Global Human Rights Defence

The Kremlin Accused of Acute War Crimes After Mass Graves and Dead Civilians Were Found in Bucha, Ukraine
Streets in Bucha after the Russian army left the town. Source: Vadim Ghirda/AP Photo, 2022.

Author: Laura Libertini

Department: Europe Team

On Sunday, April 3rd, 2022, extensive mass graves and corpses of disarmed Ukrainian civilians were found in the town of Bucha, approximately 30 kilometres northwest of Kyiv. After the withdrawal of Russian troops from the area, the city revealed nearly 400 dead bodies, civilians with their hands tied, and burnt-out debris lined the streets across the city. Ukrainian officials, supported by Western leaders, accused Russia of atrocious war crimes, demanding tougher actions against Russia, including the fifth round of sanctions (The Guardian, 2022). After the death and torture of dozens of civilians had been reported in the municipalities of Bucha, Irpin and Hostomel, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky denounced the attacks on his country and people as genocide. The Kremlin denied all the allegations, denouncing the fact as a provocation by Ukraine and the West to smash peace negotiations. Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov soon sought to gather a UN Security Council meeting to discuss the matter. Despite Russia’s denial of its involvement, satellite images from Bucha seem to reveal the presence of mass graves already in mid-March when the town was under Russian control. A long trench dug was spotted nearby a local church, with bodies of civilians wrapped in plastic (Boffey & Rankin, 2022).

On Tuesday, April 5th, 2022, further evidence of torture and killings emerged in Bucha. Three women, one teenage girl, and two men were found in the city, their bodies piled together, completely burnt-out and with evident signs of torture. One body was found with the arms raised in supplication and the face impressed with an atrocious scream; other bodies were found blackened and burned; another was reported to have a bullet wound in the left temple. The pile of corpses was found along a residential street, lying nearby a colourful and wrecked playground, visible to residents and other people. Associated Press journalists spotted dozens of corpses around Bucha, which showed evident signs of torture. Some were bound with their arms and hands and with bullet wounds on their heads (Stashevskyi & Cara, 2022).

Larysa Savenko, a 72-year-old woman, witnessed the atrocities of the Russian army as she locked herself, her son, and a homeless tenant in her shelter for five weeks. The occupation started right after the outbreak of the war, on February 27th, 2022, the third day of the conflict. On that day, Russian armoured vehicles were directed to the neighbouring town of Irpin and onward to Kyiv when they were struck by a Ukrainian shelling offensive, turning Bucha’s streets upside-down. Savenko said, “We couldn’t go out, everything around was on fire”. When the Russians left the town, dead bodies were lying throughout the city, including near Savenko’s house. Another resident, Olga, 42, and her husband and son returned to their home in Bucha after fleeing when the invasion started, discovering that their recently renovated apartment was destroyed after an airstrike (Rubinsztein-Dunlop & Hemingway, 2022). Human Rights Watch investigated the facts of the Russian-occupied territories, including Bucha, and conducted interviews with witnesses, victims, and residents. A woman informed Human Rights Watch that on March 13th, 2022, a Russian soldier raped her repeatedly in a school where she and her family were hiding in the Kharkiv region. She said that the man beat her and cut her face, neck, and hair with a knife. In Bucha on March 4th, 2022, a witness told Human Rights Watch that Russian troops gathered five men and summarily executed one of them. The soldiers forced the men to bend their knees on the side of the road, pulled their t-shirts over their heads, and shot one man in the nape. The witness said, “He fell [over], and the women [present at the scene] screamed” (Human Rights Watch, 2022).

