An extensive 108-page report by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) records human rights violations and war crimes during Russia’s “special operation” in Ukraine. It covers the period from February 24 to April 1. Main conclusions.
The main idea of the document, which the organization calls preliminary, is that the actions of Russian troops in Ukraine fall under the definition of crimes against humanity. However, violations are also mentioned on the Ukrainian side. It should be noted right away that the Russian representatives in the OSCE refused to participate in the drafting of the report and were criticized after its publication on April 13. So, the main conclusions of the mission outlined in the report.
Russian troops and Mariupol
OSCE rapporteurs pointed to “repeatedly documented violations” of international humanitarian law by Russia during the conflict: “premeditated killings, enforced disappearances or abductions of civilians, including journalists and local officials.”
The organization believes that if Russia complies with its obligations under international humanitarian law, “the number of civilians killed and wounded would be much less”, considering this aspect in the example of the siege of the port city of Mariupol. The OSCE concluded that it was the Russian military who were responsible for the shelling of the maternity hospital No. 3 and the Drama Theater, calling the shelling of the latter, where about 300 people died, a “flagrant violation.”
As is known, Russia denies any involvement in these events. In the case of the theater, the organization relied on information from the media and Ukrainian sources – governmental and non-governmental. The OSCE Mission, like other international organizations, was not present in Mariupol and investigated the issue remotely.
The report of the organization noted that Russian troops are conducting hostilities indiscriminately, not observing the principle of “proportionality” and precautionary measures in relation to “specially protected objects, such as hospitals”:
“It is clear that tens of thousands of properties have been damaged or destroyed, with catastrophic direct and indirect consequences for the civilian population.”
The organization’s experts note large-scale attacks on private houses, multi-storey residential buildings, hospitals, cultural monuments, schools, water supply and electricity infrastructure, which led to either significant damage or complete destruction:
“If the forces of the Russian Federation observed the norms of humanitarian law, these destructions could have been avoided.”
The authors of the report point to reliable evidence of the use of torture during the military confrontation:
“Violations have taken place on both the Ukrainian and Russian sides. However, the violations committed by the Russian Federation are much larger and more significant in nature.”
In Russia, as you know, they reacted negatively to the accusations about Mariupol. Ombudsman Tatyana Moskalkova claims: “The Ukrainian army evacuated the Mariupol maternity hospital, and firing points of the Azov regiment were equipped in its place. In relation to the drama theater, she stated that on March 12 and 13, information appeared on social networks that “provocateurs” plan to blow up the building and blame Russia.
Management of the occupied territories
The OSCE report notes that the occupied territories of Donbass and other parts of Ukraine are governed differently. For example, in the captured cities of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, the power of the “DNR” and “LNR” is established, in other regions – directly to Russia. In the latter, “command’s offices” have been established – a kind of analogue of military-civilian administrations. There is a curfew, the civilian circulation of weapons is prohibited, public gatherings, the collection of information about the troops are not allowed.
Against this background, public life is still regulated by Ukrainian law, and existing Ukrainian municipalities sometimes continue to function “with little interaction with Russian forces.”
In some settlements, Russia is trying to replace the Ukrainian currency with its own – rubles. Human rights are violated in relation to peaceful actions, as an example – dispersal with the use of firearms of a pro-Ukrainian rally in Skadovsk, Kherson region. At the rally in Kherson, the occupying authorities acted similarly: they threw stun grenades and fired at the participants of the pro-Ukrainian rally.
In some localities, local Ukrainian leaders are being replaced. For example, in Melitopol, where the mayor of the city Ivan Fedorov was kidnapped and then returned by exchange. The OSCE recalls the norms of international laws that require the occupiers not to change the municipal authorities.
The Kherson mayor confirmed that the administration is trying to collect the corpses and restore gas, electricity, water supply and heating. In Skadovsk, the mayor noted that utilities are working, but there are problems with looting and non-payment of pensions. The OSCE notes that it has no information about the failure of Russia, as an occupying party, to fulfill its obligations to maintain public order and civil life.
Treatment of prisoners
Gently implying that enemy casualties are being grossly inflated, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe reports that, according to experts, the number of prisoners “seems relatively low compared to the number of casualties” declared by the parties to the conflict.
Both countries are now claiming about the same numbers of those killed in the armies of the enemy: about 20 thousand people. True, the figures given in the report on the prisoners are relevant at the end of March, now they are already outdated, including because of the exchanges. However, in any case, they amounted to approximately 250-500 prisoners on both sides. (Russia stated that more than a thousand soldiers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine recently surrendered to it in Mariupol, the Ukrainian side categorically does not confirm this information in terms of quantity).
The OSCE draws attention to the fact that Ukraine and Russia did not allow the Red Cross to the prisoners, but declared their readiness to comply with the Geneva Convention. Negotiations between the Red Cross and both sides continue:
“By not allowing the ICRC to visit prisoners of war for one month, both Russia and Ukraine violated international humanitarian law.”
