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Torture in Occupied Ukraine: The Reckoning Project files a criminal complaint in Republic of Argentina

Photo: Anna Tshyhyma

On April 15th, The Reckoning Project (TRP), an initiative of Ukrainian and international reporters and lawyers to document war crimes, together with the victim, a Ukrainian citizen, present in person in Buenos Aires, submitted a criminal complaint to the Argentine Federal Judiciary. The case concerns the torture of a Ukrainian civilian by Russians in one of the cities they occupied. 

“I am one of many. So many other people I know were subjected to even worse treatment. I want to tell the world about our pain. These practices continue to happen in Ukrainian territories occupied by Russia.” - Mr M (anonymized for security reasons) states, recalling those detained with him.

This is the first-ever Ukrainian torture complaint filed in Argentina. The Constitution of Argentina allows its courts, on the basis of universal jurisdiction, to try international crimes, including crimes against humanity and war crimes, irrespective of where they took place. Over the years, Argentina has taken a leading role in the fight against impunity both domestically and internationally, including by opening investigations under the principle of universal jurisdiction arising from different country contexts. Its judiciary has delivered landmark cases on the crime of torture. Therefore, The Reckoning Project team decided to file the complaint in Argentina.

“We cannot expect one judicial system to be able to deal with that amount of crimes. For us Ukrainians, the Argentinian experience of trials is both a call for international support in upholding the rule of law and a hope that justice is possible”, - stresses Nataliya Gumenyuk, a Ukrainian journalist and CEO of the Public Interest Journalism Lab, who accompanied Mr M from Ukraine to Argentina on behalf of The Reckoning Project.

Tsvetelina van Benthem, a legal scholar at the University of Oxford and senior legal advisor at TRP, notes that the case has good chances also because it is not being investigated in Ukraine or other countries:

“The metrics of success for universal jurisdiction trials are not necessarily the same metrics that we have for any other criminal trial. Of course, we can think about arrest warrants and extradition orders. But then even if it is just the opening of the investigation, this is still a success for us. And this is not just symbolic. This is also a question of creating a narrative of truth in this climate of disinformation propaganda”

The evidence provided by Mr M in the complaint demonstrates practices of torture by electrocution in detention at the hands of Russian individuals in a town that is occupied by Russian forces. His evidence was corroborated by findings of international organizations, including the United Nations, that documented similar instances of torture upon other individuals in the same facility. Mr M’s torture was materially assisted by the presence and operation of Russian-linked entities and those in charge therein. 

TRP senior legal advisor and British barrister Jack Sproson, who reviewed and analyzed hundreds of witness, victim, and survivor testimonies collected by TRP,  stated that:


“Reading evidence of torture on paper is one thing, but meeting and listening to Mr M leaves a person with horror. Seeing Mr M’s drive for justice, however, gives one hope and inspiration.”

British-Syrian barrister, Ibrahim Olabi, who led the legal team at TRP on this submission stated that:


“International crimes might occur in one State, but through international treaties, the international community made it clear that they should be a concern for all States. Today, we call upon the respected Argentine judiciary, who understand these allegations like no other, to thoroughly investigate this grave breach.”

During his visit to Buenos Aires Mr M met Argentinian survivors.  Outside the Federal Court, Mr M concluded that:


“In Argentina, I understood that justice is a long path, and it is possible when people unite. I met people who went through the horrors of torture, but who never gave up. Because people here understood my pain, I hope the chance for accountability exists.”

TRP’s Executive Director Janine di Giovanni, driven by what she has seen covering many conflicts as a war correspondent and human rights monitor noted that:


“For those who were subjected to horrific acts, such as Mr M, there is often a lingering sense of isolation, that their stories will never be heard, neither in the court of law, nor in the court of public opinion. Today, thousands of miles away from Ukraine, we are saying that should never be the case.”

The documentary about the initiative is being produced by The Reckoning Project in cooperation with award-winning Polish director Maciek Hamela. 


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