United Nations investigators accused Russian authorities of a pattern of grave, wide-ranging human rights violations against Ukrainian civilians that, in many cases, could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
In its first comprehensive report on the situation in Ukraine since Russia invaded that country on February 24, 2022, the three-member International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine has concluded that “the Russian authorities have committed numerous violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, in addition to a wide range of war crimes.”
The war crimes include attacks on civilians and energy-related infrastructure, willful killings, torture and inhuman treatment, unlawful confinement, rape and unlawful transfers and deportations of children from Ukraine to the Russian Federation.
“The conflict in Ukraine has had devastating effects at various levels,” said Erik Mose, chair of the commission. “Human losses and the general disregard for the life of civilians are shocking.
“The number of displaced persons or those seeking refuge abroad is the highest in Europe since the Second World War,” he said.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that more than 5.4 million people are internally displaced, and more than 8.1 million Ukrainians have fled as refugees to neighboring European countries.
Mose said the destruction of essential infrastructure — schools, health facilities, residential buildings and other facilities — has had an immense impact on people’s lives.
“The effects of the aggression upon people and on the country will not be overcome without great effort and commitment,” he said.
Over the past year, the commission has traveled to Ukraine eight times, visited 56 localities, and interviewed nearly 600 women and men.
“While the commission could establish a dialogue with Ukraine authorities and receive responses to its questions, it regrets that it was not able to establish such a dialogue with the Russian Federation,” Mose said.
Among its findings, the commission has gathered evidence of the use of explosive weapons by Russian armed forces in populated areas “with an apparent disregard for civilian harm and suffering.”
The report said the attacks were indiscriminate and disproportionate “in violation of international humanitarian law.”
According to the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, such attacks have caused 90.3% of civilian casualties in the conflict. Since the start of the war, the U.N. has recorded at least 8,000 deaths and nearly 13,300 injured, although it believes “the actual figures are considerably higher.”
The commission has collected evidence showing a widespread pattern of summary executions, which commissioner Pablo de Greiff said show that “Russian authorities have committed unlawful killings of civilians in areas which came under their control …which are violations of the right to life and in certain cases are war crimes.”
The commission has documented numerous cases of rape and sexual and gender-based violence affecting women, men and girls ages 4 to 82 committed by Russian authorities “as they undertook house-to-house visits in localities under their control and during unlawful confinement.”
Commission member Jasminka Dzumhur said the group has investigated the situation of forced transfer and deportation of children from Ukraine to the Russian Federation.
“The commission documented that Russian officials have taken legal and policy measures regarding Ukrainian children deported to Russian Federation.
“This includes citizenship and family placement measures, which have profound implications for a child’s identity,” she said. “Such measures are in violation of the right of the child to preserve his identity, including nationality, name and family relations, without unlawful interference as recognized by international human rights law … and may also amount to a war crime.”
The Ukrainian government reports that 16,221 children have been deported to Russia. The commission said it has not been able to verify these figures.
The commission found that the Ukrainian armed forces in a limited number of cases violated international humanitarian law. It said they have used cluster munitions, which are banned under international law, and that Ukrainian troops in two incidents had tortured and abused Russian prisoners of war, which could amount to war crimes.
The commission has drawn up a list of individuals identified as being responsible for war crimes. That list will not be made public and will be turned over to the U.N Human Rights Office for future prosecution.
The commission is calling for all violations and crimes to be investigated and for those responsible to be held accountable either at the national or the international level.
The report will be submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council next week.