International Development Law Organization

Upholding International Humanitarian Law in Ukraine

In 2014, a human rights monitoring mission was deployed to investigate alleged crimes and human rights violations in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea. Numerous reports of human rights abuses have been cited since, including alleged cases of enforced disappearances, civilian homicides, torture and unlawful detention.

According to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the human rights situation has deteriorated in Ukraine since Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and armed conflict continues in the eastern part of the country. A UN report released in May 2018 recorded an increase in civilian casualties, and estimates between 7,000 and 9,000 conflict-related civilian deaths overall since 2014.

In June 2018, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture visited the country and expressed concern over the perception of impunity due to the lack of formal investigations into allegations. And, a report released on August, 9, 2018 specifically addressed violations of international humanitarian law that took place in 2014 – the branch of international law that seeks to mitigate the effects of armed conflict on civilians.

In light of the ongoing situation in Ukraine, prosecutors need to be well-equipped to be able to prosecute crimes, end the climate of impunity and provide effective legal remedies to deliver justice to victims.

An estimated 7,000 - 9,000 civilian casualties have been reported since 2014

Training on International Humanitarian Law

In response to these needs, IDLO, funded by the United States Department of State, delivered training to the prosecutors and investigators on international humanitarian law as part of its work to strengthen the justice sector in the country.

Running from January – June 2018, the trainings were delivered to law enforcement officials within Crimea Prosecutor’s Office with the aim of improving the handling of cases pertaining to international humanitarian law. The training modules were designed to educate participants about the norms and standards pertaining to international humanitarian law, and best practices about conducting investigations.

“The challenges faced by prosecutors in the midst of an armed conflict are immense and novel. International humanitarian law is a specialized area of international law that is complex and constantly evolving,” remarked participant Mr. Andriy Androsov, Deputy Head of the Department of Oversight in Criminal Proceedings, Office of the Prosecutor of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.

The training therefore focused on a number of areas and took the unique approach of adapting to the exact needs of participants.

Commenting on this targeted approach, Wayne Jordash, a Managing Partner for Global Rights Compliance, who developed training materials and conducted sessions said, “The training sessions were conducted at a high professional level, the training topics met the requests of prosecutor to study international humanitarian law and the application of the provisions of the Rome Statute. [There was also] flexibility and consideration of specific audience requests in the preparation of each next topic of the session as opposed to a strict training program.”

Specifically, the training focused on collecting evidence in the investigation of war crimes, witness interviewing, mistreatment or ill-treatment of the civilian population, whether violent or non-violent, rights of detained persons and prisoners of war, fair trial standards

Given the level of displacement that has occurred during the conflict – it was estimated that between 800,000 and 1 million were internally displaced by 2017 – the training also focused on demographic changes during armed conflict and cases relating to public and private property.  

“The challenges associated with investigating human rights violations in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea are not only new for Ukraine, but they’re quite unique internationally as well,” remarked Mr. Levan Duchidze, IDLO’s Country Director in Ukraine. “The situation there further complicates the application of internationally practiced tools and approaches for identifying, classifying, investigating and prosecuting human rights violations. Through this project component we aimed to adjust the international humanitarian law best practices to the unique situation on the ground.”

Between 800,000 and 1 million were internally displaced in 2017

More work to do

Despite the timeliness and relevance of the training, capacity gaps remain. On an organizational level, there is more to be done on internal procedures, the structure of the Prosecutor’s Offices, the ways prosecutors are being allocated to international humanitarian law cases and case management.  

Nonetheless, the training accomplished important goals.

Mr. Duchidze says: ”We continued our efforts aimed at strengthening institutional capabilities of Ukrainian law enforcement institutions. We also invested time and efforts in addressing operational needs and gaps - workflow management, case prioritization - as well as encouraging the Crimea Prosecutor’s Office to cooperate more closely with the civil society and media. Second, we assisted the Crimea Prosecutor’s Office in understanding the major international humanitarian law and international human rights law principles and trained them how to apply those principles to the cases they’re overseeing.”

Commenting on IDLO’s contribution to this progress, Mr. Androsov remarked, “IDLO’s support has been essential and has enabled the Crimean Prosecutor's Office to advance their learning and capacities to be able to confront these challenges and move forward in these new and challenging circumstances. The trainings have helped to ensure that the relevant international law is accessible, understood and able to be used in furtherance of accountability for grave crimes.” 


In line with its Strategy 2020 and Goal 16 of the 2030 Agenda, IDLO is working in Ukraine to support justice, rule of law and anti-corruption reforms by strengthening capacities and increasing the efficiency, transparency and fairness of public institutions.