On September 23, 2022, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine (Commission of Inquiry), a United Nations body established to investigate all alleged violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law, and related crimes in the context of the aggression against Ukraine by the Russian Federation, provided updates on their investigations into human rights violations between February and March 2022, in four regions of Ukraine, Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy.
Having visited 27 towns and settlements, interviewed more than 150 victims and witnesses and inspected “sites of destruction, graves, places of detention and torture, as well as weapon remnants, and consulted a large number of documents and reports”, among others, the Commission of Inquiry concluded that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine.
The Commission of Inquiry has found that the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas is a source of immense harm and suffering for civilians. “We observed first-hand the damage that explosive weapons have caused to residential buildings and infrastructure, including schools and hospitals. In Kharkiv city, explosive weapons devastated entire areas of the city.” The Commission of Inquiry has found that a number of attacks they investigated “had been carried out without distinguishing between civilians and combatants… This included attacks with cluster munitions or multi-launch rocket systems and airstrikes in populated areas.”
The Commission of Inquiry confirmed that a third of the Ukrainian population has been forced to flee. One woman who fled Kharkiv region, told the team: “I don’t live, I just exist; I have nothing left in my soul.”
The Commission of Inquiry found evidence of a large number of executions in the areas they visited and investigated. As they report, “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.” Some witnesses reported “beatings, electric shocks, and forced nudity, as well as other types of violations in […] detention facilities” after they were transferred to prisons in Russia.
The Commission of Inquiry has found that some Russian Federation soldiers committed sexual and gender-based violence, including sexual violence, torture, and cruel and inhuman treatment. As they add, “In the cases we have investigated, the age of victims of sexual and gendered-based violence ranged from four to 82 years.” They documented cases in which “children have been raped, tortured, and unlawfully confined. Children have also been killed and injured in indiscriminate attacks with explosive weapons.”
The Commission of Inquiry will continue investigating the atrocities and seeks to investigate also other violations, including the destruction of civilian infrastructure; the appropriation or destruction of economic resources; violations of the right to food; and the legality of changes in local administration, which may have far-reaching consequences.
Russia was not represented in the room as the Commission of Inquiry was updating the United Nations.
Following the update from the Commission of Inquiry, several Permanent Missions to the United Nations spoke about Putin’s atrocities in Ukraine, among others, the atrocities against children, their forcible deportations to Russia and illegal adoptions. They call for urgent action.