UN rights experts present evidence of war crimes in Ukraine

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GENEVA (AP) – A team of experts commissioned by the U.N.’s top human rights body to investigate rights abuses in Ukraine said Friday that its initial investigation showed evidence of war crimes in the country after Russia’s invasion almost seven months ago.

The experts from the Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, which was mandated by the Human Rights Council earlier this year, have so far focused on four regions – Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy.

Presenting their most extensive findings to date, they cited testimonies from former prisoners of beatings, electric shocks and forced nudity in Russian detention centers and expressed serious concerns about executions the team worked to document in the four regions.

“Based on the evidence gathered by the commission, it has concluded that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine,” Erik Mose, the commission’s chairman, told the Human Rights Council.

Commission member Pablo de Greiff told reporters that the team had “found two cases of ill-treatment of Russian Federation soldiers by Ukrainian soldiers. … We have obviously found a significantly larger number of cases that amount to war crimes on the part of the Russian Federation.”

During a 10-day June trip to Ukraine, the team visited Buchaa town outside Kiev where Ukrainian authorities found mass graves and bodies strewn in the streets after Russian forces pulled out in late March.

“We were struck by the large number of executions in the areas we visited. The commission is currently investigating such deaths in 16 cities and settlements,” Mose said. He did not specify who or which side in the war allegedly committed the killings.

The findings echo reports by news media and others about the destruction, death and despair in Ukraine since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the February 24 invasion.

The Commission’s work could ultimately contribute to the work of Prosecutors of the International Criminal Court who could be prosecuted for war crimes in Ukraine, although it is uncertain whether Russia or other alleged perpetrators will ever be brought to justice.

Anton Korynevych, ambassador general of Ukraine’s foreign ministry, joined envoys from a number of Western countries who spoke out against Moscow’s war in the wake of the commission’s presentation. Russia’s delegation boycotted the council meeting.

Korynevych, speaking via video, called for the creation of a special court that would have jurisdiction “over the crime of aggression against Ukraine” and investigate senior Russian political and military leaders allegedly responsible.

He said accountability was essential for rights abuses and atrocities linked to Russia’s “aggression”. But Korynevych also highlighted how the war’s impact has rippled through the world and “brought several countries to the brink of starvation, exacerbated extreme poverty, created the threat of nuclear catastrophe never seen before” and damaged the livelihoods of millions of people.

Commission investigators visited 27 towns 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.

He said an unspecified number of Russian soldiers were found to have committed crimes of sexual or gender-based violence – with victims ranging in age from 4 to 82.

The commission plans to gradually expand its investigation to areas of interest, including allegations of screening camps for people detained or deported, forced transfer of people and allegations of expedited adoption of children.

“The evidence of Russia’s atrocities grows more horrific by the day, most recently with the uncovering of mass graves in Izium, where the bodies show signs of torture,” said Michele Taylor, the US ambassador to the Human Rights Council, referring to a Kharkiv regional city that Ukrainian forces recaptured in recent weeks.

Taylor urged the commissioners to continue to “investigate the growing evidence of Russia’s filtering operations, forced deportations and disappearances.”

She cited “multiple sources” indicating that Russian authorities have interrogated, detained and/or forcibly deported between 900,000 and 1.6 million Ukrainian citizens, and reports that children were deported from Ukraine and placed in Russian orphanages for adoption.

A handful of Russia’s allies went to the defense of Moscow.

Ina Vasileuskaya, Belarus’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva, said Russia’s invasion goal was to protect Russian speakers in Ukraine.

“Prejudiced discussions in the Human Rights Council that only accuse Russia are a dead end,” she said.

Vasileuskaya said her country was not a party to the conflict, although Belarus was one of the places where Russian forces gathered before invading Ukraine.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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