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Russia Ukraine conflict

UN rights expert: Int’l support for war crimes investigations in Ukraine needed

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A United Nations human rights expert has called on the international community to ramp up investigations into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Ukraine throughout the war, a UN statement released on Monday showed.

Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Morris Tidball-Binz, commended the international community’s “swift mobilization in setting up different mechanisms and launching initiatives to investigate, collect, document and preserve evidence of gross violations of international human rights and serious violations of humanitarian law in Ukraine,” including unlawful killings committed by Russia since it launched its invasion of Ukraine.

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“These mechanisms can play a key role in supporting the work of the Office of the General Prosecutor, as well as other accountability frameworks, ranging from the International Criminal Court to national prosecutions by the parties to the conflict and in States with universal jurisdiction,” the human rights expert added.

Cats are seen in a street in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine May 15, 2022. (Reuters)
Cats are seen in a street in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine May 15, 2022. (Reuters)

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 in what it calls a “special military operation.” As the war in Ukraine enters its eighty-third day on Tuesday, thousands have died and millions have been displaced.

Todball-Binz said that it was of “paramount importance” that the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine received the necessary support and resources to carry out its investigations.

“Without coordination of responsibilities and of efforts between various bodies, there is a considerable risk of overlap and duplication to the detriment of the effectiveness and efficiency of investigations,” Tidball-Binz, who is also a medico-legal and forensic expert, said, urging the importance of coordination, especially when it comes to identifying a deceased person.

View of the damages caused by a missile strike, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Zatoka village, Odesa region, Ukraine, May 16, 2022. (Reuters)
View of the damages caused by a missile strike, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Zatoka village, Odesa region, Ukraine, May 16, 2022. (Reuters)

“For example, the identification of deceased persons requires the proper collection, analysis and matching of information, for which centralization, adequate management and protection are paramount,” he said, adding that all investigations into violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law must conform to international standards.

He said investigations of war crimes and crimes against humanity required multiple areas of expertise and specialized knowledge so that the high volume of sensitive and complex evidence can be adequately collected, documented and securely preserved.

“Within this context, for instance, the identification of human remains and their dignified treatment, including respect for the families of those deceased, is paramount and coordination of efforts to this effect is absolutely essential for adequately resolving cases of enforced disappearances and preventing the dead from becoming missing persons,” he said, urging all stakeholders to comply with international standards.

Vitalii Zhyvotovskyi, 50, stands inside his house that he told Reuters was destroyed by Russian troops as they were retreating from Bucha, in Bucha, Kyiv region, Ukraine April 19, 2022. (Reuters)
Vitalii Zhyvotovskyi, 50, stands inside his house that he told Reuters was destroyed by Russian troops as they were retreating from Bucha, in Bucha, Kyiv region, Ukraine April 19, 2022. (Reuters)

“They [stakeholders] should communicate and actively coordinate among themselves, to prevent any duplication of efforts but also in the best interest of victims.”

Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said on Thursday there were many examples of possible war crimes since the Russian invasion and that 1,000 bodies had been recovered so far in the Kyiv region.

On Friday, a Ukrainian court began hearing the first war crimes case arising from the Russian invasion after charging a captured Russian soldier with the murder of a 62-year-old civilian, Reuters reported.

The case is of huge symbolic importance for Ukraine. The Kyiv government has accused Russia of atrocities and brutality against civilians during the invasion and said it has identified more than 10,000 possible war crimes.

Russia has denied targeting civilians or involvement in war crimes and accused Kyiv of staging them to smear its forces.

In order for the investigations to deliver tangible results, all contributing international bodies, mechanisms, and initiatives need to take into account ongoing national evidence-gathering processes and ensure that national ownership of investigative efforts is duly respected and that they are in line with international norms and standards, he said.

The Kyiv district court’s website identified the soldier on trial as Vadim Shishimarin and said he was accused of “violations of the laws and norms of war.”

The Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office said the defendant was a 21-year-old soldier in the Kantemirovskaya tank division from the Moscow region. He faces up to life imprisonment over the killing on February 28.

In a statement, the prosecutor general’s office said the soldier stole a privately-owned car to escape with four other Russian servicemen after their column was targeted by Ukrainian forces.

The statement said the Russian soldiers drove into the village of Chupakhivka where they saw an unarmed resident riding a bicycle and talking on his phone. It said the suspect was ordered to kill the civilian to prevent him from reporting on the Russians’ presence and fired several shots through the open window of the car with an assault rifle at the civilian’s head, and he died on the spot.

However, it did not say how the soldier was captured or elaborate on evidence that led to the war crimes charges.

With Reuters

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