UN human rights expert warns of arbitrary detentions and mass civilian displacement in Ukraine

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet Tuesday warned that arbitrary detentions and mass displacement of civilians as a result of the Russian war in Ukraine have become widespread. In response, experts suggest timely and effective investigation into all allegations of human rights violations in the area is imperative.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Bachelet and her Office (OHCHR) have tracked human rights violations in the area. On Tuesday, Bachelet spoke before the UN Human Rights Council to update them on the situation in Ukraine. The information Bachelet revealed to the council was gathered during 11 field visits, 3 detention center visits and 517 interviews with victims and witnesses, among other OHCHR sources.

As of July 3, the OHCHR has documented over 10,000 civilian deaths or injuries across Ukraine, including 4,889 deaths. Bachelet stressed to the council that the figures are likely higher. Explosive weapons, such as multiple launch rocket systems, are likely responsible for a large volume of the recorded injuries and deaths. Additionally, over 8 million civilians have been displaced from Ukraine, with a disproportionate amount of those affected including women, children, the elderly and those with disabilities. Additionally, for those who have remained in Ukraine, the OHCHR documented 400 damaged or destroyed medical and educational facilities–again, the numbers are likely higher.

Bachelet raised alarms over tactics used by both Russian and Ukrainian forces in the conflict. In addition to the placement of military objectives near civilians and the use of human shields, Bachelet cited unlawful killings, arbitrary detentions, torture, forced conscription, sexual violence and further potential for undocumented violence. To date, the OHCHR has documented 270 cases of arbitrary detentions in areas controlled by Russia, with 8 victims found dead. There has been an additional 12 documented cases of enforced disappearance conducted by Ukrainian law enforcement, which, coupled with the arrest of over 1,000 Russian armed forces, may constitute a violation of international human rights. The OHCHR also documented 28 cases of sexual violence, including rape, gang rape, torture, forced public stripping and threats of sexual violence in areas controlled by both Russia and Ukraine.

In closing, Bachelet called for the violations to cease and urged the international community to ensure compliance with humanitarian law: “In the name of every victim of this senseless war, the killings, the torture, the arbitrary detentions must stop.”