A mission of experts from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has presented a report on the violations of humanitarian law committed in Ukraine since the beginning of the Russian invasion in which they verify, among other things, “clear patterns” of violations by the Russian forces during the hostilities. They state that, if they had respected their obligations, “the number of civilians killed or wounded would have been much lower.” Analyzing what happened at the Mariupol maternity hospital on March 9, they conclude that it was destroyed in a Russian attack and those responsible committed a war crime.
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The report, signed by professors Wolfgang Benedek, Veronika Bilková and Marco Sassóli, points out that some conclusions are preliminary due to the short period of investigation in the context of a conflict, but can serve as a basis for other organizations to carry out more in-depth research on the legal responsibility and also to determine political responsibility. The violations analyzed occurred on both the Ukrainian and Russian sides, but those committed by Russia “are far greater in nature and magnitude.”
The expert mission has tried to analyze in more detail two attacks in the besieged and heavily destroyed city of Mariupol and debunk some of Russia’s main arguments about them.
Specifically, they focus on the attack on the Mariúpol maternity hospital on March 9. The 390-bed facility was severely damaged and at least three people were killed and 17 injured – at least one pregnant woman injured and her baby, who was subsequently born, died from those injuries. The report says that images taken just before and after the attack show that it was a hospital that was operational and that it was badly damaged by the attack.
The three authors recall that Russia described this attack as disinformation and accused Ukraine of having mounted it. Also argued that the building was used by the Azov Battalion, of an ultra-nationalist nature, and “that all the patients had been evacuated, among other things, after a warning given by Russia.” This warning, they point out, allegedly consisted of a statement by the Russian representative in the Security Council on March 7.
A publication that “attempts to corroborate this military use shows a photograph of a tank and armed people in front of a building that was supposed to be the maternity hospital, but this building does not match any of the buildings within a kilometer radius of the hospital. when compared to satellite images. The building’s shape is quite unique and could be spotted from above, they say. However, Russia’s permanent representative to the UN showed on the 11th images of the hospital “in which it was stated that it could not have been hit by a rocket: he showed a photo of a crater, ‘which according to all indications was formed as result of the explosion of a mine placed in the ground”.
Specialists conclude that the hospital “was destroyed by a Russian attack.” “According to the Russian explanations, the attack had to be deliberate. No effective warning was given and no deadline was set.” They believe, therefore, that this attack constitutes “a clear violation” of international humanitarian law and “those responsible for it have committed a war crime.”
They also analyze the March 16 attack on the Drama Theater located in the center of Mariupol was destroyed by a powerful explosive, which, they say, “is indisputable.” They also consider it indisputable that the destruction of the building – in which it had been marked that there were children and in which many civilians had taken refuge – was “deliberate”.
“Russia does not claim that it was a legitimate target, but rather that it was blown up by the Azov Battalion,” the report reads. However, the authors say they received no indication that this might be the case. After the attack, some people, including children, were able to get out on their own. Authorities believe 300 people were killed.
“These were the people who took refuge in the part of the theater that was totally destroyed.” The experts indicate that they explained that the lack of information about the fate of the rest of the people was due to the siege of the city and the trauma of the survivors, “which made it impossible to interview many of them.” “This incident is in all likelihood a heinous violation of international humanitarian law and those who ordered or executed it committed a war crime.”
“Clear patterns” by Russia
In its report, the expert mission warns that, given the circumstances, it has not been possible to produce a detailed assessment of most of the allegations of violations of humanitarian law and war crimes related to specific incidents, but found “clear patterns of such violations by Russian forces in most of the issues investigated.”
Also, they indicate in the report, they have identified some violations and problems in relation to Ukraine’s practices, “but the accusations that Ukraine, and not Russia, had caused some of the deaths, injuries or destruction attributed to Russia could not be confirmed.” .
The investigation was ordered on March 3 by 45 of the 57 OSCE member states with the support of kyiv. The investigation – presented at a meeting of the Permanent Council of the OSCE – covers the events from February 24 to April 1, so it does not include the atrocities discovered in Bucha, and other locations near kyiv, which have been attributed to Russian troops.
The 45 OSCE partners – including the US and all of the European Union – commissioned the study invoking the organization’s so-called ‘Moscow Mechanism’ to clarify accusations of human rights violations and possible war crimes.
The mission has faced several limitations, although the authors explain that they have been able to access a wide variety of sources that have allowed them to have a good overview of the situation in general. Russia was invited to cooperate with the expert mission, but refused to provide any information or help. “Despite this lack of cooperation, the expert mission did its best to take Russian positions into account as well.” Ukraine, as the Requesting State, has cooperated albeit to a limited extent due to the war, but the authors regret that they were unable to have any contact with the Ukrainian military.
The pro-Russian leader of the self-proclaimed popular republic of Lugansk, in eastern Ukraine, whose independence was recognized by the Kremlin in February, has announced that he will ban OSCE activities from April 30, reports EFE.