A United Nations commission of inquiry on Friday accused Russia of committing war crimes, including torture, rape, confinement of children and summary executions, in territories occupied since the start of the Ukrainian War seven months ago.
The group that led the investigations took direct accusations against Moscow to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva – Russian representatives emptied the bench and did not respond to the complaints.
“Based on the evidence collected by the commission, it was concluded that war crimes were committed in Ukraine,” said investigative body chairman Erik Mose.
Despite not having officially spoken out after the report was submitted, Moscow denies the allegations and says they are part of a smear campaign. It still claims not to deliberately attack civilians.
The inquiry focused on a few areas previously occupied by Russian forces: Kiev, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumi. The report, however, does not name those responsible for the crimes, fueling the discussion about the ineffectiveness of the UN as a mediator for the end of the war.
Created in the first month of the conflict, the committee visited 27 locations and interviewed more than 150 victims and witnesses. At the end of the term, in March 2023, it must submit a final report to the UN body with recommendations to hold accountable and, in effect, punish those who are found guilty.
The commission found a large number of executions in the areas it visited, including bodies with their hands tied, throats slashed and gunshot wounds to the head, according to Mose, the chairman of the collegiate. He added that investigators had identified victims of sexual violence between the ages of 4 and 82. Children were raped, tortured and illegally confined, he said.
In addition, witnesses told investigators of ill-treatment and torture perpetrated during unlawful detention. Some victims indicated that, after a first arrest by Russian forces in Ukraine, they were transferred to the enemy country and held for weeks in prisons.
“Interviewers described beatings, electric shocks and forced nudity, as well as other types of violations in these places of detention,” Mose said, noting that some victims transferred to Russia had disappeared.
According to the president, the commission has identified only two cases of mistreatment of Russian soldiers by Ukrainian forces so far. Another investigator, Pablo de Greiff, said there is a considerable difference between large-scale war crimes, on the one hand, and two cases of ill-treatment, on the other.
The commission’s direct accusations, far from the UN’s usual caution, were praised by diplomats. “The presentation prompts reflection on the scope and breadth of these atrocities and their lasting impact on the lives of tens or hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, including children,” said British Ambassador Simon Manley.
In a video participation, a representative of Ukraine, Anton Korinevich, described the presentation of the investigators as an important milestone for the establishment of responsibilities before the justice, and recalled that his country asks for the creation of a special court to judge Russian crimes in the Ukraine.