On Tuesday, April 5th, 2022, the United Nations Security Council gathered for a meeting to discuss the recent events that occurred in Bucha. UN Secretary-General António Guterres reiterated the senselessness of the war, leading to massive devastation and loss of precious lives, calling for an independent investigation to guarantee efficient accountability. Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, declared that the number of civilian victims has doubled since her last briefing on March 17th, 2022. She continued by addressing the images of dead and tortured Ukrainians found in Bucha, affirming that reports by non-governmental organisations and media allege summary executions of civilians, rape, and looting across several Ukrainian regions, in particular, Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Kyiv. Later, President Zelensky emphasised that the facts of Bucha represent only a small part as many other cities under Russian occupation are theatres of destruction and atrocities towards innocent people. By recalling Article 1 of the UN Charter on the purposes of the United Nations, Zelensky stressed the primary goal of maintaining international peace and security, stressing that the UN Security Council is failing its purpose of guaranteeing peace and of ensuring the respect of the principles enshrined in the UN Charter. He concluded by stating that “Ukraine has the moral right to propose a reform of the world security system. We have proven that we help others not only in happy times, but in dark times too. And now we need a decision from the UN Security Council for peace in Ukraine”. During the debate, Olof Skoog, head of the European Union delegation, demanded the withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine, recognising the inalienable right of Ukraine to territorial sovereignty and independence. U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield declared that, according to the available data, the U.S. was able to assess that the Russian army committed war crimes. Therefore, the U.S. demands the suspension of Moscow from the Human Rights Council, as the Kremlin is using this position as a stage for its propaganda (United Nations, 2022). On Thursday, April 7th, 2022, with 93 votes in favour and 24 against, the United Nations General Assembly voted to suspend the Russian Federation from the UN Human Rights Council after alleged atrocities committed by the Russian army since the invasion of Ukraine. “Russia should not have a position of authority in a body whose purpose – whose very purpose – is to promote respect for human rights. Not only is it the height of hypocrisy – it is dangerous,” Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield stated. Sergiy Kyslytsya, the Ukrainian ambassador to the UN, declared that Moscow’s activities in Ukraine “would be equated to war crimes and crimes against humanity.” As a response, the deputy Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Gennady Kuzmin, appealed to Member States to refuse this resolution, suggesting that it would represent “a dangerous precedent” (Roth et al., 2022).

During the UN Security Council meeting held on Tuesday, April 5th, 2022, President Zelensky severely condemned Russia’s atrocities committed toward the Ukrainian population, recalling that holocaust organisers did not go unpunished and requesting a trial to adjudicate Russian war crimes following the path of the 1945-1946 Nuremberg Trials. According to the International Criminal Court Rome Statute, the definition of war crimes, enshrined in Article 8 (2) (a) as being: 

Grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of August 12th, 1949, namely, any of the following acts against persons or property protected under the provisions of the relevant Geneva Convention: 

  1. Wilful killing; 
  2. Torture or inhuman treatment, including biological experiments; 
  3. Wilfully causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or health; 
  4. Extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly; 
  5. Compelling a prisoner of war or other protected person to serve in the forces of a hostile Power;
  6. Wilfully depriving a prisoner of war or other protected person of the rights of fair and regular trial;
  7. Unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement;
  8. Taking hostages.

The Rome Statute in Article 8 (2) (c) also defines the definition of war crimes in situations of non-international armed conflicts, including “(i) Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture; (ii) Committing outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment; (iii) Taking hostages; (iv) The passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgement pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all judicial guarantees which are generally recognised as indispensable”.

Major international leaders and institutions severely condemned the events of Bucha and the reports that emerged in other Russian-occupied regions. Liz Throssell, spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights declared that “What we have seen emerging in Bucha and other areas, clearly points to a very disturbing development…all the signs are that the victims were directly targeted and directly killed”. She continues by stating that “We are not saying that this specific incident is a war crime, we can’t establish that yet, that is why there needs to be detailed forensic examination…Justice and accountability take time; what is important is that this work is undertaken and continues to ensure accountability going forward” (United Nations, 2022).

The Russian-Ukrainian conflict has already culminated in one of the harsher humanitarian crises of the century, where severe violations of human rights and international humanitarian law are at the very core of the war. Thus, it is widely recognised that the events in Bucha and across other Ukrainian cities cannot go unnoticed. It is too soon to affirm that the Kremlin is directly responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity. However, the International Criminal Court’s Chief Prosecutor has opened a formal investigation into the alleged crimes committed by the Russian army in Ukraine. 

