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For Immediate Release August 31, 2022

SPECIAL ONLINE BRIEFING with Matthew D. Steinhelfer, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau Conflict and Stabilization Operations, Dr. Emma Gilligan, Associate Professor of International Studies at Indiana University Bloomington, and Nathaniel Raymond, Executive Director of Yale’s Humanitarian Research Lab and Lecturer in Department of the Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases at Yale School of Public Health

August 31, 2022

The Brussels Hub

MODERATOR: Okay. We’ll go ahead and start. Good afternoon. I would like to welcome everyone joining us for today’s press briefing. Today we are very pleased to be joined by Deputy Assistant Secretary Matthew Steinhelfer, Senior Expert Emma Gilligan, and Executive Director Nathaniel Raymond.

With that, let’s get started. Deputy Assistant Secretary Steinhelfer, thanks so much for joining us today. I’ll turn it over to you for opening remarks.

DAS STEINHELFER: Well, thanks so much, everyone, and good afternoon. As the U.S. Government has noted, the unlawful transfer and forced deportation of protected persons is a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention on the Protection of Civilians and constitutes a war crime. Accountability is imperative in the face of such crimes and the United States and our partners will not be silent. In that vein, a new report from Yale University’s Humanitarian Research Lab documents Russia-perpetrated filtration operations in Ukraine’s Donetsk Oblast. The full report is available through the Conflict Observatory program, which my bureau is proud to support.

It adds to the growing body of credible reporting and evidence on filtration operations that deeply concerns us all and on both sides of the Atlantic, to be sure. Journalism is vital in our need to, as Secretary Blinken has stated, shine a light on these war crimes and other atrocities in Ukraine.

So thank you for joining us today and now I’ll turn it back to John.

MODERATOR: Thanks so much for that. Actually, I’d like to turn now to Senior Expert Emma Gilligan for her opening remarks.

DR. GILLIGAN: Good afternoon, everybody. Thank you for joining us this morning and marking this very important event and the report that has been issued by our colleagues at Yale. I represent today the Office of Global Criminal Justice. We’re leading that effort within the

State Department and we’re working with all our allies and partners to support a range of accountability mechanisms, including investigations by Ukraine’s national authorities, our international investigative mechanisms, and also the very important work of the human rights documenters inside and outside Ukraine.

Our policy effort and strategic goal is to share information with international institutions and organizations that have launched these fact-finding efforts, some of which the U.S. Government has helped to establish. Our main role is to support the Office of the Prosecutor General. We know that the prosecutor is playing a crucial role in ensuring that those responsible for war crimes and other atrocities are being held accountable, both through its own efforts and in coordination with our multilateral institutions.

That’s why, at Office of Global Criminal Justice, we established the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group in collaboration with our EU and UK partners, and this multilateral effort really is there to provide a coordinated effort to ensure that the Office of the Prosecutor General in Ukraine has the expertise and the support that it needs to document, preserve, and analyze evidence of war crimes and other atrocities committed in Ukraine, all with a view toward criminal prosecutions.

The information that we see developing around filtration process is extremely important for general knowledge, obviously, but also as we think about criminal responsibility for the crimes that we are seeing in Ukraine. Thanks, John.

MODERATOR: Thanks so much for that. And for the final set of opening remarks, let’s turn to Executive Director Nathaniel Raymond from Yale.

MR. RAYMOND: Good morning or good afternoon, in your case, for those of you in Europe. It’s an honor to be here and I represent my colleagues on the Humanitarian Research Lab team at the Yale School of Public Health and the almost dozen individuals who help produce the filtration report for Conflict Observatory we will be discussing today. And so I just want to stress before we get going that this almost 90-page report is the effort of a lot of people who can’t be on camera today but made it happen.

And so the headline of our report is that we’ve identified with high confidence 21 filtration-related facilities in Donetsk Oblast and the surrounding area. And so let’s get some definitions here. You’ve heard a lot of talk about filtration camps, but what we made clear in our report is that what we’ve seen is a system of filtration that primarily, amongst those 21 facilities, has four types of facilities that can actually – some facilities can play all four of these roles. Some play just one. And those roles can change over time. They are registration, holding, secondary interrogation, and long-term detention.

