Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister said Wednesday that the list of war crimes committed by Russian troops in her country grows daily and accountability is critical.
“The city of Mariupol has turned into dust,” Emine Dzhaparova told an informal meeting of the U.N. Security Council. “Thousands of civilians live in blockade without water, electricity, communications and basic things that all people need.”
She said that new mass graves and buried bodies are found daily in Ukrainian cities and that Russian soldiers carry out crimes on civilians, including torture, rape and murder.
“Russia must be [held] accountable for its crimes as a state,” she said, adding that the individuals who carried out the crimes must be prosecuted, too.
“The one who raped a girl, kicking out her teeth; who killed a man riding a bicycle; who fusilladed a queue of people waiting for bread; who shot humanitarian convoys, maternity hospitals, ambulances, cars,” Dzhaparova said. “These people have names and faces, and they are to be brought to criminal liability.”
Ukraine Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said from Kyiv that her office has opened 8,000 cases to probe allegations of violations and the list continues to grow.
Several governments have offered Ukraine assistance in carrying out investigations and documenting abuses.
In an unprecedented move, more than 40 states have referred the situation in Ukraine to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan has made two trips to Ukraine and has an investigative team on the ground that includes experts, lawyers and anthropologists.
He said he sent three communications to Russia but had not received a reply. He urged Moscow to cooperate with his office, saying if it wants to expose accusations against it as fake, the best way to do so is to hold them up to scrutiny.
“My office and myself have no political agenda other than to get to the truth,” he assured member states.
But Russia’s representative dismissed the ICC as an institution susceptible to political pressure and financial leverage exerted by such countries as the United States and Britain.
“ICC is merely a political instrument and has nothing in common with justice,” Russian legal adviser Sergey Leonidchenko said. He said Russia would have its own meeting on accountability with its own briefers on May 6.
In terms of new crimes, the U.S. representative said Washington now had credible information that a Russian military unit operating near the eastern city of Donetsk had executed Ukrainians who were attempting to surrender, rather than take them into custody.
‘Deeply disturbing pattern’
Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice Beth Van Schaack said that, if true, this would violate a core principle of war prohibiting the summary execution of civilians who surrender.
“These images and reports suggest that these atrocities are not the act of rogue units or individuals; rather, they reveal a deeply disturbing pattern of systematic abuse across all areas where Russia’s forces are engaged,” she said.
Russia has a record of abuses, including in Syria, where its troops have backed President Bashar al-Assad’s forces since 2015.
“The pattern of abuse we are seeing in Ukraine is consistent with well-documented grave crimes by Russian forces in other places such as Syria,” Human Rights Watch’s Ida Sawyer said from Kyiv. “The lack of accountability for those violations has regrettably opened the door for what is occurring today.”
Human rights lawyer and activist Amal Clooney said the horrific scenes from the Kyiv suburb of Bucha reminded her of the 2012 massacre of 108 civilians, many of them children, in the northwestern Syrian town of Houla.
“This Security Council met in an emergency session to decry the killings, and people thought it would be a turning point for accountability. It wasn’t,” Clooney said. “And now the same Russian general known as “the butcher,” who mounted a brutal attack on civilians in Aleppo, is massacring innocent families in Mariupol.”
She urged the diplomats not to grow numb to the violence as the war grinds on and merely call for justice that is never delivered.