Russia and Ukraine have tortured prisoners of war: UN

Investigation by the United Nations human rights office reveals abuses by both warring sides in the nearly nine-month-long conflict.

A prison building in Olenivka, eastern Ukraine
Ukraine and Russia are both parties to the Geneva Conventions that set out the laws of war, including on the treatment of prisoners of war [File: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters]

Warning: This story contains graphic descriptions of torture and abuse.

Russia and Ukraine have tortured prisoners of war during the conflict in Ukraine, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has said, citing examples of mistreatment including beatings, the use of electric shocks and forced nudity.

The OHCHR’s Ukraine-based monitoring team’s findings were based on interviews with more than 100 prisoners of war (POWs) on each side of the war, which will soon drag into its ninth month.

On Tuesday, the office called on Kyiv and Moscow – both of which are parties to the Geneva Conventions that set out the laws of war, including on the treatment of POWs – to “investigate and prosecute all allegations of violations”.

Matilda Bogner, head of the monitoring mission, told a Geneva press briefing that the “vast majority” of the 159 Ukrainian prisoners interviewed reported torture and ill-treatment.

She gave examples of dog attacks, electric shocks with Tasers and military phones, and of sexual violence.

Bogner said the treatment was aimed at intimidating and humiliating detainees.

One man who was held in a penal colony near Olenivka, in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region, said members of Russian-affiliated armed groups “attached wires” to his genitalia and nose and electric-shocked him.

“They simply had fun and were not interested in my replies to their questions,” the individual said.

Russian prisoners subjected to ‘welcome beatings’

Other Ukrainians described being stabbed, shot with a stun gun, threatened with mock executions, being hung by the hands and legs, and burned with cigarettes.

“We also documented various forms of sexual violence, such as pulling a male victim by a rope tied around his genitalia, or forced nudity combined with the threat of rape,” Bogner said.

The interviews with Ukrainian detainees were conducted after their release, since Russia did not grant investigators access to detention sites.

Russia, which invaded Ukraine on February 24, denies torture or other forms of maltreatment of POWs.

On the Ukrainian side, Bogner reported “credible allegations” of summary executions of the 175 Russian prisoners held by Kyiv’s forces, among other abuses.

Meanwhile, Russian prisoners reported poor and humiliating conditions.

Some said they were packed into trucks naked, with their hands tied behind their backs.

The UN team, which was granted access by Kyiv to Ukrainian detention sites, said it has also documented cases of so-called “welcome beatings” at a penal colony.

“In several cases, prisoners of war were stabbed or given electric shocks with the ‘TAPik’ military phone by Ukrainian law enforcement officers or military personnel guarding them,” Bogner said.

Kyiv has previously said it checks all information regarding the treatment of POWs and will investigate any violations and take legal action.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies