War crimes including rape, torture and confinement of children have been committed in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine, the head of a U.N.-mandated investigation body said on Friday.
Ukraine and its Western allies allege a litany of rights abuses by Russian soldiers since the February 24 invasion, but Moscow denies that as a smear campaign.
“Based on the evidence gathered by the Commission, it has concluded that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine,” Erik Mose, who heads the Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, told the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.
He did not specify who was to blame but the commission has focused on areas previously occupied by Russian forces such as Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy.
Investigators from the commission, created by the rights council in March, visited 27 places and interviewed more than 150 victims and witnesses.
They found evidence of a large number of executions including bodies with tied hands, slit throats and gunshot wounds to the head, Mose said.
He said investigators had identified victims of sexual violence aged between four and 82. While some Russian soldiers had used sexual violence as a strategy, the commission “has not established any general pattern to that effect”, Mose added.
Russia denies deliberately attacking civilians during what it calls its “special military operation”.
Russia was called on to respond to the allegations at the council meeting but its seat was left empty.
There was no immediate official reaction from Moscow.
The commission will next turn its attention to allegations of “filtration” camps in Russian-occupied areas for processing Ukrainian prisoners as well as claims of forced transfers of people and adoption of Ukrainian children in Russia.
Ukraine and some other nations urged the commission to also investigate a mass burial site near Izium, in eastern Ukraine, where hundreds of bodies have been found.
“If left unanswered, (Russia’s violations) will drag us into a dark world of impunity and permissiveness,” Ukraine’s envoy Anton Korynevych told the council by video link.
Sometimes investigations launched by the council can be used before national and international courts, such as in the case of a former Syrian intelligence officer jailed for state-backed torture in Germany in January.
Mose said he was in touch with the International Criminal Court about the commission’s findings. The body is due to submit a complete report to the council at the end of its mandate in March 2023, including with recommendations on how to hold perpetrators to account.