RRussia has so far refused to cooperate with a UN commission that is supposed to investigate human rights violations in connection with the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine. This was announced by the three members of the commission of inquiry on Thursday in Vienna, where their office has been set up. The panel is chaired by Norwegian Erik Møse, formerly the head of the UN war crimes tribunal for Rwanda and a judge at the European Court of Human Rights. It also includes the Bosnian ombudswoman Jasminka Džumhur and the Colombian Pablo de Greiff, former UN human rights rapporteur.
The “Independent International Commission of Inquiry into Ukraine” was set up in March by a resolution of the UN Human Rights Council, initially for one year. It is to investigate “all allegations of violations or abuses of human rights and violations of international human rights and similar crimes in connection with the aggression against Ukraine by the Russian Federation,” according to a self-portrayal. In doing so, she should establish the facts of what happened and try to ensure that those responsible are held accountable. Møse emphasized “with all clarity: We are investigating violations by all sides in the conflict.”
Mention of perpetrator names unlikely
Džumhur assured that the work is very careful to protect the independence, impartiality and objectivity of the commission. Therefore, one tries to get “as much information as possible from different sources”. De Greiff emphasized a “victim-centric approach”. Victims have rights, but also needs, such as truth, protection and the promotion of their well-being. The Commission is also working with the Ukrainian judiciary, whose findings are being taken into account. On the Russian side, Møse said when asked, attempts had been made to contact authorities at several levels, but “so far we have not been able to establish a dialogue”. No reason was given for the refusal.
In terms of content, the commission members did not want to give any information about their previous findings. That must be reserved for the UN Human Rights Council, which will receive an initial oral report at the end of next week. A short verbal report to the UN General Assembly is also planned. It is not to be expected that the names of possible perpetrators would be named, said Møse, it was still too early for that. Later, however, this is quite possible if correspondingly dense evidence has been found. An interim report is announced for October and a final report for March. Whether the commission’s mandate will then be extended is up to the relevant UN bodies, said the chairman. However, he did not rule out that the three honorary and partly part-time members would continue in the case.
They are supported by a 20-person team of investigators based in Vienna who travel to Ukraine on a case-by-case basis. It seeks first-hand sources, but also works closely with many non-governmental organizations and local stakeholders and authorities, as well as other international organizations and investigations. “We’re not alone there,” said Møse. Compared to the International Criminal Court, which is also investigating in Ukraine, the mandate of his commission is much broader. It’s not just about war crimes or crimes against humanity, but about human rights violations in general, including by institutions. You also have a mandate to look to the future and make recommendations on what states can do.
The mandate gives the mandate to document and collect the evidence, including interviews, also “with a view to any future court proceedings”. An additional resolution specifically refers to the events in February and March in the Kyiv, Sumy, Chernihiv and Kharkiv oblasts. But that doesn’t mean a restriction, said Møse, but a handout for concentration in view of the “broad mandate”, which nonetheless applies to the whole country. Džumhur referred to the logistical difficulties: Some regions have no access at all. And “we only have 20 people”.