And when we talk about these 21 we’ve identified, before I get into the methodology, I want to just talk about what the word or the phrase “high confidence” means. High confidence means that we have independently corroborated these locations with five sources. There were seven additional sites that we identified that did not meet our five-source, very conservative, high confidence standard. And so what are the sources that we used? Primarily this was based on open-source information and that can include Telegram, it can include news reports, it can include photographic evidence, and that was cross-referenced with very high-resolution satellite imagery.

Now this was, as I said, an open source-driven report, but satellite imagery helped us in many cases identify some critical indicators, most specifically in the case of the Olenivka prison facility that you may know about, known as – and I’m going to pronounce it wrong – Volnochaya Penal Colony 120, where there was an alleged explosion or conflagration of some form that reportedly killed up to 53 POWs on July 29th. What we identified through satellite imagery in the case of that facility is earth disturbances in two areas, one from approximately April of this year and the other from July, that are consistent – and I want to stress this word here – consistent with potential graves.

And we have seen similar earth disturbances in other contexts, and it’s more than just our experience with this type of imagery analysis. We also – in the case of the April area at that facility of disturbed earth that appeared during that time in satellite imagery, we have an allegation from a released prisoner that his cell mate was ordered to dig graves during the timeframe that that earth disturbance is visible.

So I want to conclude my remarks here by saying that this report doesn’t represent the end of the story on filtration. It actually represents the beginning. And we know that there are other filtration operations happening in other oblasts. We know there are additional facilities within Donetsk and elsewhere related to the system that we identified that we haven’t been able to fully document yet. So this report is really to serve as a foundation for further investigation, advocacy, and hopefully access by the international community to these sites that constitute, to be clear, a human rights emergency.

Over to you, sir.

MODERATOR: Thanks very much for that. With that, we’ll turn to our question and answer portion of today’s briefing.

And with that, I will open the floor. We do have one question in the Q&A box already from Dmitry Anopchenko: “Ukraine has accused Moscow of kidnapping thousands of children and taking them into Russian-controlled territory. Can you comment on this, please? Can you confirm the numbers? And do you have any new evidence?”

DAS STEINHELFER: I’ll jump in on this one. Well, thank you for that, Dmitry. I don’t have any information to share today specifically on filtration of or deportation of children, but I would say that as this report highlights, we remain seriously concerned about Russia’s actions in Ukraine. I would also refer you to the UN, as, according to the UN, nearly 6.9 million people from Ukraine are refugees or being hosted in more than 40 countries around the world, mostly in Europe, and another 6.6 million people within Ukraine have been displaced from their homes due to this war. So that’s a little over one-third of the population who can’t go home.

According to the UN, also about half of the population of Ukraine, about 17.7 million people, are in need of vital humanitarian assistance. So there are a number of numbers that are out there that show the impact of Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified war on Ukraine.

MODERATOR: Anything from any of the other panelists on this question? No? Okay. Thanks. The floor is —

DR. GILLIGAN: John, I’m happy to answer that.

MODERATOR: Sorry, please. Go ahead.

DR. GILLIGAN: Sorry, yeah. I just wanted to add that – thanks to our colleague’s former comments. I wanted to add that we do have information that officials from Russia’s presidential administration are overseeing and coordinating these filtration operations. We also know that Russia is using advanced technology to facilitate filtration processes, including for the purposes of collecting data on Ukrainian citizens.

So to date, we have evidence that Russia’s forces have interrogated, detained, and forcibly deported hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian citizens, and to the journalist’s questions, obviously including children and removing from their homes and sending them to remote locations in the east. I think that we continue to keep a track, as much as we can, on numbers, who these people are, and we continue to analyze the evidence as we have access to it. Thanks.

MODERATOR: Thanks very much for that. The floor is open again. Any questions from the attendees, either typed in the box or – please raise your hand if you’re interested in asking a question.

From Ivan Kosiakin: “Do Yale researchers or the Department of State representative have any estimates on how many people have been through the filtration camps and how many are being detained right now?”

MR. RAYMOND: We can’t determine based on the data that was available to us a number of those who have gone through and those who are currently in the system. And it’s important to say, however, that the scale of this system is significant.

