Ukraine: UN human rights investigation highlights civilian plight

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The United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine has confirmed that more than 3,380 civilians have been killed since February 24, and more than 3,680 injured.

“We heard of rooftop snipers shooting randomly at civilians as they crossed the road. I guess it was a way of keeping people at home and discouraging them from going out,” mission chief Matilda Bogner said.

Summary executions

Once human rights monitors can safely access frontline sites, the actual death toll is expected to be in the thousands, including in the devastated port city of Mariupol in southern country, Ms Bogner added.

“During my recent visit to towns north of Kyiv, we documented a number of cases of sexual violence. In a city […] a woman was raped and killed, allegedly by a Russian soldier. The same soldier then tried to rape his neighbour. This woman’s husband intervened but was shot dead by the soldier. He died afterwards,” said the head of mission.

In Boutcha and other suburban towns north of the capital, which were overrun by Russian troops, human rights investigators recorded the unlawful killing of more than 300 men, women and children.

“These include summary executions and people shot either in vehicles or while crossing roads, etc,” Ms. Bogner said.

Boutcha came to international attention in early April after footage showed the bodies of civilians lying in the street, some with their hands tied behind their backs.

Sleep standing up

Before speaking to reporters in Geneva, Bogner and her team spent the past week visiting 14 towns in the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions that were occupied by Russian armed forces until the end of March.

“People told us of relatives, neighbors and friends killed, injured, detained and missing,” she said.

“In Makariv (Kyiv oblast), a family of five was targeted by Russian armed forces as they tried to drive away with their neighbours. Unfortunately, only two of them survived,” shared the human rights defender.

In the village of Yahidne, in the Chernihiv region of central Ukraine, Ms Bogner described her encounter with a 70-year-old man, who had spent 24 days sheltering in the basement of a school .

“He told us with tears in his eyes that he shared a 76 square meter room with 138 people, the youngest of whom was only two months old. The space was so crowded that he had to sleep standing up, so he tied himself to wooden rails to keep from falling,” she said.

Search for the missing

Many Ukrainians continue to search for missing relatives and friends – mostly young men – some of whom may have been taken to Belarus and then to Russia, the UN official said.

It also took note of the credible information received on the torture, ill-treatment and detention of Ukrainian soldiers by the Russian armed forces and affiliated groups.

The high number of non-combatant casualties and the massive destruction of civilian infrastructure clearly indicate that the attacks are being carried out indiscriminately, which violates the rules of war, Ms. Bogner said.

She noted that schools, hospitals, private homes and multi-storey apartment buildings had been destroyed and hundreds of educational and medical facilities had been damaged or leveled.

“In many areas, armed forces from both sides have used schools as bases and placed heavy military equipment in the vicinity,” the human rights official added.

Next special session on human rights

Ms. Bogner’s comments were made ahead of a special session of the Human Rights Council on Ukraine, scheduled for Thursday in Geneva.

The Council has convened 34 special sessions to date.

During an emergency debate on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine during the last ordinary session, members decided to establish an independent international commission of inquiry to investigate all alleged violations of the human rights surrounding this attack.

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