immediately clear whether or how the ICC would respond to the groups' petition. Russia is not a member of the court.

The ICC has jurisdiction only when a country’s own government is unwilling or unable to prosecute an extremely grave crime, and only over crimes committed on the territory of its member states.

The Russian government does not acknowledge the use of private military contractors abroad, and mercenary activity is illegal under Russian law.

Moscow has said that Russian civilians fighting in foreign conflicts do so of their own volition and have no connection with the Russian military.

The veterans' groups assert that over the last three years they have received "thousands of complaints from Russian citizens" who participated in military actions in eastern Ukraine, Syria, Libya, the Central African Republic, Gabon, Sudan, South Sudan, Yemen, and elsewhere.

A group picture of Russian soldiers who are believed to have fought as mercenaries in Syria. (file photo)
A group picture of Russian soldiers who are believed to have fought as mercenaries in Syria. (file photo)

Shabayev told RFE/RL that his group has identified people who would be willing to testify about their experiences if the ICC opens an investigation.

According to the veterans' groups' letter to the ICC, "employees of private military firms are intentionally deprived of their legal status, as a result of which they do not receive the health and economic benefits afforded to veterans by the government and are prosecuted under the law on mercenary activity."

The group contends that the use of mercenaries in this way violates Article 7 of the ICC's Rome Statute, which bans the "enforced disappearance of persons...with the intention of removing them from the protection of the law." They also cite the same article's prohibition on transferring people by force "from the area in which they are lawfully present, without grounds permitted under international law."

Russian Presidential Human Rights Council member Sergei Krivenko told RFE/RL that he welcomes the appeal to the ICC.

"This problem exists because the state is using mercenaries in military conflicts through private military firms while acting as if it is not involved," Krivenko said. "Either we need to legalize private military firms with all the standard benefits for fighters or we need to prosecute them under the law on mercenary activity. But neither of these is happening."