UN cites growing evidence of war crimes in Ukraine, British police examining allegations

Ukrainian experts investigate the place and the machinery of the Russian military group in Kyiv, Ukraine, on April 21, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

LONDON (REUTERS) - The United Nations human rights office sounded the alarm on Friday (April 22) about growing evidence of war crimes in Ukraine, urging both Moscow and Kyiv to order combatants to respect international law.

“Russian armed forces have indiscriminately shelled and bombed populated areas, killing civilians and wrecking hospitals, schools and other civilian infrastructure, actions that may amount to war crimes,” the office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Michelle Bachelet said.

UN human rights monitors in Ukraine have also documented what appeared to be the use of weapons with indiscriminate effects, causing civilian casualties, by Ukrainian armed forces in the east of the country, OHCHR said in a statement.

Russia denies targeting civilians or committing any such war crimes.

The OHCHR said that from the start of the war on Feb 24 until April 20, monitors in Ukraine had verified 5,264 civilian casualties – 2,345 killed and 2,919 injured.

Of these, 92.3 per cent were recorded in government-controlled territory. Some 7.7 per cent of casualties were recorded in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions controlled by Russian armed forces and affiliated armed groups, it added.

“We know the actual numbers are going to be much higher as the horrors inflicted in areas of intense fighting, such as Mariupol, come to light, Ms Bachelet said.

“The scale of summary executions of civilians in areas previously occupied by Russian forces are also emerging. The preservation of evidence and decent treatment of mortal remains must be ensured, as well as psychological and other relief for victims and their relatives,” she added.

During a mission to Bucha on April 9, UN human rights officers documented the unlawful killing, including by summary execution, of around 50 civilians, it said.

They have received more than 300 allegations of killings of civilians in the regions of Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy, all under the control of Russian armed forces in late February and early March, it added.

Monitors were looking into allegations of sexual violence by members of the Russian armed forces, and reports that both sides were improperly detaining civilians, it said.

However, asked about allegations of genocide – including by US President Joe Biden – spokesman Ravina Shamdasani said OHCHR had not found information to back this up.

“A lot of these legal qualifications – crimes against humanity and genocide – at the end of the day would be for a court of law to determine but, no, we have not documented patterns that could amount to that,” she told an online briefing in Geneva.

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British police said on Friday they were gathering evidence after receiving about 50 reports of alleged war crimes following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

London's Metropolitan Police War Crimes Team said its specialist detectives were assessing some 50 referrals made since the start of the conflict as part of action in support of an International Criminal Court investigation.

"We've had around 50 referrals into us and we expect that number to grow over the coming weeks as more and more people who fled from Ukraine arrive here in the UK," said Detective Chief Superintendent Dominic Murphy from London police's Counter Terrorism Command.

The United States and European countries, including Britain, have accused Russian forces of war crimes since the invasion of Ukraine on Feb 24.

Russia, which says it has launched a "special military operation" to "denazify" Ukraine, has rejected the allegations, accusing the West of faking evidence to smear its army.

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