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International Commission uncovers war crimes and human rights violations in Ukraine amidst widespread destruction

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine (IICIU) has released a report detailing its investigation into the conflict in Ukraine. The report, submitted to the Human Rights Council, revealed that Russian authorities have committed numerous violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in several regions of Ukraine and within the Russian Federation.

According to the report, many of these violations amount to war crimes, including wilful killings, attacks on civilians, unlawful confinement, torture, rape, and forced transfers and deportations of children. The IICIU has documented indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks carried out by Russian armed forces, demonstrating a flagrant disregard for civilian safety and well-being, in violation of international humanitarian law.

The Commission investigated 25 individual attacks with explosive weapons in populated areas across nine regions of Ukraine, both in territory controlled by the Ukrainian government and areas controlled by Russian authorities. The majority of these attacks were determined to be indiscriminate, as they used methods or means that could not be directed at a specific military objective or whose effects could not be limited as required. Russian armed forces were found to have launched or likely launched the majority of these attacks, while a small number of indiscriminate attacks were likely committed by Ukrainian armed forces.

The IICIU also documented the barrage of attacks targeting Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, starting on October 10, 2022. These attacks were found to be disproportionate, widespread, and systematic. The use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas has been one of the main causes of civilian casualties, with the OHCHR estimating that 90.3% of civilian casualties were caused by explosive weapons. These attacks have damaged or destroyed thousands of residential buildings, over 3,000 educational institutions, and more than 600 medical facilities.

The systematic targeting of energy-related installations has, during certain periods, deprived large portions of the civilian population of electricity, water and sanitation, heating, and telecommunications, and has hampered access to health and education. The Commission has documented considerable civilian harm and observed first-hand the damage to buildings and infrastructure, being particularly struck by the extent of the destruction in the cities of Kharkiv, Chernihiv, and Izium.

While the Commission has not been able to visit the city of Mariupol, it has interviewed over 30 civilians who were in the city during the Russian armed forces’ siege and bombardment. They reported intensive shelling and airstrikes, including on civilian buildings, and described the use of explosive weapons during this period as “constant” and “never-ending”. Photos, videos, and satellite imagery corroborate the widespread destruction of residential areas, with civilians left without basic services during that time.

In light of these findings, the Commission is calling for a comprehensive approach to accountability that encompasses both criminal responsibility and the victims’ rights to truth, reparation, and non-repetition. It urges that all violations and crimes be investigated and those responsible be held accountable, either at the national or international level.

This report highlights the urgency for justice and accountability in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. As the international community grapples with the ramifications of these findings, the need for a swift and effective response to protect civilians and prevent further atrocities becomes increasingly apparent.