UN rights inquiry finds Russia has committed ‘indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks’ in Ukraine

A new report Thursday released by the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine found Russian forces in Ukraine have conducted “indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks” against civilians in violation of international humanitarian law. The commission described the people in Ukraine as living under “a climate of unbearable uncertainty and fear” and urged further investigation and accountability.

The commission found that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine amounts to an act of aggression against Ukraine. Beyond that, the commission identified numerous violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed by the Russian forces during the hostilities and occupation of Ukraine.

During hostilities, Russia relied heavily on explosive weapons, especially in some of Ukraine’s most densely populated areas. The commission found that many of these attacks were indiscriminate and disproportionate as “they were initiated with an apparent disregard for the presence of…civilians.” The commission also emphasized that some explosives were used to systematically target Ukraine’s energy infrastructure. As a result of these attacks, both directly and indirectly, the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights estimates that explosives are responsible for approximately 90.3 percent of civilian casualties.

The commission also documented patterns of willful killings, unlawful confinement, torture, rape, sexual and gender-based violence as well as unlawful transfers of detainees and children in Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine. The commission noted that Russia tended to target Ukrainians they felt supported Ukrainian forces or in any way opposed Russian forces. Some of the worst instances of torture occurred in areas that Russian forces held for longer periods of time, as they were able to establish dedicated detention facilities. The commission named individuals involved as belonging to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), Russian National Guard and Russian-aligned armed groups from the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine.

The commission also detailed how, once Russia came to occupy certain regions of Ukraine, they violated international humanitarian law. Specifically, the commission referred to the “so-called referendums” held in the occupied regions of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia. Though Russia claimed the referendums showed an overwhelming civilian support to formally join Russia, the commission said that Russia unlawfully annexed the regions. International law holds that “[n]o territorial acquisition resulting from the threat of use of force shall be recognized as legal.”

The commission also noted that “in a limited number of cases” Ukrainian forces were responsible for violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including some that may qualify as war crimes.

In response to their findings, the commission recommends Russia and Ukraine respect and comply with international law, provide the Red Cross access to affected persons, and conduct impartial and transparent investigations and prosecutions into all alleged violations of human rights and international law. The commission also issued specific recommendations for Russia and Ukraine pertaining to the various violations uncovered in the report.