UN court: Russia must free detained Ukraine ships, sailors

Russia detained 24 Ukrainian sailors and three naval vessels off the Crimea peninsula late last year. (File/AFP)
Updated 25 May 2019
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UN court: Russia must free detained Ukraine ships, sailors

  • The Hamburg-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea delivered its ruling Saturday on the case Ukraine brought against Russia
  • The confrontation in the Kerch Strait marked a flashpoint in the simmering conflict over Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula

BERLIN: A UN maritime tribunal ruled Saturday that Russia must immediately release three Ukrainian naval vessels it captured in November and free the 24 sailors it detained.
The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea issued its order at its Hamburg headquarters following a hearing earlier this month. Russia stayed away from both the hearing and Saturday's session.
Ukraine's new president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said that Russia could send a signal of "real readiness to stop the conflict with Ukraine" by complying with the order. Russia didn't immediately specify what it would do, but made clear that it still believes the tribunal is the wrong place to address the dispute.
The confrontation in the Kerch Strait, which links the Sea of Azov with the Black Sea, marked a flashpoint in the simmering conflict over Russia's 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. Russia seized Crimea in a move that Ukraine and most of the world view as illegal. The Kerch Strait separates Crimea from mainland Russia.
Russia had argued that the rights Ukraine claims in the case don't apply because they are covered by an exception for military activity.
Kiev's lawyers contest this claim, saying Russia itself previously described the arrest as a law enforcement operation.
The tribunal sided with Ukraine's argument on that point. But tribunal President Jin-Hyun Paik said both parties should "refrain from taking any action which might aggravate or extend the dispute."
He said Russia must return the ships to Ukrainian custody and allow the servicemen to go home. The decision was a 19-1 vote, with a Russian judge dissenting.
The tribunal "does not consider it necessary to require (Russia) to suspend criminal proceedings against the 24 detained Ukrainian servicemen and refrain from initiating new proceedings," Paik added. Kiev had called for legal proceedings to be ended.
The tribunal's decisions are legally binding, but it has no power to enforce them. It called for both sides to report back on their compliance by June 25.
Zelenskiy said when he took office on Monday that the main goal of his presidency is to bring peace to eastern Ukraine, where government troops have been fighting Russia-backed separatists for five years in a conflict that has left at least 13,000 dead.
On Saturday, Zelenskiy said on Twitter that "Russia's fulfillment of the order ... could be a first signal from the side of the Russian leadership of real readiness to stop the conflict with Ukraine. In this way, Russia could take a step toward unblocking talks and resolving in a civilized way problems that it created."
"We'll see what path the Kremlin will choose," he added.
The Russian Foreign Ministry didn't address details of the order to release the ships and sailors. It underlined in a statement its argument that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea's dispute resolution procedures can't be applied to this dispute.
In subsequent arbitration proceedings at the tribunal, "we intend to consistently defend our position, including the lack of jurisdiction," it said.


Pakistani activist known for criticism killed in Islamabad

Updated 1 min 10 sec ago
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Pakistani activist known for criticism killed in Islamabad

  • Local police say online activist Mohammad Bilal Khan was killed Sunday night
  • In addition to his activism, Khan was a freelance journalist
ISLAMABAD: Pakistani police say an activist known for his online criticism of the country’s military and politicians has been killed by unknown assailants in a wooded area of the capital, Islamabad.
Local police official Ayaz Khan says Mohammad Bilal Khan was killed Sunday night, drawing condemnation from his friends on social media.
Police said Monday that an unknown person called the activist to come to the Karachi Company neighborhood, where he and his cousin were attacked with daggers.
The cousin was in critical condition.
In addition to his activism, Khan was a freelance journalist.
The attack took place hours after Khan bluntly criticized the newly appointed spy chief Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed, who had previously worked as the head of internal security at Pakistan’s intelligence agency Inter-Services Intelligence.