UN human rights monitors have documented dozens of summary killings of Ukrainian and Russian prisoners of war, as well as other possible war crimes such as the use of torture, human shields and other abuses against POWs since Russia invaded its neighbour, according to a new report.
The first full look by the UN human rights office’s mission in Ukraine at the treatment of POWs was released along with an update of human rights violations overall from a six-month period that ran through to January.
The report was based on interviews with about 400 POWs – half Ukrainians who had been released and the other half Russians held captive in Ukraine.
The team said it had no access to POWs held in Russia or in Russia-occupied parts of Ukraine where it identified 48 internment sites.
The mission said it nonetheless documented some 40 summary executions over the course of the 13-month war.
The UN rights office, which has had a monitoring team in Ukraine since fighting broke out in areas of eastern Ukraine claimed by Russia-backed separatists in 2014, has said its findings are based on confirmed cases and typically understate actual tolls.
The reporting from the world body is part of a meticulous effort to uncover details and determine the truth behind reports of atrocities and violations of the law of war committed during the current conflict.
The UN’s documentation may be introduced as evidence for possible trials at the International Criminal Court, whose prosecutor is looking into accounts of killings and child abductions, or by other tribunals.
“We are deeply concerned about the summary execution of up to 25 Russian prisoners of war and persons ordered to combat by Ukrainian armed forces, which we have documented,” Matilda Bogner, the head of the UN monitoring mission, said at a Kyiv news conference.
Ms Bogner laid out abuses allegedly committed by both sides but noted that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was at the root of the violence against civilians and POWs.
She said Ukrainian prosecutors were investigating some cases, but none had been taken yet to court.
“In relation to the treatment of Ukrainian prisoners of war, we are also deeply concerned by the summary execution of 15 Ukrainian prisoners of war shortly after being captured by Russian armed forces,” Ms Bogner said. “The Wagner Group – military and security contractors – perpetrated 11 of these executions.”
It also documented five cases in which Ukrainian POWs had died after being tortured or otherwise ill-treated, and four cases of death due to a lack of medical attention during internment.
The report found that while torture and ill treatment of POWs took place on both sides, it was far more common against Ukrainians – more than nine in 10 of interviewees reported such abuse – than against Russians, about half of whom testified to such mistreatment.