OHCHR: Treatment of Prisoners of War and Persons Hors de Combat in the Context of the Armed Attack by the Russian Federation against Ukraine
(24 February 2022 – 23 February 2023)
This report by the Office of the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) focuses on the treatment of prisoners of war (POWs) by the parties to the international armed conflict since the large-scale armed attack by the Russian Federation against Ukraine commencing on 24 February 2022. The report covers the period from 24 February 2022 to 23 February 2023 and is based on the findings of the Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine. It examines international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL) violations in relation to the treatment of POWs during all stages of captivity – from their capture through to their internment and repatriation.
Since 24 February 2022, a large number of members of the armed forces and other combatants have been captured by the parties to the international armed conflict.
The Government of Ukraine provided OHCHR with full and confidential access to POWs in official places of internment, which OHCHR acknowledges with great appreciation. OHCHR has not been granted access to POWs interned by the Russian Federation despite repeated requests. On one occasion, on 19 August 2022, OHCHR was allowed to meet a group of 13 Ukrainian men POWs interned in a pre-trial detention facility (SIZO) in Luhansk. However, OHCHR was not allowed to conduct confidential interviews.
In relation to the treatment of POWs in the power of the Russian Federation, OHCHR documented gross violations of IHRL, and serious violations of IHL that may constitute war crimes upon capture and immediately thereafter. They include the summary executions of 15 POWs, the use of POWs as human shields, the deaths of two wounded men POWs due to a lack of medical care, and torture or other ill-treatment to exact information.
Of 203 Ukrainian POWs interviewed by OHCHR, 136 had fallen into the hands of the Russian Federation after their surrender was negotiated between the belligerent forces.
OHCHR identified 48 places of internment of POWs both in the Russian Federation and in Russian-occupied territory of Ukraine. More than 75 per cent of POWs interviewed by OHCHR were interned temporarily or for the full period of captivity in penitentiary facilities, in violation of the IHL obligation that they cannot be held in close confinement. Violations of IHL and IHRL documented in 32 cases of these places related to dire conditions of internment (quarters, food, hygiene and medical attention), denial of communications with the outside world impacting both POWs and their relatives, torture or other ill-treatment, forced labour in violation of IHL rules, and a lack of access of independent monitors. In the majority of places of internment, violations were widespread and persistent. OHCHR documented five cases where men POWs died after being tortured or otherwise ill-treated, and four cases where POWs died due to a lack of medical attention during internment.
Through individual interviews with 24 women POWs, OHCHR found that women POWs in the hands of the Russian Federation were treated differently than men POWs. However, in 17 cases, women POWs interned in pre-trial detention and penitentiary facilities in Donetsk or in the Russian Federation were subjected to beatings, electrocution, forced nudity, cavity searches and threats of sexual violence. Women POWs interviewed by OHCHR were also not provided with access to sexual and reproductive health services.
In the Russian-occupied territory of Donetsk, OHCHR documented eleven cases of criminal prosecution of Ukrainian POWs for mere participation in hostilities. OHCHR also documented the use of torture or other ill-treatment to extract confessions and testimony; denial of the right to trial by a regularly constituted, independent and impartial court; and violations of the right to have legal counsel of one’s own choosing.
In relation to the treatment of POWs in the power of Ukraine, OHCHR also documented cases of summary executions of at least 25 Russian POWs upon capture through information gathered from open sources, in situ visits and interviews with witnesses. OHCHR also documented cases of torture or other froms of ill-treatment against 113 POWs.
OHCHR documented cases of inadequate conditions of internment in 8 out of 31 transit and permanent facilities run by the Government of Ukraine.
OHCHR welcomes the establishment by Ukraine of a POW camp in Lviv region as required uder IHL rules on the places and conditions of internment and the security of POWs.