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Press by
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
OSCE Representative on Human Trafficking Purveys Russian Propaganda Story of 'Organ-Trafficking' in Ukraine
7 years
Veteran Russian Human Rights Group to Curtail Operations
Despite Further Refutations Even From Separatist Leaders, Mass Graves, 'Organ-Trafficking' Disinformation Still Circulates

The representative for the issue of human trafficking at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Kazakhstan's Amb. Madina Jarbusynova, has used an appearance on Ukrainian TV to fuel a false claim by the Russian state media of Ukrainian atrocities including "organ-trafficking".

The claim was based on comments about a mass grave found outside of Donetsk from a pro-Russian Latvian activist Einars Graudins  who claimed to be an OSCE expert. He was subsequently disavowed by OSCE and the "organ-trafficking" story in fact discounted by the separatists' prime minister Aleksandr Zakharchenko himself who explained -- after a day of sensational Russian state media reports -- that he was referring to other graves of combatants who died from shrapnel wounds, accounting for the missing intestines.

As we reported, the Russian state and pro-Kremlin private media have been making exaggerated claims related to a discover of a mass grave outside of Donetsk with 9 victims, falsely claiming that it had "40" victims, based on a  mis-reporting of Zakharchenko's remarks, and then "400" based on misleading statements from separatist leaders and a pro-Russian Latvian activist. The Russian media has claimed there was evidence of "organ-trafficking" made from the exhumation of the bodies -- and first misleadingly cited a pro-Russian Latvian activist who had not actually been at the exhumation of the graves, then triumphantly cited a Ukrainian TV show as "proof" of "OSCE's" claims.

Translation: Special representative Madina Jarbusynova on the work of OSCE in combatting human trafficking in Ukraine.

At 7:35, Amb. Jarbusynova says (translation by The Interpreter):

"Last week at the annual meeting on the implementation of obligations in the human rights field (OSCE HDIM), there was a statement from the mass media -- not the mass media, but non-governmental groups working in this sphere about how allegedly, in the east of Ukraine, graves were found where, according to evidence, these bodies were found without their internal organs, so here the question is raised that there exists possibly trafficking in organs. At this meeting it was stated that observers from the OSCE mission will carefully investigate this information, that it should not be politicized. Facts are needed that confirm whether this took place."

This story-telling is in keeping with a frequent technique of Russia (and for that matter, Kazakhstan) in first claiming some atrocity has occurred (if committed by Ukrainians) (or not occurred, if Russia is blamed) and then insisting that an international investigation is absolutely needed to clarify the story -- even though the claim was concocted in the first place by disinformation specialists.

This was the case, for example, with Russian claims of the use of white phosphorous by Ukrainian army, for which no evidence was found, and which was the subject of Russian state media broadcasts with footage used from Syria, claimed falsely to be from Ukraine.

But the damage is already done as numerous people on Twitter and blogs and Russian propaganda sites begin to copy the organ-trafficking claim as "truth."

Translation: Special representative of the OSCE on combatting human trafficking Madina Jarbusynova stated that there is the possibility that bodies discovered in mass graves in Donbass could be without internal organs, which could have been sold. She stated this on the 112 Ukraina television channel.

As we reported, the story is based on remarks made by the "prime minister of the Donetsk People's Republic," Aleksandr Zakharchenko, who noted in press interviews that there could be "up to 40" persons in mass graves and that their internal organs were removed. After this story had a day to spread like wildfire, Zakharchenko walked it back, explaining that the figure of 40 was not regarding the 3 mass graves OSCE had found, and that he was  referring to other graves containing combatants both from the pro-Russian side and Ukrainian armed forces. The organs were missing because the people had died from shrapnel wounds -- he himself had not made any allegation of organ-trafficking:

"Every day we find some sort of graves which remain after the Ukrainian army. The bodies discovered without internal organs are marks of wounds. After forensic analysis they may prove how they were damaged, that these are shell wounds from the explosion of mines. The ones I spoke about (earlier) -- these are graves of my people and Ukrainian armed forces."

The propaganda campaign follows the pattern of other such operations by Russian sources which first float a falsehood and cite a seeming authority, then later provide further information even contradicting the claim of the headline, in a follow-up story the same day or the next day.

Japbursynova was notorious during the period of Kazakhstan's chairmanship of OSCE in 2010, where she threatened NGO leaders with jailing for their criticism of the Kazakh government -- which made good on the threats -- and accused Western NGOs who planned to hold an independent parallel human rights conference during the official OSCE summit in Astana as "terrorists."