Sources and further readings:

Boffey, D. & Rankin, J. (2022, April 3). Killing of civilians in Bucha and Kyiv condemned as ‘terrible war crime’. The Guardian. Retrieved on April 29, 2022,from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/apr/03/eu-leaders-condemn-killing-of-unarmed-civilians-in-bucha-and-kyiv 

Human Rights Watch. (2022, April 3). Ukraine: Apparent War Crimes in Russia-Controlled Areas. Human Rights Watch. Retrieved on April 29, 2022, from https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/04/03/ukraine-apparent-war-crimes-russia-controlled-areas

PBS NewsHours. (2022, April 6). WATCH LIVE: UN Security Council discusses Bucha killings in Ukraine, Zelenksy to speak via video

. YouTube. Retrieved on April 7, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8xqnh7imVg&t=2520s

Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, 1998.

Roth, R., Sullivan, K., Beech, S., & Ly, L. (2022, April 7). UN suspends Russia from Human Rights Council. CNN. Retrieved on April 29, 2022, from https://edition.cnn.com/2022/04/07/politics/un-russia-human-rights/index.html

Rubinsztein-Dunlop, S., & Hemingway, P. (2022, April 5). What happened in Bucha? Inside Ukrainian city of horrors caught up in Russia’s battle for Kyiv. ABC News. Retrieved on April 29, 2022, from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-04-06/inside-bucha-ukraine-after-alleged-russian-atrocities/100966702

Stashevskyi, O., & Cara, A., (2022, April 6). In Bucha, Ukraine, burned, piled bodies among latest horrors. ABC News. Retrieved on April 29, 2022, from https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/bucha-ukraine-burned-piled-bodies-latest-horrors-83902341

The Guardian. (2022, April 5). Zelenskiy says more than 300 people killed and tortured in Bucha – as it happened. The Guardian. Retrieved on April 29, 2022, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2022/apr/04/russia-ukraine-war-latest-zelenskiy-calls-russian-forces-butchers-after-civilian-mass-graves-found-around-kyiv-live?utm_term=624bbec5be642e71a5388f883e34f161&utm_campaign=GuardianTodayUK&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&CMP=GTUK_email

United Nations. (2022, April 5). Ukraine’s President calls on Security Council to act for peace, or “dissolve” itself. United Nations. Retrieved on 2022, April 29 from https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/04/1115632

United Nations. (2022, April 5). Ukraine: UN’s Guterres joins call for Bucha war crimes probe. United Nations. Retrieved on 2022, April 29 from https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/04/1115522

POPULAR POSTS

FOLLOW US

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Human Rights Film Festival The Hague

Register

Human Rights Film Festival The Hague

This will close in 0 seconds

Kenza Mena
Team Coordinator -China

Kenza Mena has expertise in international criminal law since she is currently pursuing a last-year Master’s degree in International Criminal Justice at Paris II Panthéon-Assas and obtained with honors cum laude an LLM in International and Transnational Criminal Law from the University of Amsterdam. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in French and Anglo-American law. 

Since September 2021, she has been the coordinator of Team China at GHRD, a country where violations of human rights, even international crimes, are frequently perpetrated by representatives of the State. Within Team China, awareness is also raised on discrimination that Chinese women and minorities in the country and, more generally, Chinese people around the world are facing.

Kenza believes that the primary key step to tackle atrocities perpetrated around the world is advocacy and promotion of human rights.

Aimilina Sarafi
Pakistan Coordinator

Aimilina Sarafi holds a Bachelor’s degree cum laude in International Relations and Organisations from Leiden University and is currently pursuing a Double Legal Master’s degree (LLM) in Public International Law and International Criminal Law at the University of Amsterdam.
She is an active advocate for the human rights of all peoples in her community and is passionate about creating a better world for future generations. Aimilina is the coordinator for the GHRD team of Pakistan, in which human rights violations of minority communities in Pakistan are investigated and legally evaluated based on international human rights legal standards.
Her team is working on raising awareness on the plight of minority communities such as women, children, religious and ethnic minorities within Pakistan.