However, both sides have begun to provide the names of their prisoners of war, and the Red Cross passes them on to the opposing side and informs the families. The OSCE notes that Ukraine often prosecutes prisoners from the DPR and LPR under the article “treason”. But the organization does not consider this a violation of the rights, since we are talking about citizens of Ukraine.
At the same time, the OSCE criticized the Ukrainian service “Look for yours” to search for captured or killed soldiers of the Russian army, so that the families of prisoners of war could receive news about their relatives. On the platform, Ukrainian authorities posted hundreds of photos and videos of captured Russian soldiers, often with their passports and documents. Organization experts note:
“This is not the way that families and the authorities on which they depend should be informed about the fate of prisoners of war. And this exposes them to public curiosity, which is contrary to international humanitarian law. Some soldiers are blindfolded, gagged or masked. This violation was exacerbated by publications with screenshots of the correspondence of captured Russian soldiers with their families and friends that appeared on the Internet and attracted prisoners of war at a press conference to discuss their role in the invasion. This could endanger the soldiers and their families.”
Videos where “Russian prisoners of war are interrogated and forced to apologize to the Ukrainian people, glorify the Ukrainian armed forces, denigrate their command or call on relatives to end the war” are also noted as a violation of human rights. International law states that POWs are only required to provide basic personal information. Another important violation is Ukraine’s statements that prisoners of war will be forced to “rebuild the country”:
“This may mean that they will not be repatriated at the end of active hostilities, as required by international humanitarian law.”
From the Russian side, there are numerous reports of video recordings of insults and intimidation of Ukrainian prisoners of war after their capture. There is a video of interrogations of prisoners of war, where:
“They were forced to denigrate the Ukrainian military, sing songs praising the Russian military, call on the Ukrainian government to start peace talks with the Russian Federation, and ask Ukrainian soldiers to lay down their arms. Some showed signs of bruising.”
At the same time, the Russian Federation officially guaranteed proper treatment of “Ukrainian servicemen” and their parole. But – they made an exception for “nationalists”, which, according to the OSCE, is a violation.
Detentions of civilians in Ukraine
“The mission recorded a large number of reports and videos of civilians who are considered thieves, smugglers, supporters of pro-Russian sentiments or curfew violators. They are beaten in territory controlled by the government of Ukraine.”
The OSCE claims that the mission is aware of more than 45 cases of ill-treatment by the police, the defense forces and volunteers. Cases of arrest by the Ukrainian authorities of about 300 people suspected of complicity with Russia have been recorded. In three such cases, the detainees claimed that they were not informed of the official detention and that their relatives were not informed of their fate.
Similarly, there were arrests of civilians in the territory controlled by Russia. The report says:
“The mission received several credible reports that the Russian military arrested civilians, including journalists, without any procedure and subjected them to ill-treatment using methods amounting to torture. This constitutes a war crime.”
One such case has been confirmed by Reporters Without Borders. It concerns a Ukrainian interpreter and correspondent for Radio France who was captured by Russian troops on 5 March in central Ukraine and held captive for nine days. Left in a cold basement, he was beaten with iron rods and rifle butts, tortured with electricity, deprived of food for 48 hours and subjected to a mock execution, the OSCE report notes.
Distribution of weapons
The organization condemned the practice of distributing machine guns to territorial defense, which was practiced at the beginning of hostilities, but only in part:
“The inclusion of such persons in the armed forces of Ukraine is legal in accordance with international humanitarian law. Otherwise (if not included in the Ukrainian forces), the distribution of weapons to civilians makes them legitimate targets of attacks, without giving them the privileges of military personnel.”
A reservation made by experts – such elemental detachments receive the status of participants in the war if the enemy approaches, and there is simply no time to register people in the army:
“However, when the Ukrainian authorities called on civilians to prepare Molotov cocktails to fight the Russian occupiers, such civilians cannot be considered “spontaneously” taking up arms, “without having had time to form themselves into regular armed formations.”
Rape and human trafficking
It is worth noting that, given the period covered by the report, the events in Bucha are not considered in it. However, the authors point out that there has been an increase in gender-based violence since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Ukrainian MP Lesya Vasilenko have filed allegations of rape and other forms of sexual violence against Russian forces.
One of the incidents took place in the village of Brovary near Kyiv, where a drunken Russian soldier allegedly broke into a private house, killed the owner, and then raped his wife several times in the presence of her young child. The Ukrainian side also reported on gang rapes committed by Russian servicemen in many other regions of Ukraine. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe calls for investigation of this and other similar cases.
Women have also suffered from mass displacement. International organizations warn that traffickers are abusing single women and girls into prostitution, slavery or forced labor. Women and girls on the move or in temporary shelters are also prone to become victims of gender-based violence.
Women who remain in Ukraine also often find themselves in a difficult situation. Lack of access to social services, including schools, and disrupted community networks have increased the burden on local women who are responsible for caring for children, the disabled, and elderly family members. The United Nations Population Fund estimates that about 80,000 women in Ukraine will give birth in the next three months. At the same time, many of them are in unsuitable conditions, as health centers in Ukraine become inaccessible, the newspaper writes. “The country”.