“The Russian Federation's invasion of Ukraine has thrown us back to an archaic era. An era when a neighboring country’s territory could be attacked and taken, at will, as one’s own. When the identity and history of communities could be denied, and reality rewritten,” Türk said.
“The UN Charter was supposed to put an end to such atavistic thinking. But today, a nation is struggling to survive. After 13 months of the Russian Federation's war against Ukraine, severe violations of human rights and international humanitarian law have become shockingly routine,” the High Commissioner said.
“Using the rigorous methodology of my Office, our staff have verified more than 8,400 civilian deaths, and over 14,000 civilians wounded, since 24 February 2022. These figures are just the tip of the iceberg. Most of the casualties resulted from Russian forces' use of wide-impact explosive weaponry in residential neighborhoods,” he said.
“In occupied areas of Ukraine, we have documented numerous summary executions and targeted attacks on civilians since February 2022 by Russia’s military forces, including affiliated armed groups, such as the Wagner Group. We have also documented 621 cases of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention,” the High Commissioner said.
During the same period, the UN Human Rights Office documented 91 cases of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention by Ukrainian security forces. Of the 73 victims interviewed, 53 per cent had been tortured or ill-treated. The Office also documented 24 cases of sexual violence by Ukrainian personnel; most of these consisted of threats of sexual violence during initial stages of detention, as well as forced public stripping.
Türk also spoke about the transfers of Ukrainian civilians, noting that they may constitute violations of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits forcible transfers to occupied territory, or deportations to any other country, regardless of their motive.
“Ukrainian civilians have been transferred to occupied territory or to the Russian Federation. They include children and adults who had been housed in social care institutions, as well as unaccompanied children living in areas of Ukraine occupied or temporarily controlled by Russian forces,” the High Commissioner said.
The UN Human Rights Office has interviewed more than 400 prisoners of war, on both sides. Ukraine, to its credit, the High Commissioner said, had provided unfettered and confidential access to places of internment.
“The Russian Federation, however, gave us no access, despite multiple requests, meaning that interviews with Ukrainian POWs could take place only after they had been released,” Türk said, stressing that this lack of access meant that numbers of cases ought not to be compared against each other.
“More than 90 per cent of Ukrainian POWs that my Office interviewed said that they were tortured or ill-treated, notably in penitentiary facilities, including through so-called ‘welcoming beatings’ on their arrival, as well as frequent acts of torture throughout detention” Türk said.
“Almost half of the Russian POWs who were interviewed indicated that they had been tortured or ill-treated. Most of these acts of torture reportedly occurred soon after capture. We did not find a sustained pattern of severe ill-treatment in more permanent places of internment,” the High Commissioner said.
The UN Human Rights Office documented the summary execution by Russian personnel of Ukrainian prisoners of war shortly after their capture, with one victim severely mutilated before he was killed. The Office continues to gather and analyse information about the devastating incident in Olenivka, in July 2022, in which at least 50 Ukrainian POWs were killed.
The Office also documented the summary execution by Ukrainian armed forces of Russian POWs and personnel hors de combat, immediately following their capture.
International humanitarian law encapsulates minimum core values that, in the most distressing circumstances, preserve our humanity, the High Commissioner said.
“Even amid the bloodshed of war, the rules of international humanitarian law especially protect the lives and dignity of civilians, wounded and sick soldiers, and prisoners of war. Nobody is above these laws,” Türk stated.
And yet for the woman with disabilities who is unable to leave her house under heavy shelling; for the tens of thousands whose lives and bodies are being torn apart; for prisoners of war who are tortured and deprived of medical care; for children growing up in terror – these laws are violated daily.
“I speak for many when I say that I will never forget the photographs of a dying, heavily pregnant woman being carried on a stretcher from the bombed-out ruins of a Mariupol maternity hospital in March 2022. All these victims have a right to justice – and to a just peace,” the High Commissioner said.
“At a time when humanity faces overwhelming existential challenges, this destructive war is tugging us away from the work of building solutions – the work of ensuring our survival.
This war defies any reason. This madness must end, and peace be found, in line with the UN Charter and international law,” Türk stated.
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