The UN rights office, OHCHR, reiterated deep concern on Friday at the increasing number of civilian casualties in Ukraine following the Russian invasion which began on 24 February, before issuing a reminder to Moscow that any targeting of non-combatants could be a war crime.
“Civilians are being killed and maimed in what appear to be indiscriminate attacks, with Russian forces using explosive weapons with wide-area effects in or near populated areas,” said OHCHR spokesperson Liz Throssell, speaking in Geneva. “These include missiles, heavy artillery shells and rockets, as well as airstrikes.”
Fifteen days into the war, schools, hospitals and nurseries have been hit by shelling, Throssell said, adding that cluster bombs had also been used in several populated areas.
“On 3 March, 47 civilians were killed when Russian airstrikes hit two schools and several apartment blocks in Chernihiv,” Throssell said.
“On 9 March, a Russian airstrike hit Mariupol Hospital No.3, injuring at least 17 civilians. We are still investigating reports that at least three civilians may have been killed in the airstrike. We spoke to different sources in Mariupol, including local authorities, indicating consistently that the hospital was both clearly identifiable and operational when it was hit.”
The UN World Health Organization (WHO) also condemned early reports of an attack by Russian forces on a psychiatric hospital near Kharkiv.
To date, the WHO has confirmed 29 attacks on health care facilities, which have resulted in 12 deaths, including two health workers, and 34 people injured.
Condemning all such targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure, OHCHR’s Throssell issued a direct message to Moscow, “We remind the Russian authorities that directing attacks against civilians and civilian objects, as well as so-called bombardment in towns and villages and other forms of indiscriminate attacks, are prohibited under international law and may amount to war crimes.”
What is a war crime?
According to the UN, war crimes are those violations of international humanitarian law (treaty or customary law) that incur individual criminal responsibility under international law. As a result, and in contrast to the crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity, war crimes must always take place in the context of an armed conflict, either international or non-international.
What is the Geneva Convention?
It is a series of international treaties that set international legal standards for humanitarian treatment in any war.
- War crimes include the intentional targeting of civilians;
- Attacks that cause grievous bodily injury or harm to health in view of military purpose;
- Attacks on hospitals, schools, historical monuments and other major civilian sites.
- Deliberately committing attacks that are known to cause death or harm to the general public.
- Attack or bombardment of towns, villages, dwellings or buildings in any way without any protective cover.