GENEVA: According to a report released on Thursday by an inquiry backed by the United Nations, Russian attacks against civilians in Ukraine constitute war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity. These attacks include the systematic torture and killing of civilians in occupied regions.
It was highly unusual for a member of the UN Security Council to be singled out for criticism in a human rights report, but that is exactly what happened when it was released a year to the day after a Russian airstrike on a theater in Mariupol killed hundreds of sheltering inside.
Repeated attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure since fall have left hundreds of thousands without heat and electricity during the coldest months, and the “systematic and widespread” use of torture across multiple regions under Russian occupation have both been cited as potential crimes against humanity in the report.
The United Nations Human Rights Council’s most potent tool for investigating human rights violations is a commission of inquiry. The inquiry that was made public on Thursday was initiated during a heated debate shortly after Russia’s invasion last year.
Council and the UN human rights office provide funding and support for the commission’s staff of three independent human rights experts.
Although the authors of the report did mention a “small number” of apparent violations by Ukrainian forces—including one they claimed was under criminal investigation by Ukrainian authorities—they spent most of their time detailing allegations against Russia.
Russia did not reply to requests for comment from the inquiry.
While the majority of the abuses the investigation uncovered were not new information, the results have been sanctioned by the international community. The Human Rights Council, a group composed of the governments of 47 UN member countries, established the mandate under which the experts work last year.
In the end, the report could be useful in bolstering efforts to bring those responsible for war crimes to justice, whether that be the International Criminal Court or specific countries that have asserted the right to apply “universal jurisdiction” to prosecute atrocities wherever they may have occurred.