UN-backed investigation accuses Russia of war crimes in Ukraine

Russia’s forced transfers and deportations of Ukrainian children in areas under its control amounts to a war crime, investigators say.

Russia Ukraine War
The report said Russian forces carried out 'indiscriminate and disproportionate' attacks on Ukraine [File: Ukrainian Emergency Service via AP Photo]

Russia has committed wide-ranging war crimes in Ukraine, including the forced deportations of children in areas it controls, a report from a United Nations-backed inquiry says.

The allegations were detailed in a report released on Thursday by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, which said some acts may amount to crimes against humanity.

Among potential crimes against humanity, investigators cited repeated attacks targeting Ukrainian infrastructure in recent months that have left hundreds of thousands of people without heat and electricity during the winter as well as the “systematic and widespread” use of torture across multiple regions under Russian occupation.

“There were elements of planning and availability of resources which indicate that the Russian authorities may have committed torture as crimes against humanity,” said Erik Møse, a former judge with the Norwegian Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights  who led the investigation.

The investigation found crimes committed against Ukrainians on Russian territory, including deported Ukrainian children who were prevented from reuniting with their families, a “filtration” system aimed at singling out Ukrainians for detention, and torture and inhumane detention conditions.

Russia denies committing atrocities or attacking civilians in Ukraine.

At her weekly news briefing, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters that Moscow regularly heard accusations like these.

She added that if those behind such reports supported objectivity “then we are ready to analyse specific cases, answer questions, provide data, statistics and facts. But if they are biased, if they represent only one point of view, … then there is no use responding to these reports.”

The 18-page report is based on more than 500 interviews, satellite images and visits to detention sites and graves. It was released as the International Criminal Court in The Hague is expected to seek the arrest of Russian officials for forcibly deporting children from Ukraine and attacking civilian infrastructure.

The report said Russian forces carried out “indiscriminate and disproportionate” attacks on Ukraine and called for the perpetrators to be held accountable.

“The ongoing armed conflict in Ukraine has had devastating effects at various levels,” Møse said. “Human losses and the general disregard for the life of civilians … are shocking.”

The report said at least 13 waves of Russian attacks since October on Ukraine’s energy-related infrastructure as well as its use of torture “may amount to crimes against humanity”,

It cited a Ukraine government figure in finding that about 16,000 children have been unlawfully transferred and deported from Ukraine. Russia denies the charge, saying it has evacuated people voluntarily from Ukraine.

Other children were forced to watch their loved ones raped or, in one instance, were detained in a school basement alongside bodies, the report said.

Victims in Russian detention facilities were subject to electric shocks with a military phone – a treatment known as a “call to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin” – or hung from the ceiling in a “parrot position”, the report said.

Asked whether Russia’s acts might amount to genocide, as Ukraine insists, Møse said his commission had not yet found such evidence but would continue to follow up.

Ukraine, which has called for the creation of a special tribunal to prosecute Russia’s political and military leadership for the crime of aggression over the invasion, has said the commission is essential to ensure Russia would be held accountable.

The commission found reasonable grounds to conclude that the Ukraine invasion qualifies as an act of aggression.

The report also found that Ukrainian forces had committed a “small number of violations”, including what appeared to be indiscriminate attacks and torture of prisoners of war.

There was no immediate comment by the Ukrainian government.

The commission’s report will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday. Countries at the council, the only body made up of governments to protect human rights worldwide, aims to extend and deepen the commission’s mandate.

Sometimes, the council’s investigations lead to prosecutions in international courts. The commission said it is working on a list of possible perpetrators that would be passed on to UN authorities.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies