United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a costly, senseless war that has killed and injured thousands of civilians and violated the human rights of millions. Türk presented an oral update on the current situation in Ukraine and Crimea on Wednesday to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.
In a no-holds-barred presentation to the council, Türk outlined in grim detail what he calls the horrendous civilian cost of the war in Ukraine. Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, he said more than 9,000 civilians, including at least 500 children, have been killed, adding that these figures are likely to be much higher.
He said Russia did not grant U.N. monitors access to places of detention. Nevertheless, from interviews with 178 detainees who had been released, he said monitors have documented more than 900 cases of arbitrary detention, many of them tantamount to enforced disappearances.
“We also documented the summary executions of 77 civilians while they were arbitrarily detained by the Russian Federation,” he said. “Over 90% of detainees held by the Russian Federation whom we were able to interview stated that they had been subjected to torture and ill-treatment — including sexual violence, in some cases — by Russian security personnel.”
Türk also expressed concern about human rights violations committed by Ukraine. He said the U.N., which had unimpeded access to places of detention under Ukrainian control, documented 75 cases of arbitrary detention. He added that monitors found Ukrainian personnel in unofficial places of detention, to a much lesser extent, also engaged in torture or ill-treatment, including sexual violence.
Türk said a report submitted to the Human Rights Council by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres describes widespread, systematic human rights violations committed by Russian forces in Crimea, the city of Sevastopol, as well as other areas occupied by Russia.
Türk said his team has documented 60 arbitrary arrests, as well as enforced disappearances and torture in these areas. He said 2,500 men have been forcibly conscripted in Crimea. He said he is deeply concerned about population transfers of civilians.
“During the reporting period, my office collected information about 23 residents who were arrested by Russian security forces and transferred across the administrative boundary line to Crimea, reportedly handcuffed and blindfolded,” he said. “In parallel, the Russian authorities have continued transferring Ukrainian citizens whom they consider so-called foreigners out of Crimea.”
Russian Ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Gennady Gatilov, categorically rejected the high commissioner’s report, calling it flawed and one-sided. He said the report does not adequately reflect the crimes committed by Ukraine.
The Russian envoy said there is a multitude of video evidence on the internet of Ukrainian security forces executing suspected collaborators in regions vacated by Russian troops. He called on the high commissioner’s office to pay attention to these actions by Kyiv and to address them publicly.