TDC hosts Argentinian expert Mercedes Somosierra in Kyiv

In early December, TDC organized a visit to Ukraine for Argentine expert Mercedes Somosierra, who had a number of important meetings.

Mercedes Somosierra is an Argentinian lawyer (University of Buenos Aires) and peace educator. She holds an MA in Peace Education from the University for Peace (Costa Rica) and a Diploma in Human Rights Education from the Catholic University of Uruguay. She also completed a Master’s program in Human Rights at the National University of La Plata (Argentina). She is a member of the Latin American Peace Research Association (CLAIP), and serves as a civil servant at the Ministry of Security of Argentina. She previously gained invaluable professional experience in human rights working as a lawyer in the legal area of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (Costa Rica). Ms. Somosierra has taught different courses and lectures as visiting professor at the Catholic Universities of Uruguay and Argentina, the University of National Defense (Argentina), and the Hannah Arendt Institute (Argentina), as well as in non-formal education meetings.

Mercedes had the opportunity to meet and talk in person with Ukrainian soldier Maksym Kolesnykov, who was returned home on February 4, 2023 after 11 months in Russian captivity. Maksym Kolesnykov spoke about the first battles for Kyiv region, how he was taken prisoner by Russia, his time in captivity, the mood and ill-treatment of Ukrainian prisoners by the Russian military, the detention of civilians in Russian captivity, Russia’s violations of the Geneva Conventions, the specifics of the prisoner of war exchange mechanism, and the rehabilitation of war veterans.

In addition, the expert met with the Child Rights Protection Center. In this modern center, created to address the needs of children victims of the war, including children returned to Ukraine from deportation, an entrevista was held with the Department of Monitoring of the Children Rights.

The topic of protecting the rights and return of children is very sensitive in Argentina. During the military dictatorships in Argentina, children of political oppositionists were abducted. This was part of a systemic repression, when children were separated from their parents who were arrested or disappeared. Later, these children were often hidden or illegally adopted. After the end of the dictatorship, an initiative to return them began. Many of these children, who grew up in such difficult circumstances, began to search for their biological families. That is why, despite certain differences, it is extremely interesting to study Argentina’s experience in this context.

Ms. Mercedes also met with Iryna Didenko, Head of the Division, Department of Combating Crimes Committed in the Armed Conflicts, at the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine, during which the parties exchanged experience and discussed possible ways of cooperation.

In the difficult times of Argentina’s history, when the country was going through a period of military dictatorship, the investigation of war crimes played a crucial role in restoring justice and punishing the perpetrators. For Ukraine, it is extremely important to understand this experience, which was a step towards recognizing human rights and building a democratic society.

The war crimes investigation in Argentina was aimed at establishing the truth about the systematic human rights violations committed during the military regime. The investigation involved not only human rights defenders and investigators, but also civil society activists, demonstrating the importance of cooperation between all sectors of society in the pursuit of justice. Although the completion of the investigations does not mean that the wounds of the past are fully healed, this process has become an important step towards ensuring justice and preventing similar events from happening again in the future.

An important aspect of the visit was to deepen cooperation in the field of education. As part of this, a meeting was held with the leadership of the Educational and Scientific Institute of International Relations of Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, during which the participants discussed the problems of organizing the educational process in times of war, prospects for cooperation, exchange of knowledge and experience.

Special attention was paid to the issue of communication between Ukraine and Latin America. In this context, Mercedes Somosierra interviewed Mykhailo Podoliak, Advisor to the Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in Kyiv.

They also visited the National Museum of the History of Ukraine in World War II and the first museum exhibition about the Russian invasion – “Ukraine – Crucifixion”.

A visit to the historical museum reveals the importance and relevance of history in our time during the current events of Russia’s war against Ukraine. This exhibition is not just a collection of exhibits. It is an attempt to reveal the essence and depth of the events that are happening right now. It is an appeal to the public and a call for reflection. Such experience not only broadens our understanding of history, but also becomes a step towards the formation of a conscious and responsible society ready for change and creation of the future.

In addition, Mercedes Somosierra visited Irpin and Bucha, Kyiv region, where she saw with her own eyes all the consequences of Russia’s actions and visited the sites of war crimes committed by the Russian military.

On December 7, TDC representatives together with Ms. Mercedes attended the International Conference “Freedom or Fear” dedicated to the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The event was organized by the Ombudsman’s Office in cooperation with the Office of the President and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine. The conference was attended by representatives of government agencies, international organizations, civil society, as well as ombudsmen and representatives of national human rights institutions from around the world.

The main goal of the conference was to draw the world’s attention to human rights violations and to consolidate the efforts of the international community to protect human rights in the world. The discussion panels addressed various issues, including the challenges to human rights protection that have arisen as a result of Russia’s armed aggression against Ukraine.

TDC is implementing the project with the support of the International Renaissance Foundation.