Apr 28, 2022 - World

U.S. says credible reports indicate Russians executed surrendering Ukrainians

 Servicemen walk near a damaged school, next to a police building in Kramatorsk, Donbas Region of eastern Ukraine on April 5.
A damaged school next to a police building in Kramatorsk in the Donbas Region of eastern Ukraine on April 5. Photo: Fadel Senna/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. has "credible information" that a Russian military unit in Ukraine's Donetsk region "executed Ukrainians who were attempting to surrender, rather than take them into custody," a top American official told the United Nations Wednesday.

What they're saying: "If true, this would be a violation of a core principle of the laws of war," said Beth Van Schaack, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for global criminal justice in remarks to the UN Security Council.

  • Specifically, "the prohibition against the summary execution of civilians and combatants who are hors de combat by virtue of surrender, injury, or other forms of incapacitation," she said.
  • Van Schaack added that the U.S. also has "credible reports of individuals killed execution-style with their hands bound; bodies showing signs of torture; horrific accounts of sexual violence against women and girls."

The bottom line: "These images and reports suggest that atrocities are not the result of rogue units or individuals; they, rather, reveal a deeply disturbing pattern of systematic abuse across all areas where Russia’s forces are engaged," Van Schaack said.

The big picture: The International Criminal Court and others are investigating whether Russian forces have committed war crimes and other human rights violations in Ukraine.

  • President Biden accused Putin's forces earlier this month of committing "genocide" in Ukraine, but the Kremlin has repeatedly denied that its forces have committed any war crimes in the country.
  • The Kremlin has repeatedly denied that its military has committed any atrocities in Ukraine.

Between the lines: War crimes have been historically hard to investigate and often even more challenging to prosecute, per Axios' Laurin-Whitney Gottbrath.

Go deeper: What counts as a war crime and why they're so hard to prosecute

Go deeper