This article contains references to sexual violence.
United Nations investigators said on Friday that war crimes had been committed in the conflict in Ukraine, listing Russian bombings of civilian areas, numerous executions, torture and horrific sexual violence.
“Based on the evidence gathered by the Commission, it has come to the conclusion that war crimes were committed in Ukraine,” Erik Mose, head of the investigative team, told the UN Human Rights Council.
The emphatic nature of the statement was unusual.
UN investigators usually publish their findings on international crimes in conditional language, referring to the final confirmation of war crimes and similar crimes by courts of law.
The council was established by the Commission of Inquiry (COI) — the highest possible level of investigation — in May to investigate crimes in Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The team of three independent experts was delivering their first oral update to the council after it launched initial investigations looking at areas of Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy regions, and said it would expand the probe in the future.
Speaking a day before seven months since Russia invaded its neighbour, Mr Mose pointed to “the Russian Federation’s use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas,” which he said was “a source of enormous harm and suffering to civilians.”
Torture, sexual violence
He highlighted that a number of attacks the team had investigated “were carried out without distinguishing between civilians and combatants,” including attacks with cluster munitions in populated areas.
The team, he said, had been “particularly struck by the large number of executions in the areas we visited,” and the “visible signs of executions on bodies, such as hands tied behind to the back, gunshot wounds to the head, and a split neck.”
Mr Mose said that the commission was currently investigating such deaths in 16 towns and settlements and that he had received credible allegations of many more cases which he would seek to document.
Moved to Russia
The investigators had also received “repeated accounts of abuse and torture, carried out during illegal confinement.”
Some of the victims had told the investigators that they were transferred to Russia and kept in prison for weeks.
Others had “disappeared” following such transfers. “Interviewers described beatings, electric shocks, and forced nudity, as well as other types of crimes in such detention facilities,” said Mr. Mose.
The head of the commission said that the investigators had also “processed two incidents of ill-treatment against Russian Federation soldiers by Ukrainian forces”, adding that “although very few in number, such cases remain the subject of our attention.”
The team had also documented cases of sexual and gender-based violence, Mr Mose said, establishing in some cases that the perpetrators were Russian soldiers.
“There are examples of cases where relatives were forced to witness the crimes,” he said.
“In the cases we have investigated, the ages of victims of sexual and gender-based violence ranged from four to 82.”
The commission had documented a wide range of crimes against children, he said, including children who had been “raped, tortured, and unlawfully confined.”
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