While we can’t put an exact number on it, we know two things: One, that this is a oblast-wide operation, so it is scaled across the size of the population of Donetsk Oblast in this case. And what we also know is that, back to the previous question from Dmitry, we have data that we did not include in the final report for safety reasons for certain populations. We were able to identify them. We created actually a detailed chart that we did not publish of different demographic groups that we think are at different facilities. And that includes children, includes women, it includes elders, and the reason we didn’t publish that information is because it was highly actionable, particularly in the case of potential exploitation and trafficking of children.

And so we don’t know the number, but we know that there are many demographics at different locations, some at – multiple demographics at one location or another. And I think what’s important here is while the number is not known, the scale is significant. Over.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Anything to add from the other panelists on this one? No? Great.

We have one more question from Paul Adams: “You mentioned data collection through the filtration process. Do you have any insight into how data is used?”

MR. RAYMOND: Emma, do you want to take a stab at that, or Deputy Assistant Secretary?

DAS STEINHELFER: Well, I would just say, first and foremost, when this program was conceived, the intent of the program was to utilize a remote system to collect, preserve, and store

evidence in accordance with international law for accountability purposes. And so this – the Conflict Observatory program writ large and the series of reports that are available on the website to the public are intended to augment the work of a wide range of accountability mechanisms. And it’s just one of, as Emma – my colleague Emma had mentioned, it’s just – this is one part of the broader U.S. Government effort to continue to advance accountability for atrocities and other – and war crimes and other human rights abuses in Ukraine.

So our expectation is that this work and the data collected in accordance with international law will enable both in the short term to shed light or shine light on these abuses, but also in the long run continue to advance accountability through these various mechanisms.

MODERATOR: Thanks very much for that. We actually have a couple hands raised. Alex Raufoglu, or Raufoglu, please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you so much for doing this. I was just wondering, in the back of this information, if you could please also update us on the U.S. investigations into war crimes, whether in a frame of joint UK-U.S.-EU group or Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group that was established by the State Department a couple months ago? Thanks so much.

DR. GILLIGAN: John, I’m happy to take that one. Thanks, Alex. I think – so both on the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group that you mentioned, Alex, but also our support for international and regional mechanisms. So we are supporting the investigation from the International Criminal Court into atrocity crimes in Ukraine. We continue to support our colleagues at Eurojust through the joint investigative teams. And also, we are supporting prosecution of crimes in sort of domestic or national jurisdictions.

The Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group is really there as a form of coordination, technical support to the challenges of the Office of the Prosecutor General. I think everybody can appreciate, right, just the sheer number of cases that are already in train and that the investigators and the prosecutors on the ground, whether it be right in the capital, Alex, or whether it be regional, continue to need support, unfortunately, from many international investigators and prosecutors who have had many, many years of experience in working in the other atrocity crime situations and come to this with enormous experience. So in a unified effort, I think the EU and the UK are trying to make sure that we don’t duplicate our efforts, that we offer the best experts that we possibly can.

MODERATOR: Thanks very much for that, Emma, and we actually have another question in the chat box which will likely go to you as well.

Sorin Dojan from Radio Free Europe writes: “Is the information corroborated by Yale researchers enough to establish the basis for international legal action?”

DR. GILLIGAN: Thanks, Sorin. I think that, as Yale has pointed out itself in the report and from our perspective, is that all the reports, the media that we’re getting, the reporting that we’re getting internally obviously within State is showing that there – the presidential administration is overseeing and coordinating essentially filtration operations. All the evidence is coming together. It needs, again, as Nathaniel pointed out in the opening of this, right, that this is just the beginning of us trying to conceptualize, understand the breadth of exactly what’s taking place, and then to preserve that evidence going forward.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Actually, I’d like to go to another participant who has their hand raised, Bander Alwarthan. Would you like to go ahead with your question, please?

QUESTION: Hello, yes.

MODERATOR: Hello. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, this is Bander from Saudi Arabia. Thanks for doing this. Thank you for the chance. Yeah, since we are talking about stability, I would like to hear more from your perspective, your vision for stability in my region, the Middle East, especially with all the challenging facts we are facing here. I’m talking about the behavior of the terrorist militias that are supported by the Iranian regime and the negative effects that it has – that it’s having on our security, not just in the region but for the whole world. That’s it. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Deputy Assistant Secretary Steinhelfer, would you like to take that or —

DAS STEINHELFER: Sure, happy to do so. I think one of the aspects about this of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that must be highlighted is the global impact, and as we’ve seen through food security, the impact around the world on various economies, on humanitarian challenges, and so forth. So I think – especially in the Middle East, I think we’re seeing that there are real concerns about the breadth and scale of the impact of this war of choice by Putin.

