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Putin faces mounting accusations of war crimes in Ukraine after Biden accused him of genocide

April 13, 2022, 9:26 PM UTC

A new report issued by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) on Wednesday has found “credible evidence” that Russian forces have deliberately violated human rights in Ukraine, and says that there are “clear patterns” they have violated international law.

The report follows President Biden’s speech in Iowa on Tuesday, which included apparently unscripted remarks that Russia has been committing “genocide” in Ukraine—the first such designation from a U.S. official. (Biden was meant to be discussing primarily gas prices.)

Biden’s use of the word genocide, which has both moral and legal meanings, could have international implications, although the president said that he was speaking to his personal opinion, not a legal definition.  And just a few weeks ago, Biden suggested that the U.S. supports a regime change in Russia. 

In its findings this week, the OSCE also outlines in detail the scenarios in Ukraine of potential war crimes. 

“Taken as a whole, the report documents the catalog of inhumanity perpetrated by Russia’s forces in Ukraine,” Michael Carpenter, the U.S. ambassador to the OSCE, said Wednesday. “This includes evidence of direct targeting of civilians, attacks on medical facilities, rape, executions, looting, and forced deportation of civilians to Russia.”

What did the OSCE investigate? 

The three experts were chosen by the OSCE to look into human rights abuses in Ukraine, and establish possible cases for war crimes, with help from NGOs on the ground. 

The OSCE found that a detailed assessment of possible international law violations and war crimes were not possible, but wrote that Russian forces displayed patterns of violating those laws.

If they had not, damage to things like hospitals, schools, cultural properties, residential buildings, and water stations would have been much lower. 

Hospitals, monasteries, and war crimes 

Hospitals are protected during war under International Humanitarian Law (IHL). But 52 healthcare facilities were destroyed in Ukraine between Feb. 24 and March 22, according to a Knightlab database cited in the report. 

The OSCE specifically cites an attack on the Mariupol Maternity House and Children’s Hospital on March 9, a hospital with 390 beds in which 3 people died and another 17 were injured. Photos of a pregnant woman who was wounded during the attack, and later died, sparked international outcry when they were published. 

“All non-Russian sources indicate that the hospital was clearly identifiable and operational at the time it was hit,” the report states. “Based upon Russian explanations, the attack must have been deliberate. No effective warning was given and no time-limit set. This attack therefore constitutes a clear violation of IHL382 and those responsible for it have committed a war crime.” 

The organization also cites an incident in which Russian forces attacked the Holy Dormition Svyatogorsk Lavra, a major Christian Orthodox monastery where nearly 1,000 civilians were sheltering. 

Although there are specific exceptions in international law to attacks on cultural institutions like the monastery, the OSCE did not find that those exceptions were met. 

“The deliberate targeting of cultural property that has not lost protection violates IHL and constitutes a war crime,” the report reads. 

The OSCE also mentions “deliberate attacks on civilians” in Ukraine, calling them extrajudicial killings. 

In one case, the report details how people standing in line for bread in the town of Chernihiv were attacked, 10 of whom died. In another, an older woman and her husband were killed by Russian soldiers while riding their bikes. And a family of three was shot dead by Russian soldiers while driving on a highway. 

“While more in-depth investigation into these incidents is needed, they seem hard to explain by military necessity and suggest instances of extrajudicial killings,” the report reads. 

Torture and other forms of punishment

OSCE experts received several allegations that alluded to the mistreatment of armed forces and civilians that were detained by Russian forces. They found the same to be true to a lesser extent with Ukrainian forces. 

The organization specified that it was “particularly concerned by the fate of particularly vulnerable categories of civilians, such as women, children, displaced persons and persons with disabilities.”

In one instance, the OSCE cited reports that a fixer for Radio France was held for nine days, tortured, and endured a mock execution. In another a drunk Russian soldier allegedly broke into a house in Ukraine, killed the owner, and raped his wife. 

“Since the outbreak of the conflict, Ukraine has witnessed an increase in gender-based violence,” the report states. 

There have also been several reports of torture at a detention center in the town of Kherson under Russian control, according to the World Organization Against Torture, an organization that has been monitoring monitoring the Ukraine invasion, and was cited in the report.

Ukrainian veterans of military operations and civilians have reportedly been beaten, subject to mock executions, and denied access to food and water.

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