Apr 22, 2022 - World

UN: Human rights "horror story" is unfolding in Ukraine

A relative, mourning, is seen as the burial of civilians allegedly killed by Russian troops continues at Bucha cemetery in Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine on April 20, 2022.

A relative mourns at the the burial on April 20 of civilians killed in Bucha, Ukraine. Photo: Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The United Nations is seeing growing evidence of war crimes in Ukraine as a "horror story" of human rights violations unfolds, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said Friday.

Driving the news: Russian forces during the nearly two months of war have "indiscriminately shelled and bombed populated areas, killing civilians and wrecking hospitals, schools and other civilian infrastructure, actions that may amount to war crimes," the UN said.

  • The UN specifically cited reported atrocities in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, where it documented "the unlawful killing, including by summary execution, of some 50 civilians."    
  • Bachelet said Russia's use of cluster sub-munitions on a railway station in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk, where at least 60 civilians were killed, "is emblematic of the failure to adhere to the principle of distinction, the prohibition of indiscriminate attacks and the principle of precaution enshrined in international humanitarian law."
  • At least 3,000 civilians have died because they couldn't access medical care and because of the stress on their health during the war, Bachelet also said. "This includes being forced by Russian armed forces to stay in basements or not being allowed to leave their homes for days or weeks."

The big picture: Russia has repeatedly denied it targets civilians and rejected reports of the atrocities seen in cities like Bucha.

Between the lines: War crimes have been historically hard to investigate, and often they're even more challenging to prosecute.

Details: “Over these eight weeks, international humanitarian law has not merely been ignored but seemingly tossed aside,” Bachelet said in a statement.

  • “Our work to date has detailed a horror story of violations perpetrated against civilians," she added.
  • “We know the actual numbers [of casualties] are going to be much higher as the horrors inflicted in areas of intense fighting, such as Mariupol, come to light,” she added.
“The scale of summary executions of civilians in areas previously occupied by Russian forces are also emerging. The preservation of evidence and decent treatment of mortal remains must be ensured, as well as psychological and other relief for victims and their relatives."

The bottom line: "First and foremost, this senseless war must stop," Bachelet said.

  • "But as the fighting shows no sign of abating, it is vital that all parties to the conflict give clear instructions to their combatants to strictly respect international humanitarian law and international human rights law."

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