A team of experts commissioned by the UN’s top human rights body to look into rights violations in Ukraine say initial investigation turned up evidence of war crimes in the country following Russia’s offensive.

The investigators, who have so far only had time to probe abuses in the Kiev, Chernigiv, Kharkiv and Sumy regions, did not immediately address the latest discovery of mass graves in Izyum.
The investigators, who have so far only had time to probe abuses in the Kiev, Chernigiv, Kharkiv and Sumy regions, did not immediately address the latest discovery of mass graves in Izyum. (Reuters)

UN investigators have said that war crimes have been committed in the Ukraine conflict, listing allegedly Russian bombings of civilian areas, numerous executions, torture and sexual violence.

Speaking before the UN Human Rights Council on Friday, the head of a high-level investigative team listed a long line of serious violations committed since Russia launched its offensive of Ukraine seven months ago.

Erik Mose, the head of the Commission of Inquiry (COI) set up by the council in March, said the team had seen evidence of numerous executions, many people with their hands tied, and the rape and torture of children.

"Based on the evidence gathered by the Commission, it has concluded that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine," he said.

The categorical nature of the COI statement was unusual, as UN investigators typically refer the final confirmation of war crimes and similar violations to courts of law.

But the team of three independent experts, who were presenting their first verbal update to the council, said the evidence of widespread violations was clear.

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Executions, torture

Ukraine hailed the findings, with its foreign ministry ambassador-at-large Anton Korynevych telling the council via video link that it marked "an important milestone on a path to accountability for Russia's crimes against the people of Ukraine".

Russia's representative was absent from the room and did not respond to the report, although some countries did come to its defence, including Belarus, Syria and Venezuela.

Mose said the team had been especially "struck by the large number of executions", and the frequent "visible signs of executions on bodies, such as hands tied behind backs, gunshot wounds to the head, and slit throats".

Mose said the commission was investigating such deaths in 16 towns and settlements, and was seeking to document credible allegations regarding many more cases.

The investigators, who have so far only had time to probe abuses in the Kiev, Chernigiv, Kharkiv and Sumy regions, did not immediately address the latest discovery of mass graves in Izyum, after it and other towns in the east were recaptured by Ukrainian forces this month.

Mose said the team planned to expand its investigation, but that it had already received "consistent accounts of ill-treatment and torture", carried out during unlawful confinement. 

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Sexual violence

Mose also said the team had documented sexual violence, with victims aged between four and 82.

In some cases, the investigators had established that Russian soldiers were the perpetrators, Mose told the council, adding "there are examples of cases where relatives were forced to witness the crimes".

The commission had documented a wide range of crimes against children, he said, including some who were "raped, tortured, and unlawfully confined".

More broadly, the team pointed to Russia's "use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas", which have killed countless civilians in the conflict.

Looking forward, Mose said the team would broaden its investigation to look at so-called "filtration camps, alleged forced transfer of people" and allegations that Ukrainian children are being taken to Russia for adoption there.

US ambassador Michele Taylor stressed the urgency of probing these issues, pointing to sources saying Moscow had "forcibly deported between 900,000 and 1.6 million Ukrainian citizens". 

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Source: AFP