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UN Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine finds continued war crimes and human rights violations gravely impacting civilians

20 October 2023

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NEW YORK/VIENNA (20 October 2023) – The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine documented further evidence that Russian authorities have committed indiscriminate attacks and the war crimes of torture, rape and other sexual violence, and deportation of children to the Russian Federation, according to its report submitted to the UN General Assembly.   

As the armed conflict in Ukraine continues in its second year, it has further contributed to suffering and hardships for thousands of affected civilians.

Additional indiscriminate attacks with explosive weapons committed by Russian armed forces, which the Commission investigated, have led to deaths and injuries of civilians and the destruction and damage of civilian objects. For example, as a result of an attack in April 2023 on a multistorey block of residential apartments in Uman, Cherkasy region, 24 civilians, mostly women and children, were killed, and part of the building became uninhabitable. The Commissioners spoke with its residents during their recent visit to Ukraine. 

The investigations confirmed the Commission’s previous finding that Russian authorities have used torture in a widespread and systematic way in various types of detention facilities. In addition to the Commission’s previous findings of torture in Ukraine and detention facilities in the Russian Federation, the new evidence for this report, collected in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, shows the same pattern of torture in areas under Russian authorities’ control. In the cases investigated, perpetrators mainly tortured men suspected of passing information to the Ukrainian authorities, or of otherwise supporting the Ukrainian armed forces.

Interviews with victims and witnesses illustrated a profound disregard towards human dignity by Russian authorities in these circumstances. Witnesses reported situations in which torture had been committed with such brutality that the victim died. In a detention facility in a school in Biliayivka village, Kherson region, co-detainees requested medical care when a victim showed signs of respiratory distress immediately after being tortured. However, Russian armed forces refused, and the victim died within an hour.

The Commission’s recent investigations in the regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia show that rape and other sexual violence were often committed together with additional acts of violence against the victims, including severe beatings, strangling, suffocating, slashing, shooting next to the head of the victim and wilful killing. A 75-year-old woman who stayed alone to protect her property, was attacked by a Russian soldier who hit her on her face, chest, and ribs, strangled her, as he was interrogating her. He ordered her to undress and when she refused, he ripped off her clothes, cut her abdomen with a small sharp object and raped her several times. In addition to the consequences of the rapes, the victim suffered several broken ribs and teeth. The Commission found that, in addition to rape, the war crime of torture was also committed against the victim.  

The traumatic experiences described in the report have severe and long-term consequences for the physical and mental health of the victims. 

The Commission investigated further accounts regarding transfers of unaccompanied children by Russian authorities to the Russian Federation or to areas they occupied in Ukraine. It documented the transfer of 31 children from Ukraine to Russia in May 2022, and concluded that it was an unlawful deportation, which is a war crime. The Commission is concerned about information regarding measures that have the apparent aim of allowing certain children to remain for prolonged periods in the Russian Federation.

The report contains three cases where the investigations showed that Ukrainian authorities committed violations of human rights against persons whom they have accused of collaboration with the Russian authorities.  

The Commission reiterates the importance of accountability, in all its dimensions, with full respect and care for the rights of the victims. 

The full report as submitted to the UN General Assembly can be found here.  

The members of the Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine are available for interviews.

 Background: The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine was created by the UN Human Rights Council in 2022 to investigate all alleged violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law, and related crimes in the context of the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine. In March 2024, the Commission will submit a comprehensive report on its activities within its second mandate to the Human Rights Council. The Commission comprises Erik Møse (Chair), Pablo de Greiff and Vrinda Grover.

More information on the work of the Commission can be found at https://www.ohchr.org/en/hr-bodies/hrc/iicihr-ukraine/index

For media requests and queries, please contact: Saule Mukhametrakhimova, Media Adviser, Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine; at [email protected] or (+43-1) 26060-83450 or Mobile (+43-676) 3493464; or Todd Pitman, Media Adviser for the UN Human Rights Council’s Investigative Missions, [email protected] or Mobile (+41) 76 691 1761.

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