Russia/Ukraine: So-called referenda in the occupied territories are in blatant breach of international law 

Reacting to news that “voting” has begun in the Russian-occupied areas of the Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia regions in Ukraine on whether to join the Russian Federation, Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said: 

“These so-called ‘referenda’ are a ruse for Russia to illegally annex occupied Ukrainian territory, which would be another escalation of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine and further evidence of the Kremlin’s profound disregard for international law and the rights of people in the territories under its occupation. The Fourth Geneva Convention expressly prohibits annexation of occupied territory and other acts by the occupying power to deprive the occupied population of the protection of the Convention.” 

These so-called ‘referenda’ and any annexation by Russia that follows have no validity under international law, and, whatever Russia claims as a result, such actions will not change the legal status under international law of the territories Russia occupies.

Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia

“Russia must respect its obligations as the occupying power under international humanitarian law and cease immediately all unlawful actions. It must also immediately end its aggression against Ukraine. All those responsible for crimes under international law, including war crimes, must face justice.” 


Earlier this week, Russian authorities and their proxies in the Russian-occupied parts of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia regions in Ukraine, announced their intention to hold “referenda” on accession to the Russian Federation.  

On 23 September, representatives of the occupying authorities started making home visits to collect “ballots” from residents. The “referenda” are expected to take five days. Occupying Russian authorities have said that on the fifth and final day of the “referenda” on 27 September so-called polling stations would be open, but not before for security reasons.  

Any attempt by Russia to change the legal status of the territories it controls in Ukraine through occupation, including in the Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia regions as well as Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, are a flagrant violation of the UN Charter, and a violation of the right of their population under international humanitarian law.  

Article 47 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states: “Protected persons who are in occupied territory shall not be deprived, in any case or in any manner whatsoever, of the benefits of the present Convention by any change introduced, as the result of the occupation of a territory, into the institutions or government of the said territory, nor by any agreement concluded between the authorities of the occupied territories and the Occupying Power, nor by any annexation by the latter of the whole or part of the occupied territory.”