Russia’s “systemic and widespread” practice of torture, rape and killing of civilians during its Ukraine invasion is tantamount to war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity, according to a UN-backed report.
The report, released Thursday, cited a raft of alleged Russian abuses, including accusations that children were forced to watch loved ones being raped, or detained near dead bodies.
The report also pointed to Russia’s ceaseless assaults on Ukraine’s power grid — robbing wide swaths of the population heat and electricity in winter — as another potential crime against humanity.
Though many of the abuses were public knowledge, the findings could bolster efforts to prosecute those who committed the atrocities either in International Criminal Court or individual countries’ judiciaries.
More than 8,000 civilians have died since the Russian invasion began in February 2022, according to the U.N. Human Rights Office.
Erik Møse, the former Norwegian Supreme Court and European Court of Human Rights judge who led the probe, said investigators have a list of those they want to hold accountable.
“The ongoing armed conflict in Ukraine has had devastating effects at various levels,” Møse said during a press briefing. “Human losses and the general disregard for the life of civilians… are shocking.”
But he acknowledged investigations could be difficult since Russia is a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
The report also noted a “small number” of apparent violations by Ukrainian soldiers — including an incident Ukrainian authorities are investigating as a crime, the authors said.
Most of the report’s outrage was levelled at President Vladimir Putin’s armies.
Russia did not respond to the inquiry’s requests for information, but has denied committing the atrocities or killing civilians.
“We are ready to analyze specific cases, answer questions, provide data, statistics and facts,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said during her weekly press briefing in Moscow, referring to the report. “But if they are biased, if they represent only one point of view … then there is no use responding to these reports.”
The report was released on the one-year anniversary of a Russian airstrike on a Mariupol theater that killed hundreds of Ukrainians using it as a bomb shelter.
The commission of inquiry that compiled the report is a powerful tool used by the UN–backed Human Rights Council to investigate abuses around the globe. Its three members are experts in human rights.
The 18-page report will be presented next week to the Geneva Human Rights Council.