UN accuses Russia of human rights violations against Ukraine

GENEVA — The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights accuses Russia of serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian laws in its war against Ukraine.

A new report by the OHCHR warns Russia’s armed attack and occupation of Ukrainian territory will have long-lasting consequences for Ukraine and its population at a time when global attention on the critical situation appears to be waning.

“Despite harrowing stories of human suffering unfolding every day in Ukraine, I fear that the world has grown numb to this crisis,” Volker Türk, U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said Tuesday.

In a bleak assessment of the situation, Türk told the U.N. Human Rights Council, “It is now over two years since the Russian Federation launched its full-scale armed attack on the country. Two years of immense suffering, bloodshed, loss and grief. Countless families have been separated.”

He noted more than 10,500 civilians have been reported killed and more than 20,000 injured.

“The actual figures are likely significantly higher,” he said.

The report, which covers the period from December 1, 2023, to February 29, says the war continues to cause devastating civilian harm in large-scale attacks through “missiles and loitering munitions launched by Russian armed forces across Ukraine.”

It says this is causing a spike in civilian casualties, “reversing the otherwise general downward trend in civilian casualties throughout 2023.”

This year marks 10 years since Russia illegally annexed the Crimean Peninsula, a period during which people in Crimea have been “charged and convicted … for acts that are not crimes under Ukrainian law,” according to the report.

“Russian Federation citizenship has been broadly imposed,” Türk said. “Russian authorities have conscripted male residents of Crimea into the Russian armed forces, eventually forcing them to fight against their own country.”

He said Ukrainian children have been deprived of an education in their own language and people have been denied the right to freely express their opinion.

“The violations we documented in occupied Crimea foreshadowed what we now see evolving in Ukrainian territory occupied by the Russian Federation following its full-scale armed attack,” said the human rights commissioner.

“In the last two years, Russian armed forces have committed widespread violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including unlawful killings, torture, enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention,” he said, adding that these violations have occurred with impunity.

“There has been nowhere to seek justice, nowhere to turn for an effective remedy,” he said. “The cumulative effect of these actions has been to create a pervasive climate of fear, which has allowed the Russian Federation to solidify its control.”

In the reporting period, OHCHR officials interviewed 60 Ukrainian prisoners of war who recently had been released from Russian captivity during a POW exchange. They said the POWs provided credible, detailed accounts of having been tortured, subjected to beatings, electric shocks, threats of execution, sexual violence and other harsh treatment.

The OHCHR recorded 12 cases of executions of at least 32 captured Ukrainian POWs. It has verified three of these incidents in which Russian service members executed seven Ukrainian service members.

“In this same period, my office interviewed 44 Russian POWs in Ukrainian captivity,” said Türk. “While they did not complain about the treatment and conditions in established places of detention, several of them described instances of torture and ill-treatment in transit places after they were evacuated from the battlefield.”

The high commissioner said the tragedy in Ukraine has gone on for too long and called on the Russian Federation to cease its armed attacks.

“The violations of international humanitarian and human rights law by the Russian armed forces and administrative officials in occupied territory must stop at once,” he said.

Russia boycotted the meeting and informed the council president that it “did not wish to take the floor as a concerned country.”

Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva had no such misgivings. Filipenko Yevheniia sharply criticized Russia and its “systematic deprivation of fundamental rights and freedoms in Crimea and occupied parts of Donbas and other Ukrainian territories.”

“By inflicting significant demographic changes through forced displacement and deliberate replacement of the population, Russia is purposely altering the fabric of the society to cement its occupation in gross violation of international humanitarian law,” she said.

“By torturing, arbitrarily detaining civilians, by abducting and indoctrinating Ukrainian children, Russia openly and shamefully commits war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

The Ukrainian ambassador called on U.N. member states “to condemn Russian terrorist attacks” and to send a clear message to the Kremlin “that the international community is not turning a blind eye to the invasion of a sovereign state, the killing of civilians and the destruction of critical infrastructure.”

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