GENEVA – Russia’s attack on Ukrainian towns would amount to war crimes if civilians were deliberately targeted, the United Nations said on Tuesday, calling the location and timing of the attacks “shocking”.
According to Kyiv, Russian forces rained more than 80 rockets on Ukrainian towns on Monday in apparent retaliation for an explosion that damaged a key bridge linking the Crimean peninsula with Russia.
The strikes “may have violated the principles of the conduct of hostilities under international humanitarian law”, Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the UN human rights office, told reporters in Geneva.
“The deliberate targeting of attacks against civilians and civilian objects, that is, objects that are not military targets, constitutes a war crime,” she added.
Ukrainian emergency services announced on Tuesday that 19 people had been killed and 105 others injured, according to preliminary data. At least 12 civilians died in the attacks, according to the UN legal office.
“The location and timing of the strikes – when people were driving to work and taking children to school – are particularly shocking,” Shamdasani said.
“We are deeply concerned that some of the attacks appear to have targeted critical civilian infrastructure.
“Numerous civilian objects, including dozens of residential buildings and vital civilian infrastructure – including at least 12 power stations – were damaged or destroyed in eight regions, suggesting that these attacks may have violated the principles of conduct of hostilities under international humanitarian law”.
The spokeswoman said damage to major power stations and power lines before winter approached raised new concerns about the protection of civilians and the impact on vulnerable populations.
“Attacks against civilians and objects essential to the survival of civilians are prohibited by international humanitarian law,” Shamdasani said.
“We urge the Russian Federation to refrain from any further escalation and to take all possible measures to avoid civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure.”
She said reports of elderly people stranded in their homes by strikes and disabled people unable to escape were “ruthless”.
The United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine will continue to confirm reports of civilian casualties from these attacks and document violations of human rights and international humanitarian law across the country, said Shamdasani.
- Editor/ additional report by AFP