31 August 2023
Risk Level: Current Crisis

Russian forces have widely perpetrated possible war crimes and crimes against humanity since their invasion of Ukraine. Ukrainian forces have also committed potential war crimes.


Since 24 February 2022, when Russian Armed Forces invaded Ukraine, cities and towns across the country have been bombarded with indiscriminate explosive weapons. The UN Human Rights Council (HRC)-mandated Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Ukraine has documented evidence of war crimes committed against the civilian population by Russian forces, including indiscriminate attacks, torture and sexual and gender-based violence. The UN has verified more than 9,511 civilian deaths since the start of the conflict while emphasizing that there are likely thousands of unverified casualties. The conflict has caused a massive humanitarian crisis, displacing at least 11.3 million people, including more than 6.2 million who fled to neighboring countries, and leaving 17.6 million in need of assistance.

The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) has documented the widespread use of heavy artillery and multiple launch rocket systems, missiles, airstrikes and illegal cluster munitions in populated areas. Schools, homes, water and sanitation systems and civilian shelters have been routinely targeted. The World Health Organization has verified 1,129 attacks on healthcare since February 2022, the highest number verified in any conflict. Russian forces have bombed and pillaged Ukrainian historical, religious and cultural sites, with UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) verifying damage to at least 274 cultural sites since February 2022.

In areas under their control, Russian forces have perpetrated grave abuses that may amount to war crimes, including killings, rape and torture. Mass graves and burial sites containing at least 1,500 bodies have been found in areas retaken from Russian forces in Bucha, Izium and Lyman. According to the CoI, the systematic use of torture in Russian-occupied areas, as well as the wave of attacks by Russian forces on Ukraine’s energy-related infrastructure since October 2022, may amount to crimes against humanity. According to the HRMMU, Ukrainian and Russian forces have also committed abuses against prisoners of war, including torture and ill-treatment. The UN has documented violations of international law by mercenary operatives from the Wagner Group, including enforced disappearances, ill-treatment and extrajudicial executions of prisoners of war.

The UN and the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe have verified evidence of grave crimes against children, including killing and maiming, as well as unlawful transfers and deportations of children that may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity. According to the UN Secretary-General, in 2022 Russian forces and affiliated armed groups were responsible for the killing of at least 136 children and maiming of 518 while Ukrainian armed forces were responsible for the killing or maiming of 255 children. On 17 March 2023 the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Commissioner for Children’s Rights in the Office of the President of Russia, Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, for their alleged responsibility for the deportation and transfer of population from occupied areas of Ukraine to Russia.

Fighting has escalated in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, a region collectively known as Donbas, and international monitors have documented both sides committing violations that may amount to war crimes. Conflict has been ongoing in Donbas since 2014 after a pro-European change of power in Kyiv prompted the Russian government to militarily support majority-ethnic Russian separatists but has been further exacerbated by the invasion of Ukraine. An estimated 14,000 people were killed and millions displaced between 2014-2022 and the ICC found evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has been widely condemned and many states and intergovernmental organizations have responded with unprecedented targeted sanctions and other economic measures. Hundreds of multinational corporations have ceased operations in Russia and many countries have closed their airspace to Russian airlines. Some states have provided Ukraine’s military with weapons.

Following Russia’s veto of a draft resolution on 25 February 2022, the UN Security Council adopted a “Uniting for Peace” resolution. On 2 March 2022 the UN General Assembly (UNGA) condemned Russia’s use of force and on 7 April voted to suspend Russia from its seat on the HRC. The UNGA has also passed numerous resolutions that have demanded humanitarian access to civilians, condemned and demanded the immediate reversal of Russia’s annexation of occupied Ukrainian territory and called for reparations and justice for violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL). Meanwhile, after Ukraine filed a case asking for clarification under Article IX of the Genocide Convention, on 16 March 2022 the International Court of Justice (ICJ) imposed provisional measures, calling on Russia to suspend military operations and for military units to cease advancing, as well as calling on all parties to refrain from actions that may prolong the conflict.


On 6 June 2023 the Russian-controlled Kakhovka dam in the southern Kherson region was destroyed. The ensuing flood killed dozens of civilians, displaced thousands and left many without access to electricity and clean water. Kherson is the most mine-contaminated region, with the flooding likely transferring mines to previously cleared areas. The UN has verified 879 casualties from landmines and unexploded remnants of war since 24 February 2022.

On 7 July the United States announced plans to supply Ukraine with internationally-banned cluster munitions.

Since Russia suspended its participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative on 17 July, its forces have carried out a series of attacks on the city of Odesa. The strikes have demolished critical port infrastructure, killed and wounded dozens of civilians and destroyed 25 heritage sites across the city center, a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. As of 3 August, Russia has destroyed 26 port facilities and 180,000 metric tons of grain destined for countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.


Russian forces have perpetrated widespread violations of IHL and International Human Rights Law (IHRL), many of which may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Civilians in Ukraine continue to be at risk as Russian forces target residential buildings and other civilian infrastructure with drone and rocket strikes. Ukrainian forces have also perpetrated violations and abuses of international law as they continue a counteroffensive to regain territory. Although the conflict is stagnant in Donbas, civilians on either side of the front lines remain at increased risk as both Russian and Ukrainian forces continue to use banned cluster munitions.

The breakdown of the Black Sea Grain Initiative has global implications due to economic sanctions and Russia and Ukraine’s role as major exporters of grain and cooking oils. Increasing scarcity and costs have impeded aid operations for vulnerable populations worldwide and put more pressure on situations prone to resource-related conflict.


    • Failure to adequately halt and address violations of IHL and IHRL in eastern Ukraine since at least 2014.
    • Russia’s pattern of violence against civilian populations, their property, livelihoods and cultural symbols and the blatant disregard of IHL.
    • Increasing polarization, propaganda and inflammatory speech.
    • Large-scale airstrikes and use of long-range weapons by Russian forces and counteroffensive by Ukrainian forces to recapture Russian-occupied territory.
    • Impunity for orchestrators and perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity.


All parties to the conflict must strictly adhere to IHL and ensure the protection of civilians in conflict areas. All violations of IHL and IHRL must be investigated and the perpetrators held accountable. Legal proceedings for those accused of crimes during the conflict must be transparent and respect international standards of due process and proportionality.

Amidst the protracted crisis, the international community must continue to increase its pressure on Russian authorities to halt their aggression in line with the ICJ’s provisional measures. The international community should also maintain its support to Ukraine in upholding its international obligations to protect its populations, including by ensuring the territorial integrity of the country, within the parameters of international law.


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