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GENEVA: The United Nations said Friday that unfair trials of prisoners of war amounted to war crimes, after three foreigners captured fighting for Ukraine were sentenced to death by pro-Russian rebels.

The UN Human Rights Office said it was concerned about the death sentences imposed Thursday by pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine on two British citizens and one Moroccan man captured by Russian troops.

UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet’s office said the pro-Russian self-proclaimed republics had not been meeting essential fair trial guarantees and trials in such circumstances against prisoners of war amounted to war crimes.

“The UN Human Rights Office is concerned about the so-called Supreme Court of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic sentencing three servicemen to death,” spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told reporters in Geneva.

Separatist authorities ordered the death penalty for Aiden Aslin, Shaun Pinner and Saadun Brahim, Russian media reported. Western countries have reacted with outrage to the death sentences.

“These were citizens of foreign countries who were captured in Mariupol for being mercenaries. According to the chief command of Ukraine, all the men were part of the Ukrainian armed forces. If that is the case, they should not be considered as mercenaries,” said Shamdasani.

Ukrainian forces ‘holding on’ in key Donbas battles

Kyiv has from 2014 been battling a pro-Russian insurgency that gained control in two breakaway eastern regions.

“Since 2015, we have observed that the so-called judiciary in these self-proclaimed republics has not complied with essential fair trial guarantees,” said Shamdasani.

She said these included public hearings, independence, impartiality of the courts and the right not to be compelled to testify.

“Such trials against prisoners of war amount to a war crime,” the spokeswoman said.

“In the case of the use of the death penalty, fair trial guarantees are all the more important.”

Britons Aslin and Pinner surrendered in April in Mariupol, the southern Ukrainian port city that was captured by Russian troops in May after a weeks-long siege.

They later appeared on Russian television calling on British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to negotiate their release.

Brahim surrendered in March in the eastern Ukrainian town of Volnovakha.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss called the sentences “a sham judgement, with absolutely no legitimacy”, while a spokesman for Johnson said the sentence contravenes prisoner rights under the Geneva Conventions, which define the basic rights of wartime prisoners.

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