Skip to content

U.N. experts point to evidence of Russian war crimes

A panel of U.N. human rights investigators concluded that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine during Russia's almost 7-month-old invasion.

A man pushes his bicycle past the ruins of Novoselivka, a Ukrainian village near Chernihiv, in April
A man pushes his bicycle past the ruins of Novoselivka, a Ukrainian village near Chernihiv, in April (AN/Oleksandr Ratushniak)

GENEVA (AN) — A panel of U.N. human rights investigators concluded that Russia has committed war crimes in Ukraine during the 7-month-old invasion, citing evidence of explosive weapons detonated in civilian areas, illegal detainments and torture, and sexual and gender-based violent crimes.

Experts with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine told the United Nations Human Rights Council on Friday that Russia's attacks on populated areas, including schools and hospitals, caused immense harm and suffering for civilians, devastating entire urban areas of Kharkiv. They said witnesses gave consistent accounts of ill-treatment and torture carried out during unlawful confinements.

One comment, from an older woman fleeing Kharkiv, haunted the commission: “I don’t live, I just exist; I have nothing left in my soul.”

Its investigation focused on the regions of Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Sumy since Russia's invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. Among the horrors it pointed to were documented cases of Russia soldiers committing sexual and gender-based crimes against victims between the ages of four and 82. It also cited attacks involving cluster munitions or multi-launch rocket systems and airstrikes in populated areas, some carried out without distinguishing between civilians and combatants.

In its latest report, the U.N. human rights office said it has recorded 14,532 civilian casualties in Ukraine, including 5,916 killed and 8,616 injured.

Demonstrated patterns and supporting documentation

The commission said it is investigating an unspecified large number of executions in 16 towns and settlements, having received credible allegations of many more such cases involving victims who were detained, had their hands tied behind backs, gunshot wounds to the head, or slit throats.

Others were detained by Russian forces in Ukraine then taken to Russia, where they were held for weeks in prisons and subjected to beatings, electric shocks, and forced nudity. Some victims disappeared."The commission has focused on events in view of their gravity, their significance in demonstrating patterns of alleged violations, and the possibility to gain access to victims, witnesses, and supporting documentation," Erik Møse, the panel's chairman, said of the commission's visits to 27 towns and settlements and interviews with more than 150 victims and witnesses.

"We have inspected sites of destruction, graves, places of detention and torture, as well as weapon remnants, and consulted a large number of documents and reports," said Møse, a former judge on Norway's Supreme Court and on the European Court of Human Rights, and a former president of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

"Based on the evidence gathered by the commission," he said, "it has concluded that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine."

Its findings mirror independent reports by other human rights and news organizations. The panel's other two members are Jasminka Džumhur, the human rights ombudsperson of Bosnia and Herzegovina and a former member of several U.N. human rights panels, and Pablo de Greiff, a political academic from Colombia and a former U.N. special rapporteur who directs New York University School of Law's Transitional Justice Program.