Torture used by Russian forces in Ukraine may be state policy: UN

UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Alice Jill Edwards said widespread use of torture by Russian forces appears deliberate.

A Ukrainian policeman walks in a basement of the regional police headquarters, allegedly used as a torture site of pro-Ukrainian citizens during the Russian occupation, in Kherson on January 31, 2023. - After invading Russian forces retreated from southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, police have discovered detention facilities allegedly used to torture captured Ukrainians. All what was left is floors filled with trashed personal belongings, lonely chair in a dark basement room, and Russian anthem written on the walls. (Photo by Genya SAVILOV / AFP)
A Ukrainian policeman in a basement allegedly used as a torture site by Russian forces in Kherson, Ukraine, in January, 2023 [File: Genya Savilov/AFP]

Reports of the widespread use of torture by Russian forces in Ukraine could indicate that the severe abuse of Ukrainian prisoners of war and civilians is “state-endorsed” by Moscow, a United Nations expert has said.

UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Alice Jill Edwards said on Thursday that she was alarmed by “reports and testimonies” which appeared to indicate that Russian forces in Ukraine are “consistently and intentionally inflicting severe physical and psychological pain and suffering” on both civilian and military prisoners.

“The alleged practices include electric shocks, beatings, hooding, mock executions and other threats of death,” Edwards said in a statement.

“If established, they … may also amount to a pattern of state-endorsed torture,” she said.

“The consistency and methods of alleged torture suggests ‘a level of coordination, planning and organisation, as well as the direct authorisation, deliberate policy or official tolerance from superior authorities’,” the UN rapporteur said in a statement.

Edwards said she and other UN rights experts had voiced their concerns in a letter to Moscow.

“Torture is a war crime, and the systematic or widespread practice of torture constitutes a crime against humanity,” Edwards said, warning that “obeying a superior order or policy direction” cannot be used to justify torturing prisoners.

“Any individual involved should be promptly investigated and prosecuted,” she said.

Those alleged to have been tortured were also often held in “grossly inadequate conditions” in facilities run by Russian forces inside Ukraine.

Those who have reported suffering under Russian torture in Ukraine have been left with physical and psychological injuries, including damage to internal organs, fractures and cracks in bones as well as hallucinations, sensory impairments, strokes and exacerbation of chronic diseases, the UN expert said.

“The longer the war goes on, the more reports are emerging of torture and other inhuman treatment,” said Edwards, who plans to conduct a fact-finding mission to Ukraine later this year.

“I strongly urge relevant authorities to ensure that civilians and prisoners of war are protected and treated humanely at all times,” she added.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies