February 16, 2017 / 5:10 PM / 2 years ago

Rape, sexual assault in Ukraine conflict may amount to war crimes: U.N.

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Men and women in Ukraine have been beaten, electrocuted by their genitals and raped in cases of sexual violence committed during the conflict which may amount to war crimes, the United Nations’ human rights office said on Thursday.

All sides in the unrest used beatings, forced nudity and other abuses as interrogation techniques to extract confessions from victims or force them to hand over property, the U.N. human rights office said in a report.

But few perpetrators have been prosecuted, the U.N. said, calling for justice to be done.

“Impunity encourages the criminals, for that is what they are, to continue,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein said in a statement.

Ukrainian officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Some 10,000 people have been killed in Ukraine since fighting broke out in 2014 between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian rebels seeking independence from Kiev.

Earlier this month, the conflict saw its biggest flare-up in more than a year, risking a fragile, two-year-old ceasefire.

The U.N. report documented 31 cases of conflict-related sexual violence, most of them committed in detention.

“When I was strangled – I was ready to confess to anything; although I could endure the pain. When I was electrocuted on genitals it was a different level of pain, I was ready to say whatever they wanted to hear,” one victim was quoted as saying in the report.

Another man told U.N. investigators that while in detention his interrogators held a sharp object to his neck and threatened to cut off his head.

“Then someone pulled down my trousers, put the blade against my genitals and said they would cut it into four pieces ... they continued beatings until I made a video confession,” he said.

Women were particularly vulnerable to sexual violence at government and rebel-held checkpoints, according to the report.

It said the deteriorating economic situation, particularly in conflict-hit eastern Ukraine, might increase the risk of sexual violence and human trafficking with some women and girls resorting to selling sex in exchange for money or food.

Reporting by Magdalena Mis @magdalenamis1; Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org

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