Too early to confirm Russian war crimes in Ukraine, UN investigators say


A UN commission set up to investigate possible war crimes committed by Russian forces in Ukraine confirmed receiving multiple allegations of rights abuses by the invading troops, but said it was too early to say whether they constituted war crimes.

Erik Mose, who heads the independent panel, told a news conference in Kyiv that “the commission has received information about arbitrary killings of civilians, destruction and looting of property, as well as attacks on civilian infrastructure, including schools”.

But Mr. Mose said the UN was “not in a position at this stage” to provide a full legal characterisation of the events that took place near Kyiv in March.

He said the evidence the commission collected could, “if confirmed later”, support allegations of human rights violations, “including war crimes and crimes against humanity”.

His remarks came as the independent international commission of inquiry on Ukraine, established by the UN Human Rights Council in March, was due to wrap up its first mission, which began on 7 June and will end on Thursday.

During visits to Bucha, Irpin, Kharkiv and Sumy, the commission collected testimonies from civilians and also met with local authorities and civil society organisations.

“In Bucha and Irpin, the commission has received information about arbitrary killings of civilians” while in the Kharkiv and Sumy regions, the commission has observed “the destruction of large urban areas, which is believed to be the result of aerial bombardment, shelling or missile strikes against civilian targets,” he added.

“It is one thing to witness mass destruction, for example, or receive accounts of deliberate killings, but it is another to come to a decision on responsibility with the legal qualification of these facts,” said commission member Pablo de Greiff.

The commission, which was tasked last month with examining the events that took place in Ukraine in February and March, will return to the country next month to continue its work.

The UN inquiry is one of several international investigations into possible war crimes in Ukraine, including one opened by the International Criminal Court (ICC) whose prosecutor, Karim Khan, recently visited Kharkiv.

“Prosecutor Khan is carefully examining the crime sites and asking our prosecutors important questions,” Ukraine’s prosecutor general Iryna Venediktova said in a statement on Wednesday.

Mr. Khan visited the Kharkiv neighbourhoods most affected by the shelling where nine people were killed, among them a five-month-old baby, and another 17 injured in a bombing on 26 May. (Source: The Straits Times)