The United Nations said its investigators had concluded that Russia had committed war crimes in Ukraine, including bombing civilian areas, multiple executions, torture and horrific sexual violence.
The United Nations has made investigating human rights abuses in the war a priority, and in May its top human rights body authorized a panel of experts to work in the country.
Since then, UN investigators have risked their lives to collect evidence of crimes against civilians, including in areas still under threat from enemy forces or landmines.
Following initial investigations into the Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy regions, a panel of three independent experts presented their first oral update to the UN Human Rights Council on Friday, adding that Said to expand the scope of the investigation.
Seven months before Russia’s invasion of a neighbouring country, the head of the investigation team, Eric Moss, told the Security Council that, based on evidence gathered by Ukraine’s commission of inquiry, “it concluded that the war was a crime in Ukraine”.
The team visited 27 towns and settlements, as well as graves, detention and torture centers; interviewed more than 150 victims and witnesses; and worked with advocacy groups and government officials.
Moss said the team was particularly “appalled by the high number of executions in the areas we visited” and “the frequent presence of visible signs of executions on bodies such as hands tied behind their backs, gunshot wounds to the head and slit throats” ” “.
He added that it was investigating such deaths in 16 towns and settlements and had received credible allegations of more cases it would seek to record. Investigators also received “continuing reports of ill-treatment and torture during unlawful imprisonment,” the committee was told.
In the settlements of Bucha, Hostomel and Borodianka, which have been occupied by Russian forces for about a month, Ukrainian investigators have found dozens of mass graves containing the bodies of tortured and murdered civilians.
Since the Russians withdrew from the area, a group of young volunteers worked tirelessly to exhume the bodies and send them to the forensic doctor, who has been collecting evidence of crimes committed by Russian troops.
Some victims told investigators they were transferred to Russia and held in prison for weeks. Others “disappear” after such transfers. “Interlocutors described beatings, electric shocks, and forced nudity, among other types of abuses, in such detention facilities,” Moss said.
The team also “addressed two incidents of mistreatment of soldiers of the Russian Federation by the Ukrainian army,” Moses said, adding that “although the number is small, such cases are still the subject of our attention”.
Investigators have also documented cases of sexual and gender-based violence, in some cases identifying Russian soldiers as perpetrators, he said.
“There are examples of relatives being forced to witness crimes,” he said. “Victims of sexual and gender-based violence in the cases we investigated ranged in age from four to 82.”
Moses added that the commission had documented a range of crimes against children, including children who were “raped, tortured and unlawfully held”.
In April, forensic doctors told the Guardian they had found evidence that some women had been raped before being killed by Russian troops. Ukrainian forensic doctor Vladyslav Perovskyi, who conducted dozens of autopsies on people from Bucha, Irpin and Borodianka, told the Guardian: “We already have several cases that show that these Women were raped before being shot.”
At least two men have been charged with sexual assault and rape on a list of alleged Russian war criminals released by Ukrainian prosecutors.
In his report to the Security Council, Moses also pointed to “the use of explosive weapons by the Russian Federation with large-area effects in populated areas”, which he said was “a source of great harm and suffering to civilians”.
The UN has stressed that some of the attacks investigated by the panel “were carried out without distinguishing between civilians and combatants,” including cluster munition attacks, which are banned by most countries in the world under a 2008 treaty.
Russian troops have been accused of using a number of illegal weapons to kill hundreds of civilians in Ukraine’s Kyiv region since the start of the Moscow invasion, including extremely powerful unguided bombs in a populated area that destroyed at least eight Civil buildings.
There is evidence that cluster munitions were released in areas without military personnel and military infrastructure.
The committee’s work could eventually help the work of prosecutors at the International Criminal Court, who can bring charges against Ukraine for war crimes, although it remains uncertain whether Russia or the other alleged perpetrators will face justice.
In a separate development on Friday, Ukrainian officials said they had exhumed some 436 bodies from a cemetery in the recently recaptured city of Izium, of which at least 30 showed signs of torture.
“It’s certainly a novel event, but of course we also intend to investigate the Izium incident,” Mose said.