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Ukraine: UN Commission concerned by continuing patterns of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law

15 March 2024

GENEVA (15 March 2024) – Two years after the Russian Federation’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, civilian suffering is mounting as a result of Russia’s disregard for basic principles of humanitarian law and its human rights obligations, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine said in its report published on Friday.

The Commission found new evidence that Russian authorities have committed violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law, and corresponding war crimes, in areas that came under their control in Ukraine.

The Commission is concerned by the continued use of explosive weapons in civilian areas. The multiplicity of such attacks confirms a pattern of disregard by Russian armed forces for possible harm to civilians.

The report assessed the grave impact on civilians of the fighting in and the siege of Mariupol at the outset of the full-scale invasion. Satellite imagery provides indication of widespread destruction of whole urban areas of the city. Residents described unbearable suffering endured during relentless shelling and aerial bombardments which caused large-scale death, injury, and destruction.

After emerging from shelters, civilians reported seeing dead bodies strewn on the streets and in the rubble of their homes. Data obtained by the Commission indicates that at least 58 medical infrastructure buildings and 11 power stations were damaged or destroyed in Mariupol.
More generally, recent indiscriminate attacks violating international humanitarian law committed by Russian armed forces have led to civilian casualties and the destruction and damage of civilian objects, including of protected objects such as hospitals and cultural property. Often, Russian armed forces failed to take feasible precautions to verify that the affected objects are not civilian.

”We are concerned at the scale, continuation, and gravity of violations and crimes that the Commission has investigated and the impact on victims and the affected communities,“ said the Chair of the Commission, Erik Møse.

New evidence strengthens the Commission’s previous findings that torture against civilians by Russian authorities in Ukraine and in the Russian Federation has been widespread and systematic.

The current report focuses on torture against Ukrainian prisoners of war and describes cases of horrific treatment of such prisoners in several detention facilities in the Russian Federation. Victims’ accounts disclose relentless, brutal treatment inflicting severe pain and suffering during prolonged detention, with blatant disregard for human dignity. This has led to long-lasting physical and mental trauma.

One Ukrainian soldier, who was detained and tortured by Russian authorities in several detention facilities, recounted his experience in the correctional colony in the town of Donskoy, Tula region, where he was repeatedly subjected to torture and left with broken bones, broken teeth and gangrene on an injured foot. “I lost any hope and the will to live,” the soldier said, adding that he had tried to kill himself but perpetrators subjected him to further beating. After his release, the soldier has been hospitalized 36 times.

Investigations found additional evidence concerning the unlawful transfer of children to areas under Russian control.

The report documents incidents of rape and other sexual violence committed against women in circumstances which also amount to torture. It also details incidents of torture with a sexualised dimension and threats of rape against male prisoners of war.

The report also describes a few violations of human rights by Ukrainian authorities against persons suspected of collaboration with Russian authorities.

The Commission strongly condemns all violations and corresponding crimes. Its current findings confirm the necessity to continue investigations, including to determine whether some of the situations identified may constitute crimes against humanity.

Finally, the Commission reiterates the importance of ensuring that perpetrators are identified and held accountable. Bringing perpetrators to justice is crucial but so is attending to the needs of victims. Therefore, the Commission also emphasizes the significance of other dimensions of accountability, such as truth, reparations, and guarantees of non-recurrence.

The report reflects the Commission’s findings during its second mandate. The Commission will present its report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva early next week.

Read the full report here.

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. The Commission comprises Erik Møse (Chair), Pablo de Greiff and Vrinda Grover.

More information on the work of Commission can be found here.

For media queries, please contact:Saule Mukhametrakhimova, Media Adviser, Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine; Telephone: (+43-1) 26060-83450, Mobile: (+43) 676 349 3464; Email: [email protected]; Todd Pitman, Media Adviser for the UN Human Rights Council’s Investigative Missions, [email protected]/ (+41) 76 691 1761; or Pascal Sim, Human Rights Council Media Officer, [email protected] / (+41) 79 477 4411.