UN Investigators Accuse Russia of ‘Horrific Treatment’ of Ukrainian POWs, Civilians

GENEVA — U.N. investigators have accused Russian authorities of disregarding basic human rights principles and causing untold suffering to Ukrainian prisoners of war and civilians by subjecting them to appalling treatment.

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine submitted its latest report to the U.N. Human Rights Council this week. The investigators presented a blistering account of “violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law, and corresponding war crimes,” committed by Russia in Ukrainian areas under its control.

At a news briefing Friday in Geneva, Commission Chair Erik Mose said the report focuses on torture against Ukrainian prisoners of war and describes “horrific treatment” of POWs in several detention facilities in the Russian Federation.

He said new evidence “strengthens the commission’s previous findings that torture used by Russian authorities in Ukraine and the Russian Federation has been widespread and systematic. … Victims’ accounts disclose relentless, brutal treatment inflicting severe pain and suffering during prolonged detention with blatant disregard for human dignity. This has led to long-lasting physical and mental trauma,” he said.

Commission Chair Mose told journalists that the Russian authorities have received the report and have had an opportunity to comment on the draft.

“We have noted with regret that the Russians have not responded to any of the drafts that we have sent them during this reporting period, nor have they done so this time,” he said.

The commission will officially present the report Monday at a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting. Russia has the right to respond but has often boycotted such meetings in the past.

The report covers the period from April 2023 to March 2024. During that period, the commission traveled to Ukraine 16 times, visited 34 settlements in nine provinces and interviewed 816 people.

Allegations of torture

Mose said that the commission examined credible reports concerning torture in 11 detention facilities, seven in areas under Russian control in Ukraine and four in the Russian Federation.

He said the prisoners of war in the centers were subjected “to beatings, verbal abuse, and electronic devices that were used on body parts,” adding that the picture emerging from the way they were treated over long periods of time “enables us to use the word horrific.”

The report documents incidents of rape and other sexual violence committed against women “in circumstances which also amount to torture.” It also details incidents of torture with “a sexualized dimension” and threats of rape against male prisoners of war, under the control of prison guards.

Vrinda Grover, a commission member, said “there also were incidents of touching of certain body parts of male prisoners, which was considered very humiliating.”

She said the commission found that Russian soldiers raped and sexually assaulted girls and women, ages 15 to 83, usually during house searches “in the presence of family members.”

“These are violations of international human rights, as well as the war crime of rape and sexual violence,” she said.


The report also assesses the grave impact on civilians of the fighting in the three-month siege of Mariupol, which began the day Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.

“Residents describe unbearable suffering during relentless shelling and aerial bombardments, which caused large-scale death, injury, and destruction,” said Mose.

He said people interviewed recalled seeing large numbers of dead bodies on the streets.

“One woman who fled on foot to a neighboring village called it the road to death, expressing the pervasive feeling of fear,” he said.

For the first time, the commission has documented attacks by Russian authorities affecting cultural property and the seizure of cultural objects. In one case, it says Russian authorities transferred cultural objects from the Kherson Regional Art Museum to the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.

Grover said, “The commission has concluded that Russian authorities violated international humanitarian law relating to cultural property and committed the war crime of seizing the enemy’s property.”

Transfer of children

One of the most emotive issues facing the Ukrainian people is Russia’s forcible transfer of Ukrainian children to areas under its control. The Ukrainian government estimates some 20,000 children have been taken from Ukraine to Russia, given Russian citizenship and put up for adoption by Russian families.

The commission says its investigations found “additional evidence concerning the unlawful transfer of children to areas under Russian control.” In its current report, the commission focuses on the case of a group of 46 Ukrainian children from the Kherson Regional Children’s Home to Crimea, “on orders of Russian authorities, on 21 October 2022.”

Grover said the commission has concluded that the transfer to Crimea “was not temporary and hence amounts to the war crime of unlawful transfer.”

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