So the United States, we’re leading the international community to marshal not just a response in Ukraine, but also a global response especially related to the food crisis. And we’re contributing record amounts of emergency assistance, we’re rallying countries and international organizations to coordinate actions and commit resources. So I’m glad that you raised the global nature of Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine.

MODERATOR: Thank you for that. We have time for one more question. There’s a couple more in the chat box.

I’m wondering if the panel could answer this last one again from Dmitry Anopchenko: “Can you please explain what happens during and after, quote/unquote, ‘filtration’? What are the criteria for Russians? Military service, tattooing, something else that makes them targeted? And what happens with these people? Are they sent to prisons, etcetera?”

MR. RAYMOND: If I could grab that, that’s a really essential question, Dmitry, and let’s talk about your mention of tattoos.

Going back to a previous question, there was a discussion of what happens with data that’s collected in this program by Russia and its proxy forces, and I think it’s important to just say for the audience that this system we know collects a variety of different types of data including information about phones, palm prints, biometric scans, and also information about tattoos or any identifying marks on individuals who go into the filtration program. And for some people who enter this program, it can take a matter of hours. They are waiting in line, they’re registered at a facility, they have received a card that says they have freedom of movement throughout the oblast, and they leave. For others, it can be a matter of days or weeks held at a secondary facility while they undergo secondary interrogation, and that can happen there. They can be moved to a secondary interrogation facility, go back and forth to a holding location.

But then some who are not released after that holding and interrogation period are sent – in many cases, military-age men – to a detention facility, and that detention can be indefinite. I want to be clear that not everybody who goes through the filtration program has the same experience. In some cases, experiences can differ wildly based on what facilities they went into and through.

But there are some common trends, and let’s talk about them. One is there are credible allegations that torture is occurring in some of these facilities. Second, there’s credible allegations of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment that may not rise to the standard of torture, but definitely implicates international prohibitions against cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. Third, the conditions that are described in many of these facilities involve overcrowding, a lack of food and water, and unsanitary conditions. Lastly, as was mentioned earlier, we have credible allegations that families are being separated through this system reportedly and are being held, in many cases, incommunicado from other family members.

And so I just want to stress that this report really adds urgency to the importance of international monitors getting into these facilities and being able to take this information as the next step towards access and verification and documentation of the conditions on the ground. That’s where this needs to go. Over.

MODERATOR: Thanks very much, Nathaniel. Unfortunately, that’s all the time we have for this press briefing today. I’d like to first turn it back to Deputy Assistant Secretary Steinhelfer if he has any closing thoughts.

DAS STEINHELFER: Thanks so much. I would just reinforce the importance of this work, the work of journalists, the work of civil society to continue to shine the light on these actions by Russia-perpetrated forces and Russia-led forces and the importance for the U.S. Government to continue to support accountability efforts not just through the Conflict Observatory, but through a wide range of mechanisms alongside our partners, as Dr. Gilligan also mentioned. So thanks again.

MODERATOR: Thanks very much. Emma, any final words from your side?

DR. GILLIGAN: No. Thank you, not much, John. Thank you to colleagues Matthew and Nathaniel. Obviously, we support further investigation into these and – into these filtration processes and also, as Nathaniel said, right, access to these sites is urgent in order to understand and expose what’s going on. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thanks for that. Nathaniel, final thoughts?

MR. RAYMOND: My final thought is this – is that justice is a process. The work we are doing now, the investigative work, is the beginning of that process. And I want to thank our colleagues from the U.S. Department of State for, in this case, embracing all of the steps that are needed to speed that process, including support for International Criminal Court and for domestic prosecutors on the ground. It matters, it’s a long process, but justice takes time. This is the beginning.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Nathaniel, and thanks to everyone who joined today, all of the journalists. Thanks very much, obviously, to our three panelists who took the time to speak to us today about this important issue and the report. Shortly we will circulate an audio file of this briefing to all who participated and provide a transcript as soon as that is available. We would also love to hear your feedback. You can contact us at any time at TheBrusselsHub – one word – Thanks again for everybody who participated and we hope you can join us for another press briefing soon. This ends this program. Thank you.

U.S. Department of State

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