Ukraine war ‘madness’ threatening humanity: UN rights chief

Published : 31 Mar 2023 09:33 PM

Russia's war in Ukraine has made severe rights violations "shockingly routine" and is distracting humanity from battling existential threats to its survival, the United Nations rights chief warned on Friday.

Speaking before the UN Human Rights Council, Volker Turk denounced horrific abuses carried out since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine 13 months ago, and warned the conflict "continues to send shock waves across the world".

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights pointed to how sharp increases in the price of food, energy and other commodities had "heightened tensions and inequalities in every region".

This, he warned, was exacerbating "the most severe global cost-of-living crisis in a generation" that has pushed some 71 million into poverty and "threatens the stability of numerous countries".

At the same time, 37 years after the Chernobyl disaster, "another Ukrainian nuclear power plant, in Zaporizhzhia, continues to be placed at enormous risk, with potential impact on millions of people".

"At a time when humanity faces overwhelming existential challenges, this destructive war is tugging us away from the work of building solutions, the work of ensuring our survival," Turk said. "This war defies any reason. This madness must end and peace be found."

In his update to the council on the situation in Ukraine, Turk said his office had verified that more than 8,400 civilians had died and over 14,000 civilians been wounded since the Russian invasion on February 24, 2022. "These figures are just the tip of the iceberg," he cautioned.

Most of the casualties, Turk said, resulted from Russian forces using wide-impact explosive weapons in residential neighbourhoods.

He also highlighted findings by a UN investigative team of "numerous summary executions and targeted attacks on civilians" by Russian forces and affiliated armed groups like the Wagner Group, as well as "621 cases of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention".

Ukrainian armed forces had also carried out summary executions, according to those findings.

UN interviews with 89 civilians released from detention meanwhile indicated that "91 percent of them were tortured or ill-treated by Russian personnel, including through various forms of sexual violence", Turk said.

He said five cases of enforced disappearances involved five boys as young as 14, who were all "tortured or ill-treated."

Turk said his staff had also documented 109 cases of sexual violence by Russian personnel, mainly in places of detention.

UN staff had also verified 91 cases of enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention by Ukrainian security forces, with just over half saying they had been tortured or ill-treated, he said.

- Deporting Ukrainian children -

Turk also highlighted findings that Ukrainian civilians, and in particular children, had been transferred to occupied territory or to Russia.

According to Kyiv, more than 16,000 Ukrainian children had been deported to Russia as of last month.

The International Criminal Court has announced an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin on the war crime accusation of unlawfully deporting Ukrainian children.

A high-level UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) has meanwhile determined such forced transfers amount to war crimes, and said earlier this month they were also probing allegations they could amount to genocide.

In their first report, the investigators also highlighted numerous other Russian violations in Ukraine that they said amounted to war crimes, including killings, torture and rape.

The commission said the systematic attacks on Ukraine's energy infrastructure, and a widespread and systematic pattern of torture in areas under Russian control could amount to the even more serious charge of crimes against humanity.

The COI was created last year, and the Human Rights Council will decide next week whether to extend its one-year mandate.