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Widespread use of torture by Russian military in Ukraine appears deliberate: UN expert

15 June 2023

GENEVA (15 June 2023) – The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Alice Jill Edwards today expressed alarm at reports and testimonies which appear to indicate that Russian military forces in Ukraine are consistently and intentionally inflicting severe physical and psychological pain and suffering on Ukrainian civilians and prisoners of war.

This torture is allegedly being carried out to extract intelligence or to force confessions from detained individuals, or because of their former membership or support of the Ukrainian armed forces, Edwards said in a letter to the Russian Federation.

“The alleged practices include electric shocks, beatings, hooding, mock executions and other threats of death,” the UN expert said. “If established, they would constitute individual violations and may also amount to a pattern of State-endorsed torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

The allegations relate to the detention of Ukrainian civilians and prisoners of war held in grossly inadequate conditions in facilities run by Russian military forces inside Ukraine. In the letter, sent jointly with other independent UN experts, Edwards said that the consistency and methods of the alleged torture suggests “a level of coordination, planning and organisation, as well as the direct authorisation, deliberate policy or official tolerance from superior authorities.”

“Torture is a war crime, and the systematic or widespread practice of torture constitutes a crime against humanity,” the Special Rapporteur said. “Obeying a superior order or policy direction cannot be invoked as justification for torture, and any individual involved should be promptly investigated and prosecuted by independent authorities,” she said.

Reports indicate that as a result of torture, ill-treatment and poor conditions of detention many Ukrainian civilians and prisoners of war have suffered physical and psychological traumas, hallucinations, damage to internal organs, fractures and cracks in bones, extreme weight loss, sensory impairment as well as motor losses, strokes or the exacerbation of chronic diseases. Most individuals reportedly did not have access to adequate medical assistance during their detention.

“The longer the war goes on, the more reports are emerging of torture and other inhuman treatment,” Edwards said. “Such cruelty inflames hostility and damages future hopes of peace and reconciliation between neighbours. I strongly urge relevant authorities to ensure that civilians and prisoners of war are protected and treated humanely at all times,” she said.

The Special Rapporteur plans to visit Ukraine to conduct a fact-finding inquiry later this year as part of her mandate.


Dr. Alice Jill Edwards, Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

This press release was endorsed by:

Mr. Fabián Salvioli, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence; Ravindran Daniel (Chair-Rapporteur), Jelena Aparac, Sorcha MacLeod, Chris Kwaja, Carlos Salazar Couto, Working Group on the use of mercenaries; Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, Country Page – Russian Federation

For more information and media requests, please contact:

Alessandro Marra (+41 22 928 93 21/
[email protected]).

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact

Maya Derouaz
([email protected]) or

Dharisha Indraguptha
([email protected])

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter  @UN_SPExperts

Follow news related to the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment on Twitter  @DrAliceJEdwards

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