Missile strikes on Ukraine and alleged POW executions underscore why international law must be respected

OHCHR

GENEVA (25 November 2022) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk on Friday expressed his shock at the unabated human suffering in Ukraine, as highlighted by continuing Russian missile and drone strikes against critical infrastructure on a broad scale, and recent allegations of summary executions of prisoners of war (POWs).

“Millions are being plunged into extreme hardship and appalling conditions of life by these strikes. Taken as a whole, this raises serious problems under international humanitarian law, which requires a concrete and direct military advantage for each object attacked,” Türk said.

According to the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU), further missile strikes on Wednesday killed at least eight civilians, including one girl, and injured at least 45 others, among them seven children, in the city and region of Kyiv. A two-day old baby boy was killed and two doctors injured by a rocket strike that hit a hospital in Vilniansk, in the Zaporizhzhia region.

These casualties bring the total verified by HRMMU since Russia began its ongoing barrage of missile strikes and loitering munition attacks across the country on 10 October to at least 77 civilians killed and 272 injured.

In addition to documenting civilian casualties, the Monitoring Mission has been examining videos and other information about alleged summary executions of both Ukrainian and Russian prisoners of war.

“Since Russia began its armed attack on Ukraine in February, there have been numerous allegations of summary executions by both parties of prisoners of war and others no longer participating in the fighting. Persons hors de combat, including soldiers who have surrendered, are protected under international humanitarian law and their summary execution constitutes a war crime,” Türk said.

Among some of the videos that HRMMU has examined are several that surfaced over the last two weeks on social media. These include video clips from the village of Makiivka which shows the apparent surrender of Russian forces or Russian-affiliated armed groups; a man opening fire at Ukrainian soldiers; and subsequently the dead bodies of some 12 Russian soldiers.

“Our Monitoring Mission in Ukraine has conducted a preliminary analysis indicating that these disturbing videos are highly likely to be authentic in what they show. The actual circumstances of the full sequence of events must be investigated to the fullest extent possible, and those found responsible appropriately held to account,” said Türk. “The analysis the Mission has done to date underlines the need for independent and detailed forensic investigations to help establish exactly what happened.

“We understand the Ukrainian authorities have opened a criminal investigation into the events in Makiivka,” said Türk. “It is essential that all allegations of summary executions are investigated fully in a manner that is – and is seen to be – independent, impartial, thorough, transparent, prompt and effective.”

Türk continued: “I also call on the parties to issue clear instructions to their forces that there should be no retaliation, no reprisals, against those they take as prisoners of war and to ensure that these instructions are fully complied with. The rules governing armed conflict set out in the Geneva Conventions demand this.

“Order your troops to treat those who surrender and those they detain humanely.”

“The devastating impacts of the patterns of missile strikes by Russian forces and the allegations of summary executions of prisoners of war show all too plainly the intolerable human cost of this, and any other, armed conflict. They are a stark reminder of why international law exists and why it must be fully complied with to prevent a descent into utter inhumanity and negation of the very idea of our human rights,” the High Commissioner stressed.

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