U.N. human rights chief decries 'shockingly routine' abuses in Ukraine war

United Nations Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva
Volker Turk United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights attends the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland February 27, 2023. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
  • Civilian deaths in Ukraine 'tip of the iceberg'
  • UN human rights body expected to extend Ukraine probe
  • Russia denies committing atrocities in Ukraine

GENEVA, March 31 (Reuters) - The United Nations Human Rights chief Volker Turk deplored on Friday how grave human rights violations were "shockingly routine" in Russia's invasion of Ukraine and said the number of civilian casualties was far higher than official figures.

Addressing the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Turk said Ukraine was a nation "struggling to survive" in the face of Russia's invasion.

"After 13 months of the Russian Federation's war against Ukraine, severe violations of human rights and international humanitarian law have become shockingly routine," he said.

"People across the country face massive suffering and loss, deprivation, displacement and destruction."

Fighting is still raging in eastern and southern Ukraine, where Russian forces hold swathes of territory captured after they invaded in February last year.

Russia has repeatedly denied accusations that its forces have committed atrocities. At the Human Rights Council session on Friday, Russian representative Yaroslav Eremin condemned the crimes committed by Ukrainian forces during the conflict.

The U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council said there could be no comparison drawn between the violations committed by each side, however.

"Ukraine thanked the High Commissioner for his recommendations... while Russia continued its disinformation campaign and deflected all responsibility," Michele Taylor, the U.S. representative, said of Friday's Human Rights Council session.

"The High Commissioner has been very clear and we must be clear there is no equivalency."


The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has verified more than 8,400 civilian deaths and more than 14,000 civilians wounded.

"These figures are just the tip of the iceberg," Turk said. "Most of the casualties resulted from Russian forces' use of wide-impact explosive weaponry in residential neighbourhoods."

The U.N. Human Rights Council is the only body made up of governments to protect human rights worldwide. It does not have legally binding powers but its debates can spur investigations that feed evidence to national and international courts.

The Council next week is expected to adopt a resolution to extend and deepen the mandate of a U.N. investigative body set up to probe possible atrocities in Ukraine.

"This is the only way to ensure accountability for those responsible and justice for all the victims and their families to move forward," said Taylor, the U.S. official.

"It is now critical that the Human Rights Council renew the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry and make certain that it has the needed resources to carry out its critical work."

Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Peter Graff and Hugh Lawson

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