OSCE Monitoring Reveals Instances of Torture and Sexual Violence in Ukraine

OrganizationsInternational Organizations ♦ Published: July 17, 2023; 22:22 ♦ (Vindobona)

The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) has released a new report summarizing its continuous monitoring of international law violations following Russia's military attack in Ukraine.

As part of its ongoing monitoring, the ODIHR monitors travel in Ukraine to conduct interviews. / Picture: © Wikimedia Commons / State Emergency Service of Ukraine/ CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

The report highlights alarming occurrences of arbitrary imprisonment, enforced disappearances, and widespread use of torture and ill-treatment in areas under occupation. Testimonies from multiple credible sources confirm the pervasive nature of torture and ill-treatment in detention facilities across all Russian-occupied territories.

"The substantial evidence of human rights violations that we have gathered is deeply concerning," stated Matteo Mecacci, Director of ODIHR. "The documented cases of torture and sexual violence outlined in this report underscore the devastating impact of the war on people's lives. It is crucial to ensure accountability for those responsible for these crimes and seek justice for all victims."

During their monitoring activities, ODIHR received reports of summary executions, torture, and harsh detention conditions imposed on Ukrainian prisoners of war. The report includes interviews with witnesses who provided accounts of sexual violence, including rape allegations, threats of sexual violence, sexual harassment, genital electrocution, and forced nudity, perpetrated by the Russian armed forces. Instances of ill-treatment of Russian prisoners of war by Ukrainian authorities were also documented, and ODIHR analyzed videos showing the killing of prisoners of war by both Russian and Ukrainian armed forces.

ODIHR's monitoring efforts found evidence of Russia's armed forces continuing the routine use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in densely populated areas, resulting in numerous civilian casualties. Starting from late April 2023, attacks on civilian objects in residential areas, particularly in Kyiv, were intensified. ODIHR also gathered further evidence of the forced displacement of civilians, including children, by Russian authorities from both within and outside the occupied areas of Ukraine.

All parties involved in an armed conflict are obligated to adhere to international humanitarian and human rights law, explicitly prohibiting indiscriminate attacks on civilians and ensuring their protection against violence and inhumane treatment at all times. Worldwide, torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment are universally condemned, with every OSCE member country recognizing that no circumstances, including war or the threat of war, can justify torture.

ODIHR has prioritized its work in Ukraine over the past year. The Office promptly initiated its mission to monitor and report on pressing issues affecting the lives of civilians and prisoners of war as soon as the war began. To date, ODIHR has conducted over 200 interviews with survivors and witnesses of alleged human rights violations, contributing to efforts to hold perpetrators accountable for violations committed in the context of the armed conflict in Ukraine.

ODIHR presented urged both parties to respect and ensure compliance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law. Furthermore, the report emphasizes their duty to investigate violations thoroughly and ensure that those responsible face fair trials. All OSCE member countries have committed to "respect and ensure respect for international humanitarian law, including the protection of the civilian population," in situations of armed conflict.