War crimes, indiscriminate attacks on infrastructure, systematic and widespread torture show disregard for civilians, says UN Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine
GENEVA/ VIENNA (16 March 2023) – Russian authorities have committed a wide range of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in various regions of Ukraine, many of which amount to war crimes, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine said in a new report Thursday.
The war crimes include attacks on civilians and energy-related infrastructure, wilful killings, unlawful confinement, torture, rape and other sexual violence, as well as unlawful transfers and deportations of children.
The Commission’s evidence shows that in areas that came under their control, Russian authorities have committed wilful killings of civilians or persons not involved in fighting (hors de combat), which are war crimes and violations of the right to life.
Russian armed forces have carried out attacks with explosive weapons in populated areas with an apparent disregard for civilian harm and suffering, failing to take the required precautions. The attacks were indiscriminate and disproportionate, in violation of international humanitarian law. The use of explosive weapons in populated areas has been one of the main causes of civilian casualties. The Commission was struck by the extent of the destruction it has observed during its visits.
The waves of attacks by Russian armed forces on Ukraine’s energy-related infrastructure from 10 October 2022, may amount to crimes against humanity, according to the Commission, which said that this should be investigated further. The disruption of energy-related infrastructure led to entire regions and millions of people being left for periods without electricity or heating, particularly during freezing temperatures.
The Commission established a pattern of widespread unlawful confinement in areas controlled by Russian armed forces, targeting broad categories of men, women and children. Confinement in dedicated facilities across Ukraine and in the Russian Federation was accompanied by consistent methods of torture against certain categories of persons by Russian authorities. A former detainee underwent beatings as a “punishment for speaking Ukrainian” and for “not remembering the lyrics of the anthem of the Russian Federation”. This pattern of torture may amount to crimes against humanity, according to the Commission, and should be investigated further.
The Commission found numerous instances of rape and sexual and gender-based violence committed by Russian authorities as they undertook house-to-house visits in localities that came under their control and during unlawful confinement. Sexual violence amounting to torture and the threat of such against women and men have been important aspects of the torture exercised by Russian authorities.
While looking into transfers of children from Ukraine to the Russian Federation, the Commission found, with concern, that violations of human rights and international humanitarian law have been committed. Situations concerning the transfer and deportation of children which it has examined amount to war crimes. Witnesses told the Commission that many of the younger children transferred were not able to establish contact with their families and might lose contact with them indefinitely. Delay in the repatriation of civilians may also amount to a war crime.
The Commission also documented a small number of violations committed by Ukrainian armed forces, including likely indiscriminate attacks and two incidents qualifying as war crimes, where Russian prisoners of war were shot, wounded and tortured.
Beyond sharing their deep loss and trauma with the Commission, survivors highlighted the importance of identifying those responsible and holding them accountable. One man, whose father was executed by Russian armed forces in the Izium region, told the Commission: “They punished innocent people; now those who are guilty, if they are still alive, need to be punished to the fullest extent.”
The Commission recommends that all violations and crimes be investigated and those responsible be held accountable, either at the national or the international level. It calls for a comprehensive approach to accountability that includes both criminal responsibility and the victims’ right to truth, reparation, and non-repetition.
For the report, the Commission visited 56 localities and interviewed 348 women and 247 men. Its investigators inspected sites of destruction, graves, places of detention and torture, as well as weapon remnants, and consulted a large number of documents and reports.