Lukas Mitidieri
Coordinator & Head Researcher- Bangladesh

Lucas Mitidieri is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in International Relations at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). As the GHRD Bangladesh Team Coordinator, he advocates for human rights and monitors violations across all minorities and marginalized groups in Bangladesh. Lucas believes that the fight for International Human Rights is the key to a world with better social justice and greater equality.

Nicole Hutchinson
Editorial Team Lead

Nicole has an MSc in International Development Studies with a focus on migration. She is passionate about promoting human rights and fighting poverty through advocacy and empowering human choice. Nicole believes that even the simplest social justice efforts, when properly nurtured, can bring about radical and positive change worldwide.

Gabriela Johannen
Coordinator & Head Researcher – India

Gabriela Johannen is a lawyer admitted to the German bar and holds extensive knowledge in the fields of human rights, refugee law, and international law. After working for various courts and law firms in her home country, she decided to obtain an LL.M. degree from Utrecht University where she studied Public International Law with a special focus on Human Rights. Additionally, while working as a pro-bono legal advisor for refugees, she expanded her knowledge in the fields of refugee law and migration.

Gabriela is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD India, a country, she has had a personal connection with since childhood. Her primary focus is to raise awareness for the severe human rights violations against minorities and marginalized groups that continue to occur on a daily basis in India. By emphasizing the happenings and educating the general public, she hopes to create a better world for future generations.

João Victor
Coordinator & Head Researcher – International Justice

João Victor is a young Brazilian lawyer who leads our team of International Justice and Human Rights. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Law from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and possesses over 5 years of experience in dealing with Human Rights and International Law issues both in Brazil and internationally, including the protection of refugees’ rights and the strengthening of accountability measures against torture crimes.

João has an extensive research engagement with subjects related to International Justice in general, and more specifically with the study of the jurisprudence of Human Rights Courts regarding the rise of populist and anti-terrorist measures taken by national governments. He is also interested in the different impacts that new technologies may provoke on the maintenance of Human Rights online, and how enforcing the due diligence rules among private technology companies might secure these rights against gross Human Rights violations.

Célinne Bodinger
Environment and Human Rights Coordinator

As the Environment and Human Rights Coordinator, Célinne is passionate about the health of our planet and every life on it.

Angela Roncetti
Team Coordinator and Head Researcher- South America

Angela holds a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) from Vitória Law School (FDV) in Brazil. Her research combines more than five years of experience conducting debates and studies on the rights of homeless people, the elderly, children, and refugees. Besides that, she also volunteers in a social project called Sou Diferente (I am Different in English), where she coordinates and takes part in actions aimed at the assistance and the emancipation of vulnerable groups in the cities of the metropolitan area of Espírito Santo state (Brazil).

Lina Borchardt
Team Head (Promotions)
(Europe)

She is currently heading the Promotions Team and University Chapter of Global Human Rights Defence. Her background is the one of European and International Law, which I am studying in The Hague. She has previously gained experience at Women´s Rights organizations in Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey over the past years.
She has been working for Global Human Rights Defence in the Netherlands since 2020. Her focus now is concentrated on the Human Rights and Minorities Film Festival and the cooperation of GHRD with students across the country.

Pedro Ivo Oliveira
Team Coordinator and Researcher
(Africa)

Pedro holds an extensive background in Human Rights, especially in Global Health, LGBTQ+ issues, and HIV and AIDS. He is currently finishing his Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations and Affairs at the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Moreover, he successfully attended the Bilingual Summer School in Human Rights Education promoted by the Federal University of Minas Gerais and the Association of Universities of the Montevideo Group. Besides, Pedro Ivo has a diversified professional background, collecting experiences in many NGOs and projects.

