Russia’s deliberate attacks on civilians in Mariupol are ‘war crimes,’ OSCE says
Russia broke international humanitarian law by deliberately targeting civilians during its invasion of Ukraine, and those who ordered attacks on the hospital and theater in besieged city of Mariupol committed war crimes, experts from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe determined in a fact-finding report published Wednesday.
The Vienna-based security body accused Russia of broadly targeting schools, residential buildings and water facilities in its military operations, leading to civilian deaths and injuries.
The investigation found “clear patterns of international humanitarian law violations by the Russian forces in their conduct of hostilities,” the report said, and called for more detailed assessments in determining possible war crimes. “While [the report] was able to contribute to a first collection and analysis of facts, more detailed investigations are necessary, in particular with regard to establish individual criminal responsibility for war crimes.”
“Taken as a whole, the report documents the catalogue of inhumanity perpetrated by Russia’s forces in Ukraine,” said Michael Carpenter, U.S. ambassador to the OSCE, in a speech delivered Wednesday. “This includes evidence of direct targeting of civilians, attacks on medical facilities, rape, executions, looting, and forced deportation of civilians to Russia.”
The report concluded that the strike that tore through a maternity hospital in Mariupol was a Russian attack. “Based upon Russian explanations, the attack must have been deliberate,” the report said of the March 9 attack on the Mariupol Maternity House and Children’s Hospital. “No effective warning was given and no time-limit set. This attack therefore constitutes a clear violation of International Humanitarian Law and those responsible for it have committed a war crime.”
While the Russian government alleged that the hospital was used for military purposes, Carpenter said, “the mission categorically dismissed these claims.” The OSCE experts did not travel to Ukraine but sorted through evidence from multiple sources, including open-source material and accounts from human rights and nonprofit groups.
The OSCE report also found that the attack on the Mariupol Drama Theater, where hundreds of civilians were sheltering as the building was reduced to rubble, “was most likely an egregious violation of international humanitarian law and those who ordered or executed it committed a war crime,” the report found.
The report tracked alleged abuses from Feb. 24, the day Russia invaded, to April 1. It did not include a missile strike on a train station in the eastern city of Kramatorsk last week, or atrocities recently reported in Bucha, a suburb of the capital, Kyiv.
The 110-page report also found “credible evidence suggesting that such violations concerning even the most fundamental human rights … have been committed, mostly in the areas under the effective control of Russia.”
The OSCE began its investigation last month after a vote by most of its member states, including Ukraine, to pursue a fact-finding mission. The United States is part of the 57-member body — as are Russia and its ally, Belarus. Russia and Belarus were among a dozen countries that did not vote for the review and have yet to publicly comment on the report.
The OSCE investigation was triggered through a vote on the so-called “Moscow Mechanism,” named for a 1991 conference held in the Russian capital, that allows member states to send independent experts on missions to another member state to resolve issues of “human rights and democracy,” according to the OSCE.
The OSCE review was based on evidence gathered before a missile strike on a train station in the eastern city of Kramatorsk last week left over 50 people dead including children, and atrocities recently reported in Bucha.
Ukrainian officials said hundreds of civilians were summarily executed in the Kyiv suburb and that they had evidence of torture, dismemberment and the shooting of people at close range. The alleged events in Bucha, found as Ukraine recaptured more territory and Russia’s forces began pivoting from areas near the capital, Kyiv, to the east and south of the country, led to Russia’s suspension from the U.N. Human Rights Council. Russia has claimed that such killings were “staged” or “fake.”
“Since the mission completed its report, the world has been horrified by the scenes of large-scale civilian killings at the hands of Russia’s forces in Bucha, Irpin and other areas that Ukraine has liberated,” Carpenter said.
The British delegation to the OSCE vowed to “hold those responsible to account,” adding: “Justice will be served.” “This report is just the first of likely many,” said the United Kingdom’s ambassador to the body, Neil Bush. “We must, as an international community, hold accountable those responsible for the atrocities that have been committed in Ukraine, including military commanders and other individuals in the Putin regime.”
The report by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights also singled out women and children as particularly hard-hit by Russia’s human rights abuses. The body also noted Ukraine’s role in allegations of abuse and treatment of prisoners of war. But noted, “the violations committed by the Russian Federation, however, are by far larger in nature and scale.”
President Biden on Tuesday referred to the killings in Ukraine as a sign that Russia was committing “genocide,” a term previously avoided by U.S. officials. He later told reporters he intentionally used the word genocide in his speech, although he added that he would “let the lawyers decide internationally whether or not it qualifies.” But he said, “It sure seems that way to me.”
The war in Ukraine has gone on for more than seven weeks, with 1,892 people killed and 2,558 injured, according to an incomplete count by the United Nations. Ukrainian officials have said the civilian death toll is in the thousands. About 4.6 million people have fled the country as refugees.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday called the war a “tragedy” but insisted that Russia had “no choice” but to invade its western neighbor. He told reporters the “special military operation” in Ukraine was going as planned and would continue until its goals are met.
The Moscow Mechanism has been used nine times before by the OSCE, first in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992. It was invoked most recently in Belarus in 2020, when 17 member states invoked it to investigate alleged human rights abuses there.
The United States, Germany, Britain and France were among the member states that invoked the mechanism last month. Earlier in April, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called for Russia to be suspended from OSCE for its “unjustified aggression.”
The Washington Post