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United Nations

Joint Statement on the follow-up to and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, 17 March 2023

I deliver this statement on behalf of a group of countries. The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action emphasizes the international community’s dismay at the use of summary and arbitrary executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions and torture.

Reports of Ukrainian civilians being detained arbitrarily by Russia’s forces are shocking, and numerous. According to these reports, civilians often face inhuman or degrading treatment, torture and inadequate conditions.

Russia has systematically gone after prominent members of local communities in every territory it has attempted to illegally annex. This is part of Russia’s strategy to suppress dissent and assert its control by menacing the local population. Those taken include journalists, activists, religious officials and local leaders.

Today we want to focus on mayors of towns and cities Russia has attempted to illegally annex. At least 30 mayors have been detained since 24 February 2022. At least six remain in Russia’s custody.

Ihor Kolykhaiev, Mayor of Kherson was taken by Russia’s forces in June 2022. Since then, his family has relied on testimony from other detainees, upon their release, to hear news of his condition.

He is not alone. A similar fate befell mayors Oleksandr Babych, Yevhenii Matvieiev, Volodymyr Karaberov, Serhii Khilchenko, all reportedly taken into Russia’s custody and detained between March and June 2022. Russia has still not confirmed their whereabouts, and their families have received no information on their wellbeing. The family of Volodymyr Mykolayenko, taken in April 2022, know that he is being held in Russia, but have not been told why, or where.

The international community will not ignore violations of international law, including arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearances. Russia must confirm who it is holding, where, and why. It must cease committing enforced disappearances and release all who have been detained in contravention of international law. And it must respect all of its commitments under the VDPA.

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