The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is studying a series of videos in which the Ukrainian armed forces allegedly kill several Russian soldiers in apparent surrender process after one of them shot their captors, as they Pressure is increasing on Ukraine to clarify what happened.
“We are aware of the videos and are investigating them,” Marta Hurtado told Reuters on Friday, spokesperson for the UN office. “Complaints of summary executions of people hors de combat must be promptly, fully and effectively investigated, and those responsible held accountable.”RELATED
The New York Times has verified the videos of the incident, which began to circulate on November 12 and which were taken in Makiivka, a town in the Luhansk region recaptured by Ukrainian soldiers. As the American newspaper explains, “at least 11 Russians, most of whom appear lying on the ground, appear to have been shot at close range after one of their comrades fired surprise shots at nearby Ukrainian soldiers.” They do not show, however, how or why the Russian soldiers were killed.
In the videos, several Russian soldiers can be seen lying face down in a courtyard while others come out of a building with their arms raised and join the rest of the group. Suddenly, one of the Russian soldiers who comes out into the courtyard shoots at the Ukrainians and you can see how the video, taken by one of the Ukrainians with a phone, points to the sky and cuts off.
However, in another aerial video taken from a drone, Russian soldiers can be seen lying, apparently dead, most in the same position in which they surrendered and with pools of blood around them. As for the Russian soldier who fired first, he also seems to have been killed in the same place from which he started the attack.
Moscow and kyiv have launched cross accusations of war crimes over the incident. Russia accuses Ukraine of “ruthlessly shooting unarmed Russian prisoners of war”, while Ukrainian rights commissioner Dmyto Lubinets maintains that the Russians had opened fire during the act of surrender. Olha Stefanishyna, Ukrainian deputy prime minister, said on Saturday that “of course the authorities” in kyiv will “investigate this video”, but also said that it is “very unlikely” that the short snippets show what Moscow alleges, as reported by the Associated Press agency.
Some experts consider this to be a Ukrainian war crime, as soldiers lying face down on the ground are considered hors de combat. Others, however, believe that more details should be known, such as determining the exact moment of the murder. If the shooting went on and they were killed during the incident, it would be more difficult to prove a war crime than if they were killed afterwards in retaliation.
States have an obligation to provide humane treatment to all prisoners of war in their power at all times, from their capture until their release and repatriation. Both Ukraine and Russia are parties to the Third Geneva Convention which sets out requirements regarding the treatment of prisoners of war.
A week ago, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine said he had spoken with Ukrainian prisoners of war, captured by the Russians, most of whom reported having suffered torture and ill-treatment. They also documented cases of ill-treatment of Russian prisoners of war captured by Ukraine, and have received “credible allegations of summary executions of persons ‘hors de combat.”
Matilda Bogner, the head of the mission, said that Ukraine gave them confidential access to the POWs at the internment sites, while Russia did not grant them such access (they did the interviews with the Ukrainian POWs after their release). She also pointed out that kyiv has launched a series of criminal investigations following allegations of ill-treatment of prisoners of war by members of its armed forces.