Ukraine Ambassador to the UN Yevheniia Filipenko called for an inquiry Monday into alleged war crimes perpetrated by Russia as its invasion of Ukraine unfolds. Filipenko said: “Russian forces’ attempt to sow panic among the population by specifically targeting kindergartens and orphanages, hospitals and mobile medical aid brigades thus committing acts that may amount to war crime.”
The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) also voted early Monday to hold an emergency debate on Thursday regarding Russia’s military actions. Filipenko informed the UNHRC that, according to the Ukrainian Ministry of Health, 352 Ukrainians have died during the invasion. This figure includes 16 children, and an additional 160 children have been injured.
According to Reuters, Ukraine will present a draft resolution during the debate. If the resolution is accepted, “a commission of three independent experts would investigate all alleged violations of international law in Crimea and the Donetsk and Luhansk regions since 2014 and in other areas of Ukraine since Russia’s invasion last week.” The HRC will hold informal consultations on the draft resolution on Wednesday.
The UN defines war crimes according to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The statute’s definition includes “[i]ntentionally directing attacks against the civilian population as such or against individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities.”
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported “at least 240 civilian casualties, including at least 64 dead” as of February 26. Additionally, infrastructure damages has forced the internal displacement of at least 160,000 people and caused at least 116,000 people to flee across an international border. The report estimates that Russia’s invasion could generate 5 million refugees in the “worst-case scenario.” Several specific attacks have raised allegations of warm crimes.
In one instance, Amnesty International accused Russian forces of using cluster munitions during a February 25 attack on a preschool in Okhtyrka, a north-eastern Ukrainian city. Three civilians died in the attack, including one child. Another child was wounded. Secretary-General of Amnesty International Agnès Callamard said: “There is no possible justification for dropping cluster munitions in populated areas, let alone near a school,” and the attack “shows flagrant disregard for civilian life.” Nearly 100 nations joined a 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions. However, Ukraine and Russia have not joined the treaty.
According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, cluster munitions consist of a container holding “large numbers of explosive submunitions.” The submunitions cannot be guided to a specific target and therefore “pose a significant danger to civilians.”
In another instance, Oleh Synehubov, head of the Kharkiv Regional State Administration, called daytime attacks on residential areas of Kharkiv a “war crime” in a Telegram message. He noted that Kharkiv does not house any “critical infrastructure” that may justify a strategic attack. At the time of his message, Synehubov reported 11 dead civilians and dozens wounded.
Alexander S. Vindman, former Director for European Affairs for the United States National Security Council, commented on the Kharkiv strikes, saying Russia “will increasingly resort to the tactics employed in their other recent conflicts and the human toll will be awful.” Vindman, who was born in present-day Kyiv, called Kharkiv’s citizens “irreplaceable.”
The UN Security Council also held an emergency session on Russia and Ukraine on Monday.