UN experts conclude war crimes committed in Ukraine conflict

Investigators visited graves and detention and torture centres, and interviewed more than 150 victims and witnesses.

Two Ukrainian women stand in village of Verbivka in Kharkiv region
Residents wait for a car distributing humanitarian aid, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in the village of Verbivka, recently liberated by Ukrainian Armed Forces, in Kharkiv region, Ukraine, on September 13, 2022 [File: Gleb Garanich/Reuters]

United Nations investigators have concluded that war crimes have been committed in the Ukraine conflict, listing Russian bombardment of civilian areas, executions, torture and sexual violence.

A team of three independent experts visited 27 towns and settlements, as well as graves and detention and torture centres in four regions – Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy. Their findings are based on interviews with more than 150 victims and witnesses.

“Based on the evidence gathered by the commission, it has concluded that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine,” Erik Mose, the head of the investigation team, told the UN Human Rights Council on Friday.

The categorical nature of the statement was unusual. UN investigators typically couch their findings on international crimes in conditional language, referring the final confirmation of war crimes and similar violations to courts of law.

The council was set up by the Commission of Inquiry (COI) – the highest possible level of investigation – in May to investigate crimes following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February.

Speaking a day before the seven-month anniversary of the war, Mose pointed to “the Russian Federation’s use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas”, which he said was “a source of immense harm and suffering for civilians”.

Mose highlighted that a number of attacks the team had investigated “had been carried out without distinguishing between civilians and combatants”, including attacks with cluster munitions in populated areas.

The team, which plans to broaden the probe beyond the four regions, had been especially “struck by the large number of executions in the areas” that they visited, Mose said, and the frequent “visible signs of executions on bodies, such as hands tied behind backs, gunshot wounds to the head, and slit throats”.

Mose said the commission was currently investigating such deaths in 16 towns and settlements, and had received credible allegations regarding many more cases which it would seek to document.

Forensic technicians dig at the site of a mass grave in a forest on the outskirts of Izyum
Forensic technicians dig at the site of a mass grave in a forest on the outskirts of Izyum, eastern Ukraine on September 18, 2022. Ukrainian authorities discovered about 450 graves outside the formerly Russian-occupied city of Izyum with some of the exhumed bodies showing signs of torture [Juan Barreto/AFP]

The investigators had also received “consistent accounts of ill-treatment and torture, which were carried out during unlawful confinement”.

Some of the victims had told the investigators they were transferred to Russia and held for weeks in prisons. Others had “disappeared” following such transfers.

“Interlocutors described beatings, electric shocks, and forced nudity, as well as other types of violations in such detention facilities,” Mose said.

The commission chief said the investigators had also “processed two incidents of ill-treatment against Russian Federation soldiers by Ukrainian forces”, adding that “while few in numbers, such cases continue to be the subject of our attention”.

The team had also documented cases of sexual and gender-based violence, Mose said, in some cases establishing that Russian soldiers were the perpetrators.

“There are examples of cases where relatives were forced to witness the crimes,” he said. “In the cases we have investigated, the age of victims of sexual and gendered-based violence ranged from four to 82 years.”

The commission had documented a wide range of crimes against children, he said, including children who were “raped, tortured, and unlawfully confined”.

Source: News Agencies