That United Nations has said its investigators have concluded that Russia committed war crimes in Ukraine, including the bombing of civilian areas, numerous executions, torture and horrific sexual violence.
The UN has made investigating human rights abuses in the war a priority, and in May its top human rights body mandated a team of experts to begin work in the country.
Since then, UN investigators have risked their lives to gather evidence of crimes committed against civilians, including in areas still threatened by enemy forces or laid with mines.
The team of three independent experts presented their first oral update to the UN Human Rights Council on Friday after it launched initial investigations looking at the Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy regions, adding that it would expand its investigations.
In a speech a day before the seven-month anniversary of Russia’s invasion of its neighbor, Erik Mose, the head of the investigative team, told the council that based on the evidence gathered by the commission of inquiry regarding Ukraine“it has concluded that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine”.
The team of investigators visited 27 cities and settlements, as well as graves and detention and torture centers; interviewed more than 150 victims and witnesses; and met with advocacy groups and government officials.
Mose said the team had been particularly “struck by the large number of executions in the areas we visited” and the frequent “visible signs of executions on bodies, such as hands tied behind the back, gunshot wounds to the head and slit throats.”.
He added that it was investigating such deaths in 16 cities and towns and had received credible allegations of many more cases that it would seek to document. Investigators had also received “consistent reports of ill-treatment and torture carried out during unlawful detention”, the council was told.
In the settlements of Bucha, Hostomel and Borodianka, occupied for about a month by Russian troops, Ukrainian investigators found dozens of mass graves where the bodies of civilians, tortured and murdered, had been buried.
Since the Russians withdrew from the area, a group of young volunteers worked tirelessly to dig up the bodies and send them to forensics who have collected evidence of crimes committed by Russian troops.
Some of the victims had told investigators that they were transferred to Russia and held for weeks in prisons. Others had “disappeared” after such transfers. “Interlocutors described beatings, electric shocks and forced nudity, as well as other types of violations in such detention centers,” Mose said.
Mose said the team had also “dealt with two incidents of ill-treatment of soldiers of the Russian Federation by Ukrainian forces”, adding that “although few in number, such cases remain the subject of our attention”.
He said investigators had also documented cases of sexual and gender-based violence and, in some cases, determined that Russian soldiers were the perpetrators.
“There are examples of cases where relatives were forced to witness the crimes,” he said. “In the cases we investigated, the ages of victims of sexual and gender-based violence ranged from four to 82.”
The commission had documented a wide range of crimes against children, Mose added, including children who were “raped, tortured and illegally imprisoned”.
In April, coroners told the Guardian they had found evidence of it some women were raped before they were killed of Russian forces. “We already have a few cases that indicate these women were raped before they were shot dead,” said Vladyslav Perovskyi, a Ukrainian forensic doctor who has performed dozens of autopsies on people from Bucha, Irpin and Borodianka. to the Guardian.
At least two men on a list of accused Russian war criminals released by Ukrainian prosecutors are accused of sexual assault and rape.
Mose, in his report to the council, also pointed to “the Russian Federation’s use of explosive weapons with far-reaching effects in populated areas”, which he said was “a source of enormous harm and suffering to civilians”.
The UN highlighted that a number of attacks the team had investigated “had been carried out without distinguishing between civilians and combatants”, including attacks using cluster munitions, banned by most of the world under a 2008 treaty.
Since the beginning of Moscow’s invasion, Russian troops have been accused of using a range of illegal weapons that have killed hundreds of civilians in the Ukrainian region of Kiev, including extremely powerful unguided bombs in populated areas that have destroyed at least eight civilian buildings. .
According to evidence, cluster munitions were released in areas where there were no military personnel and no military infrastructure.
The commission’s work could ultimately contribute to the work of international criminal prosecutors who could bring charges of war crimes in Ukraine, although it remains uncertain whether Russia or other alleged perpetrators will ever be brought to justice.
In a separate development, Ukrainian officials said on Friday that they had exhumed some 436 bodies from a burial site in the newly recaptured city of Izium, and that at least 30 of them showed signs of torture.
Mose said: “This is obviously a new incident, but we definitely intend to look into the Izium event as well.”