Ukraine: UN Human Rights Council considers war crimes investigation in Kyiv

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The UN Human Rights Council is set to decide on Thursday whether to greenlight an investigation into alleged abuses by Russian troops in the vicinity of the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, which could be a war crime.

At a special session of the council on Thursday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said her team had collected evidence of hundreds of Ukrainian civilians being killed by Russian troops and was investigating allegations of “war crimes”.

“The level of extrajudicial killings, including indications of brief executions in the area north of Kiev, is alarming,” Bachelet said in a video message to the council. “These killings of civilians often appear to be intentional, carried out by snipers and soldiers.”

More than a thousand civilian bodies have been recovered in the Kyiv region alone, he said. In early April, Russian troops retreated from areas around the Ukrainian capital that they had occupied at the start of the war, leaving bodies on the streets and leaving residents behind.

Bachelet said civilians were killed while searching for food or water or fleeing in their vehicles, and some unarmed locals were tortured before the killings. A UN mission monitoring mission visited 14 towns and villages in the vicinity of Kyiv and the northern city of Chernihiv last week.

“This is the second OHCHR visit to the region, and it is hard for me to imagine how many visits would be needed to document only a fraction of the serious human rights violations that have taken place there,” Bachelet said.

The city of Mariupol, where Russian forces are entering the last Ukrainian holdout after an 11-week siege, remains inaccessible to international observers and investigators. Bachelet said he was “shocked by the scale of the destruction” and the violation of international law by Russian forces in the southern port city, where the United Nations estimates thousands of civilians have died.

Bachelet added that his office had investigated a dozen cases of sexual violence across the country and was looking into further allegations. Most of the victims quoted were women and girls, he said, although cases of sexual violence against men and boys have begun to emerge.

Ukraine accuses Russian troops of rape

In a video address to the Council, Ukraine’s Deputy Foreign Minister Emin Zhaparova condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as “purely horrific” and “pure evil.”

Japarova says Russia is committing “the worst human rights violations on the European continent in decades”.

More than 50 countries have backed a special session on Thursday to discuss the human rights situation in Ukraine. The Human Rights Council suspended Russia last month on charges of abuse since its aggression.

The 47-member council has decided to set up an international commission of inquiry into all alleged human rights violations during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in March. Members are weighing a resolution calling on the commission to examine events in the Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumi regions that were occupied by Russian troops in February and late March, “with the aim of holding those responsible accountable.”

The resolution called on Bachelet to give an update on Mariupol at the next session of the council in June.

Eric Moss, chairman of the three-member commission of inquiry, gave the council its first progress update on Thursday. The commission has spoken to state, international organizations and Ukrainian officials but has not been able to contact Russian officials, Moss said.

Moss stressed that the commission needed “adequate resources”, including the necessary staff and access to Ukraine to gather evidence. Investigators will share their findings with the council in September.

Ukraine, as well as the United States and other allies, have said the alleged abuses amount to war crimes. Russia denies targeting civilians

Other organizations, including the International Criminal Court, are investigating possible war crimes and human rights abuses during the war.

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