U.N. accuses Russia, Ukraine of torturing prisoners of war

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Nov. 15 (UPI) — Both Russia and Ukraine have tortured prisoners of war, during the nine-month conflict that began with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, according to new findings by United Nations investigators.

The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released its findings Tuesday, showing widespread abuse on both sides of the war, with POWs reporting beatings, electric shock, intimidation and threats.

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The findings were based on interviews with POWs in Russia and in Ukraine, which have prompted the office to call on Kyiv and Moscow to “investigate and prosecute all allegations of violations.”

In total, OHCHR interviewed 159 POWs held by the Russian Federation and 175 POWs held by Ukraine. While Ukraine granted investigators access to Russian prisoners of war during internment, Russia did not grant access, which forced investigators to gather information after Ukrainian POWs were released.

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“The vast majority of those we interviewed told us that during their internment they were tortured and ill-treated,” Matilda Bogner, head of the U.N. Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, said in a speech Tuesday in Kyiv.

“Torture and ill-treatment were not only used to coerce prisoners of war to give military information or statements about alleged crimes. They were, interviewees told us, used on a daily basis to intimidate and humiliate them,” she said, adding that the prisoners were kept in unsanitary, overcrowded cells and served rotten food.

“More than 80% of former Ukrainian POWs interviewed by OHCHR complained about the insufficient amount or poor quality of food. They said they were given, for example, undercooked bread, meals with rotten ingredients, or porridge or spathetti with sand or small rocks in it,” Bogner said as she added that one man said, “‘I was hungry all the time. All my thoughts, even about my family, would come to food.'”

Bogner said her team is working to verify reports that nine Ukrainian POWs have died since mid-April during so-called admission procedures at Russian internment centers, where prisoners were subjected to beatings, dog attacks, nudity and threats.

In July, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of “deliberate mass murder” for an attack that destroyed a prison in the Donbas region, killing nearly 60 Ukrainian prisoners of war.

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In Ukraine, Bogner said investigators have also documented cases of Russian POWs being subjected to torture by Ukrainian armed forces, that included beatings, stabbings, electric shocks and in some cases, summary executions.

There have been allegations, credible allegations of summary executions carried out by Ukrainian armed forces,” Bogner said. “These happened earlier on in the conflict. The authorities, Ukrainian authorities have opened investigations into those allegations. But we have not seen progress in the investigations thus far.”

Both Kyiv and Moscow are parties to the Geneva Conventions that determine the laws of war, including the treatment of POWs.

“Accountability is key to deterring and preventing further violations. Both parties to the armed conflict have clear legal obligations to investigate and prosecute all allegations,” Bogner said. “Both parties must do so fairly, promptly and impartially.”

While Russia has denied any maltreatment of POWs, Kyiv has promised to investigate violations and take legal action.

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