The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Tuesday condemned audio recordings that emerged over the weekend, which appear to show figures connected to both sides of the war in Ukraine ordering combatants not to take prisoners of war or else to execute those captured.
As originally reported by the Kiev Independent, Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin posted a Telegram audio recording on April 23 in which he declared, “We will kill everyone on the battlefield. Take no more prisoners of the war!” Prigozhin said this in response to another recording posted to a Wagner-affiliated Telegram channel, which allegedly to contained “intercepted” audio of a Ukrainian armed forces member ordering the summary execution of a captured Wagner Group mercenary. The authenticity of the recording is not verified.
Executing prisoners hors de combat (out of combat) constitutes a war crime under the Geneva Conventions, as do “give no quarter” combat orders and declarations. The UN Human Rights Office’s press release called on Russian and Ukrainian authorities to “comply with their obligations under international law to investigate the statements in these recordings and to identify and prosecute those responsible.” It also called on military commanders and other superiors to issue “clear and unambiguous orders” to respect international law obligations regarding prisoners of war and persons hors de combat.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has been marked by human rights abuses, including those towards prisoners of war. Last week, a former Wagner mercenary admitted to killing and torturing prisoners of war throughout his six months of fighting in a telephone interview. He described battlefield executions en masse, including the killing of children, and recounted an episode in which Ukrainian POWs were killed by “tossing grenades” into the ditch where they were held.
Other recently reported war crimes and human rights violations in the conflict include the alleged unlawful detention and torture of Kherson residents by Russian forces, as well as forced conscriptions, attacks against civilians and the forced deportation of Ukrainian children which led to an ICC arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin.