U.N. investigators say there is evidence that Russian forces who invaded Ukraine in February 2022 committed war crimes. The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine presented its findings Friday to the U.N. Human Rights Council.
The commission centered its inquiry on events from late February and March in the regions of Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy. It says it documented many human rights violations, including the illegal use of explosive weapons, indiscriminate attacks in civilian areas, torture, and sexual and gender-based violence.
Commission Chair Erik Mese said Russia’s illegal use of explosive weapons has caused immense suffering among the civilian population, and accounts for most of the deaths recorded by United Nations monitors.
He said investigators were struck by the large number of executions in 16 towns and settlements they visited.
“Common elements of such crimes include the prior detention of the victims as well as visible signs of executions on bodies, such as hands tied behind backs, gunshot wounds to the head, and slit throats,” Mese said.
The commission interviewed more than 150 victims and witnesses. Mese said witnesses have provided consistent accounts of ill-treatment and torture. Some reported they had been transferred to prisons in the Russian Federation, where they were subjected to beatings, electric shocks, and other violations.
Mese said investigations into cases of sexual and gender-based violence found the victims of sexual abuse by Russian soldiers ranged in age from four to 82 years.
“The commission has documented cases in which children have been raped, tortured, and unlawfully confined,” Mese said. “Children have also been killed and injured in indiscriminate attacks with explosive weapons.”
Anton Korynevych, ambassador-at-large for Ukraine Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said these crimes perpetrated by Russia must not go unpunished. He is calling for the establishment of a special tribunal with specific jurisdiction over the crime of aggression against Ukraine.
The Russian Federation did not show up for the hearing, a fact that the president of the council said he deplores.
Mese said the commission’s “attempts to engage in a constructive dialogue with Russian Federation authorities have, regretfully, so far not been successful, but we will persist in our efforts.”
Reuters reports Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov defended Moscow’s war in Ukraine at the U.N. Security Council on Thursday. He accused Kyiv of threatening Russia’s security and “brazenly trampling” the rights of Russians and Russian speakers in Ukraine, adding that it “simply confirms the decision to conduct the special military operation was inevitable.”