A team of experts commissioned by the UN’s highest human rights body to investigate human rights violations in Ukraine said Friday that the initial investigation revealed evidence of war crimes committed in the country after Russia’s invasion nearly seven months ago.
The experts of the Commission of Inquiry into Ukraine, commissioned earlier this year by the Human Rights Council, have so far focused on four regions: Kiev, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy.
They presented their most comprehensive findings to date, citing testimonies from former inmates of beatings, electric shocks and forced nudity in Russian detention centers, and expressing grave concern about the executions the team was documenting in the four regions.
“Based on the evidence collected 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.
Commissioner Pablo de Greiff told reporters that the team had found “two cases of beatings of soldiers of the Russian Federation by Ukrainian soldiers. … We have clearly found significantly greater numbers of incidents amounting to war crimes on the part of the Russian Federation.”
During a 10-day trip to Ukraine in June, the team visited Bucha, a town outside of Kiev where Ukrainian authorities found mass graves and bodies strewn in the streets after Russian troops withdrew in late March.
“We were struck by the high number of executions in the areas we visited. The commission is currently investigating such deaths in 16 cities and settlements,” Mos said. He did not specify who or which party in the war would have committed the murders.
The findings mirror reports from news outlets and others of the destruction, death and despair in Ukraine since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion on Feb. 24.
The commission’s work could eventually contribute to the work of International Criminal Court prosecutors who can bring charges for war crimes in Ukraine, although it remains uncertain whether Russia or other alleged perpetrators will ever appear in court.
Anton Korynevych, general ambassador of the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, joined envoys from a number of Western countries who spoke out against the war in Moscow in the wake of the commission’s presentation. The Russian delegation boycotted the council meeting.
Korynevych called via video for the creation of a special tribunal that would have jurisdiction “over the crime of aggression against Ukraine” and investigate senior Russian political and military leaders allegedly responsible.
He said accountability is crucial for human rights violations and atrocities linked to Russia’s “aggression”. But Korynevych also highlighted how the impact of the war has spread around the world, “bringing many countries to the brink of starvation, exacerbating extreme poverty, creating the threat of an unprecedented nuclear catastrophe” and the livelihoods of millions of people. has harmed.
Commission investigators visited 27 towns and settlements, as well as graves and detention and torture centers; more than 150 victims and witnesses interviewed; and met advocacy groups and government officials, Mose said.
He said an unspecified number of Russian soldiers 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, covering areas such as allegations of filtration camps for people being detained or deported, the forcible transfer of people and allegations of accelerated adoption of children.
“The evidence of Russia’s atrocities is growing 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 law council, referring to a Kharkiv regional city. that Ukrainian troops have recaptured in recent weeks.
Taylor urged the commissioners to continue to investigate “the growing evidence of Russia’s filtration operations, forced deportations and disappearances”.
She cited “numerous sources” indicating that Russian authorities 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 took on the defense of Moscow.
Ina Vasileuskaya, Belarus’s deputy permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, said Russia’s invasion was aimed at protecting Russian-speakers in Ukraine.
“Biased discussions in the Human Rights Council that only blame 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 Russian troops gathered before invading Ukraine.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine