The Independent International Commission of Inquiry into Ukraine reported this Friday to the United Nations Human Rights Council, that Russian forces have committed war crimes during the invasion of the neighbouring country.
The UN has made investigating human rights violations in the war a priority, and in May its main human rights body ordered a team of experts to begin work in the country.
Since then, UN investigators have risked their lives to collect evidence of crimes perpetrated against civilians, including in areas still threatened by enemy forces or strewn with mines.
The team of three independent experts delivered its first oral update to the UN human rights council on Friday after it launched initial investigations in the areas of Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy regions, adding that it would expand its investigations.
Erik Mose, the head of the investigation team said that Russian soldiers committed crimes of sexual and gender-based violence, and documented cases of children raped, tortured, illegally confined, killed and injured in indiscriminate attacks with explosive weapons.
“We were shocked by the large number of executions carried out in the areas we visited” in June, Mose said, detailing that the commission is investigating these murders in 16 Ukrainian towns during the Russian offensive, which began on February 24.
Many of those executed were people previously detained and whose bodies were found with their hands tied behind their backs, head injuries and cuts to the neck, which indicates that they were summary executions, Mose said.
“The recent discovery of more mass graves – for example in the city of Izium, in the northeast of the country occupied for months by Russian forces – illustrates the seriousness of the situation,” added the commission’s president.
“The use by the Russian Federation of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas was a source of immense harm and suffering to civilians” – Erik Møse.
Cases of sexual and gender-based violence by soldiers reached people between the ages of four and 82 and, in some cases, family members were forced to watch the victims be mistreated or tortured.
Witnesses told the commission that after being arrested and locked up they were subjected to beatings, electric shocks and forcibly stripped naked during the duration of the illegal detentions, and were also transferred from Ukraine to Russian territory.
Mose said his commission also carefully collected and investigated two incidents of mistreatment of Russian soldiers by Ukrainian forces.
The presentation of the report generated a debate in which the representatives of almost all the 47 countries that make up the Council took part.
Russia was not present in the room to speak as an interesting country. Ukraine, as a concerned country, said that the commission’s report “will become an important milestone on the way to accountability for Russia’s crimes against the Ukrainian people.”
In parallel, UN Women, the United Nations entity for gender equality and the empowerment of women, released a report that reveals how the war in Ukraine, and its global impacts, disproportionately affect women and girls both within the country and around the world.
The war has widened gender gaps in hunger, poverty, and lack of access to education, and has also increased gender-based violence.
For example, school-age girls are now at greater risk of being forced to drop out of school and marry, as a way for desperate families to simply make ends meet.
Women have also reduced their own food intake, so that other family members can have more, amid rising prices and food shortages.
Ukrainian female-headed households were already more food insecure before the war, with 37.5% of them experiencing moderate or severe levels of food deprivation, compared to 20.5% of male-headed households.
UN Women also estimates that some 265,000 Ukrainian women were pregnant when the war broke out and have had to endure physical and health problems in recent months.
Rural women in the Russian-occupied territories are unable to do agricultural work due to widespread insecurity and lack of resources but must host internally displaced persons, multiplying their responsibilities in providing care and carrying out work unpaid domestic.
An “alarming increase” in gender-based violence, transactional sex for food and survival, sexual exploitation and human trafficking is noted, not only in Ukraine but around the world, amid worsening conditions of life.
The analysis concludes that, since women continue to bear different and additional burdens of war, they must be represented in all decision-making platforms on de-escalation, conflict prevention, mitigation of its impacts and other processes in search of peace and security.
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