War in Ukraine: many Ukrainian and Russian prisoners of war were subjected to torture, according to the United Nations
The “most” Ukrainian detainees interviewed who were held by Russian forces reported torture and ill-treatment. Immediately after their capture, several Ukrainian POWs were beaten or their personal effects looted.
“The prisoners of war were then transferred to places of internment in a manner that caused concern,” the head of the Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, Matilda Bogner, said in a videoconference from Kyiv.
Ms Bogner gave examples of electrocution attacks with Tasers or military phones. According to him, the treatment was intended to intimidate and humiliate them.
A man detained in a prison near Olenivka told the UN team that members of a Russian-affiliated armed group “stuck wires to his genitals and nose” and gave him a “shock”. “They are just having fun and are not interested in my answers to their questions,” said the head of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Beatings during the “entrance procedure”
In general, prisoners of war are subject to “reception procedures” upon their arrival at certain places of internment, according to testimony compiled by the United Nations. During these “procedures”, they were beaten for a long time, threatened, attacked by dogs or stripped naked.
Witnesses told them of the death of at least one POW during “reception procedures” at the prison near Olenivka in mid-April 2022. The UN team said they had received information about eight alleged similar deaths that occurred in April 2022 and they were working to corroborate them.
Over the past months, the UN mission has interviewed 159 POWs held by Russia and its affiliated armed groups and 175 POWs held by Ukraine. The team was granted unhindered access to a Russian prisoner of war internment facility in Ukraine, but the UN has still not been granted clandestine access to Russian prisoners of war.
Ukrainian POWs were forced to run naked from room to room
Other Ukrainian detainees described forms of physical abuse, including stabbing, stun guns, mock execution threats, hanging by the hands or feet, and cigarette burns.
“I still can’t stand the sound of duct tape. The guards used it to paralyze their detainees and started torturing them,” said one witness quoted by the UN team.
The UN has also documented various forms of sexual violence, such as dragging male victims by ropes tied around their genitals, or forced nudity in connection with threats of rape.
Several women described being beaten, electrocuted and threatened with sexual violence during interrogation elsewhere. They are also subjected to degrading treatment in the form of sexual violence, such as being forced to run naked from one room to another.
Russian prisoners of war were stabbed or subjected to electric shocks
Regarding the treatment of Russian prisoners of war, the report cited “credible allegations of the summary execution of Russian prisoners of war captured by Ukrainian forces and several cases of torture and ill-treatment”. According to the United Nations, several cases of torture and ill-treatment were also carried out by members of the Ukrainian armed forces.
“We have documented cases of torture and ill-treatment, especially when people were arrested, or when they underwent initial interrogation or were transferred to transit camps and places of exile,” explained Ms. Bogner. .
In some cases, POWs were stabbed or electrocuted with “TAPik” military telephones by Ukrainian law enforcement officers or military personnel guarding them. “It’s the military calls that scare us the most. The feeling is terrible. Your whole body froze and you fell on your side,” recalled a Russian prisoner of war interviewed by the UN team.
Russia and Ukraine are Parties to the Third Geneva Convention
The mission also documented cases of ill-treatment of Russian prisoners of war in a penal colony in the Dnipropetrovsk region and in several pre-trial detention facilities, including “welcome beatings”.
Facing the plight of detainees on both sides, Ukraine has opened several criminal investigations into allegations of abuse of prisoners of war by members of its armed forces. “We hope for progress in these cases,” said the OHCHR Representative in Ukraine, noting that “the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment is absolute, even – even especially – in times of armed conflict”.
More broadly, accountability is key to deterring and preventing further abuses. For the United Nations, parties to a conflict have an express legal obligation to investigate and try all alleged violations of international humanitarian law relating to the treatment of prisoners of war under their control, regardless of their affiliation.
“Both parties must do this fairly, quickly and impartially,” argued Ms. Bogner, noted that Kyiv and Moscow are parties to the Third Geneva Convention, which sets out conditions for the treatment of prisoners of war.