With outstanding leadership abilities, in 2021, Pedro Ivo was the Secretary-General of the 22nd edition of the biggest UN Model in Latin America: the MINIONU. Fluent in Portuguese, English, and Spanish, Pedro Ivo is the Team Coordinator and Head Researcher of the Team Africa at Global Human Rights Defence. Hence, his focus is to empower his team from many parts of the world about the Human Rights Situation in the African continent, meanwhile having a humanized approach.

Alessandro Cosmo
GHRD Youth Ambassador
(European Union)

Alessandro Cosmo obtained his B.A. with Honors from Leiden University College where he studied International Law with a minor in Social and Business Entrepreneurship. He is currently pursuing an LL.M. in Public International Law at Utrecht University with a specialization in Conflict and Security. 
As GHRD’s E.U. Youth Ambassador, Alessandro’s two main focuses are to broaden the Defence’s reach within E.U. institutions and political parties, as well as mediate relations between human rights organizations abroad seeking European funding. 
Alessandro believes that human rights advocacy requires grass-roots initiatives where victims’ voices are amplified and not paraphrased or spoken for. He will therefore act on this agenda when representing Global Human Rights Defence domestically and abroad

Veronica Delgado
Team Coordinator and Researcher- Japan, Sri Lanka & Tibet

Veronica is a Colombian lawyer who leads our team of Japan, Sri Lanka and Tibet. She holds a master’s degree in Public International Law from Utrecht University. She has experience in Colombian law firms. Here she represented clients before constitutional courts. She also outlined legal concepts to state entities such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ombudsman’s Office on international law issues.

Veronica has an extensive research background with subjects related to public international law. She worked as an assistant researcher for more than two years for the Externado University of Colombia. Here she undertook in-depth research on constitutional, business, and human rights law issues. She was involved with consultancy services with the Colombian Army regarding transitional justice. 

Wiktoria Walczyk
Coordinator & Head Researcher (Nepal & Indonesia)

Wiktoria Walczyk has joined GHRD in June 2020 as a legal intern. She is currently coordinator and head researcher of Team Nepal and Indonesia. She has an extensive legal knowledge concerning international human rights and is passionate about children’s and minorities’ rights. Wiktoria has obtained her LL.B. in International & European Law and she specialised in Public International Law & Human Rights at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. Moreover, she is pursuing her LL.M. in International & European Law and focusing on Modern Human Rights Law specialisation at the University of Wroclaw in Poland. In order to gain an essential legal experience, Wiktoria has also joined Credit Suisse’s 2021 General Counsel Graduate First Program where she is conducting her legal training and discovering the banking world. She would like to make a significant impact when it comes to the protection of fundamental human rights around the world, especially with regard to child labour. 

Fairuz Sewbaks
Coordinator and Head Researcher
(Africa)​

Fairuz Sewbaks holds extensive legal knowledge regarding international human rights, with a specific focus on human rights dealings taking place in continental Africa. She holds a bachelor’s degree from The Hague University in public international law and international human rights and successfully followed advanced human rights courses at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria. She furthermore participated in the Istanbul Summer School where she was educated about the role of epidemics and pandemics in light of human rights.

 

Fairuz is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD Africa. Her primary focus is to establish and coordinate long-term research projects regarding the differentiating human rights dealings of vulnerable and marginalized groups in continental Africa, as well as conducting individual research projects.

Priya Lachmansingh
Coordinator and Head Researcher, Political Advisor
(Asia & America)

Priya Lachmansingh is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in International & European
Law at the Hague University of Applied Science.
As GHRD’s Asia & America human rights coordinator and GHRD Political Advisor, Priya’s
prominent focus is to highlight human rights violations targeted against minority and
marginalized groups in Asia and America and to broaden GHRD reach within Dutch political
parties and as well seek domestic funding.

Jasmann Chatwal
Team Coordinator & Head Coordinator: North America

Jasmann is a political science student at Leiden University who joined GHRD in May 2021 as an intern in team Pakistan. Now, she is the team coordinator for North America and is responsible for coordinating the documentation of human rights violations in USA, Canada, and America.