Russia may have committed war crimes by killing civilians and destroying hospitals in its pounding of Ukrainian cities, the top United Nations human rights official said on Wednesday in her strongest comments yet on the conflict.
Addressing the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Michelle Bachelet urged Russia to end its five-week invasion.
“Homes and administrative buildings, hospitals and schools, water stations and electricity systems have not been spared,” she said. “Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited under international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes.”
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Bachelet said her office had received credible allegations Russian forces had used cluster munitions in populated areas at least 24 times. Her office was also investigating alleged use of cluster munitions by Ukraine.
Russia has denied using such weapons or targeting civilians since launching on February 24 what it calls a “special operation”to disarm and “de-nazify” its neighbor.
Bachelet said that her office, which deploys nearly 60 UN monitors in Ukraine, had verified 77 incidents in which medical facilities were damaged, including 50 hospitals.
US human rights envoy Michele Taylor said she was alarmed by reports of abductions by Russia’s forces, including at least three mayors and forced deportations of civilians.
“It is clear that President Putin is hell-bent on reducing Ukraine’s towns and cities to dust,” added British ambassador Simon Manley.
In her speech, Bachelet also expressed concern at videos circulating on social media showing interrogations of prisoners of war by both Ukrainian and Russia forces.
Yaroslav Eremin, first secretary at Russia’s UN mission in Geneva, alleged abuses by Ukraine’s forces whom he accused of torturing prisoners, using residents as human shields in Mariupol and killing 21 civilians with cluster munitions in Donetsk.
“In publicly available footage near Kharhiv, unarmed Russians have been shot on the kneecaps, they’ve got plastic bags on their heads, some of them are unconscious,” he added.
“All these atrocities against civilians were carried out with the use of weaponry supplied by the Western countries.”