14:07 03.05.2019

Russia refuses to participate in tribunal hearings on release of POW sailors - Zerkal

4 min read
Russia refuses to participate in tribunal hearings on release of POW sailors - Zerkal

Russia's refusal to attend the hearing of the lawsuit filed by Ukraine with the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea on the use of interim measures in the case involving the Ukrainian sailors detained in the Kerch Strait will not lead to the cancellation of the hearing, Ukraine's Foreign Ministry said.

"Russia's consistent refusal to attend the hearing does not reduce the legitimacy of the case involving the release of our sailors, and the hearing will take place in Hamburg on May 10, 2019 as planned," Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Olena Zerkal said on Facebook on Friday.

Ukraine demands that the sailors be immediately released as is envisaged by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The Tribunal will make its decision before the end of May, she said. Written documents and transcripts of the speeches will be available during the hearing.

"Even if Russia, in its sequence, will present to its consumers the decision to release the Ukrainian sailors as a big service to the newly elected president of Ukraine, the entire civilized world will understand that it is in actual fact not a service, but the fulfillment of the tribunal's decision," Zerkal said.

According to a report posted on the Ukrainian presidential website on Friday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has formed a delegation to participate in the case involving the lawsuit filed by Ukraine against the Russian Federation regarding the immunity of 24 crewmembers and three Ukrainian naval ships taken over by Russia in the waters of the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea.

Poroshenko signed a relevant decree on Friday, May 3.

The delegation is led by Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Olena Zerkal. The delegation comprises Leonid Zaliubovsky, aide to the commander of the Ukrainian Navy on legal work and head of the legal service, Oksana Zolotariova, deputy department director and head of the department for the temporarily occupied territories of the Foreign Ministry's international law department, and Andriy Tarasov, headquarter head and first deputy commander of the Ukrainian Navy.

According to earlier reports, Ukraine on April 16 asked the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea to impose temporary measures with respect to Russia to release Ukrainian naval sailors and naval ships, which were detained in the Kerch Strait in November 2018.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said the request for temporary measures is aimed at protection from a serious and irreparable damage that will be inflicted by further detention of Ukrainian naval ships and the prosecution of their servicemen in court.

The ministry said the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea gives naval vessels and their personnel absolute immunity, which envisages that foreign states cannot arrest, detain and try them.

On April 16, the Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement following reports that Ukraine has resorted to the dispute-resolution procedure envisaged by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, in relation to last November's incident involving three Ukrainian warships in Kerch Strait.

"In regard to the process for provisional measures, initiated by Ukraine under the 1982 convention: the Russian side does not think that the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea has the jurisdiction to consider the 'Kerch incident'," the ministry stated on its website.

"International court proceedings should not hinder the current criminal investigation in the Russian Federation and its results should not be predetermined by an international court ruling," the statement said.

The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) confirmed receipt of Ukraine's request on April 18, 2019.

On November 25, 2018, Russian border guards used weapons to stop three Ukrainian naval vessels, the Yany Kapu tug and the Berdiansk and the Nikopol armored gunboats, which were traveling from Odesa to Mariupol in the Kerch Strait. The vessels were escorted to Kerch.

Kyiv called the border guards' actions unlawful and accused Moscow of violating the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and a treaty between Ukraine and Russia on cooperation in using the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait.

Twenty-four Ukrainians who were aboard, including two officials from the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), are now charged with "conspiracy by a group of persons or an organized group to illegally cross the border using violence or the threat to use violence" (a crime enshrined by Part 3 of Article 322 of the Russian Criminal Code). The crime is punishable by up to six years in prison.

The Ukrainians were taken to Moscow in late November.

The arrested sailors are called prisoners-of-war in Kyiv.

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