Ukrainian cities have been pounded by airstrikes and heavy shelling in Russia’s five-week-old invasion, killing civilians and destroying hospitals in acts that may amount to war crimes, the top United Nations human rights official has said.
Michelle Bachelet, addressing the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, called on Russia to withdraw its troops.
She also said her office had received “credible allegations” that Russian forces had used cluster munitions in populated areas of Ukraine at least 24 times..
“Homes and administrative buildings, hospitals and schools, water stations and electricity systems have not been spared”, she said.
Russia has denied targeting civilians in what it calls a “special operation” to disarm and “denazify” its neighbour.
Bachelet said that her office, which deploys nearly 60 UN human rights monitors in Ukraine, had verified 77 incidents in which medical facilities were damaged, including 50 hospitals.
“Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited under international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes”, she said.
“The massive destruction of civilian objects and the high number of civilian casualties strongly indicate that the fundamental principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution have not been sufficiently adhered to,” Bachelet said, referring to the rules of war embodied in the Geneva conventions.
The people of Ukraine have been enduring a “living nightmare”, she said, adding: “In the besieged city of Mariupol, people are living in sheer terror.”
Matilda Bogner, head of the UN human rights mission in Ukraine, told Reuters in Geneva on Tuesday that thousands of people may have died during the month-long siege of Mariupol, a southern port city of 400,000 people laid to waste.