U.N. human rights chief decries 'shockingly routine' abuses in Ukraine war

FILE PHOTO: Volker Turk United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights attends the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland February 27, 2023. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations Human Rights chief Volker Turk deplored on Friday how grave human rights violations were "shockingly routine" in Russia's invasion of Ukraine and said the number of civilian casualties was far higher than official figures.

Addressing the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Turk said Ukraine was a nation "struggling to survive" in the face of Russia's invasion.

"After 13 months of the Russian Federation's war against Ukraine, severe violations of human rights and international humanitarian law have become shockingly routine," he said.

"People across the country face massive suffering and loss, deprivation, displacement and destruction."

Fighting is still raging in eastern and southern Ukraine, where Russian forces hold swathes of territory captured after they invaded in February last year.

Russia has repeatedly denied accusations that its forces have committed atrocities.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has verified more than 8,400 civilian deaths and more than 14,000 civilians wounded.

"These figures are just the tip of the iceberg," Turk said. "Most of the casualties resulted from Russian forces' use of wide-impact explosive weaponry in residential neighbourhoods."

The U.N. Human Rights Council is the only body made up of governments to protect human rights worldwide. It does not have legally binding powers but its debates can spur investigations that feed evidence to national and international courts.

The Council next week is expected to adopt a resolution to extend and deepen the mandate of a U.N. investigative body set up to probe possible atrocities in Ukraine.

Ukrainian authorities, who have called for the establishment of a special tribunal to prosecute the Russian political and military leadership over the invasion, have said the investigative body was essential to holding Russia accountable.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Peter Graff)

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