The US has evidence that Russian troops in eastern Ukraine have executed people who are trying to surrender, a top US official told the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday.
“We now have credible information that a Russian military unit operating in the vicinity of Donetsk executed Ukrainians who were attempting to surrender, rather than take them into custody,” Beth Van Schaack, the US ambassador-at-large for Global Criminal Justice, said in the meeting.
“If true, this would be in violation of a core principle of the law of war: the prohibition against the summary execution of civilians and of combatants who are hors de combat by virtue of surrender, injury, or other forms of incapacitation.”
Hors de combat is a French term used in international law to refer to someone in war who has clearly expressed an intention to surrender or who is injured and incapable of defending themselves.
Van Schaack continued: “These … reports suggest that atrocities are not the result of rogue units or individuals; they rather reveal a deeply disturbing pattern of systematic abuse across all areas where Russia’s forces are engaged.”
She did not give any more detail about what reports she was referencing.
Since Russia launched a full invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Russian troops have shelled several cities across the country, hitting multiple civilian targets, including hospitals and schools.
After failing to capture the capital city Kyiv, Russian forces have refocused their efforts in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has recorded more than 3,400 civilian casualties in the country so far, although the number is expected to be much higher.
In the besieged port city of Mariupol, at least 21,000 civilians have been killed by Russian forces, local Ukrainian officials said earlier this month.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has accused Russia of committing “genocide” and called Russian soldiers “murderers, looters, butchers.”
The Kremlin has repeatedly denied that it is targeting civilians. It continues to call the invasion of Ukraina a “special military operation.”