(Geneva) Russia’s transfer of Ukrainian children to areas under its control in Ukraine as well as to its own territory constitutes a “war crime”, a group of UN investigators said Thursday, which also points to possible crimes against humanity.

In its first report since Russia launched its offensive against Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the UN Commission of Inquiry concludes that “the situations it examined concerning the transfer and deportation of children , inside Ukraine and to the Russian Federation respectively, violate international humanitarian law and constitute a war crime”.

According to Kyiv, 16,221 children were deported to Russia until the end of February, but the Commission was unable to verify these figures.

She does, however, indicate that Russian officials have taken legal and policy action regarding the transfer of Ukrainian children, and that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree in May 2022 making it easier to grant Russian citizenship to certain children.

UN investigators have not observed any genocide in Ukraine since the Russian invasion of that country, they said on Thursday, but still recommend further studies on the subject.

“We have not found that there was a genocide in Ukraine,” Erik Mose, one of the three commissioners in charge of the investigation, told reporters, noting however “that certain aspects can raise questions about this crime. “.

Investigators, on the other hand, accuse Moscow of having committed possible “crimes against humanity”.

“The Commission has found that the waves of attacks by the Russian armed forces, starting from October 10, 2022, against Ukrainian energy infrastructure and the use of torture by the Russian authorities may constitute crimes against humanity”, she says, recommending further investigations.

In particular, the Commission established “a pattern of widespread illegal detention” in areas controlled by the Russian armed forces, targeting many people, including women and children.

Certain categories of people detained in these “specialized facilities” in Ukraine and Russia are, according to investigators, systematically tortured.

A former detainee, the Commission continues, was beaten as “punishment for speaking Ukrainian” and for “not remembering the words to the anthem of the Russian Federation”.

This type of torture “may constitute crimes against humanity and should be further investigated,” investigators said in a statement.

The Commission also tried to verify whether the bombardment and siege of Mariupol, in the south-east of Ukraine, could constitute a crime against humanity. However, it concluded that it lacked the elements to reach such a conclusion, not having had access to the Donetsk region, where Mariupol is located, a port city besieged for months by the Russian army before falling in May 2022.

But the Commission recommends that the investigation be continued.

This group of investigators was created last year by the UN Human Rights Council, whose 47 member states will have to decide in early April whether or not to renew their mandate.

The Commission has so far visited 56 localities and interviewed 348 women and 247 men. Its investigators notably inspected destroyed sites and places of burials and torture.

This is the first time that the investigators have published a written report, but they had indicated last September to the media that it was then too early to speak of crimes against humanity, contrary to what NGOs and the ‘Ukraine.

Instead, they accused Russian forces of committing a “considerable number” of war crimes in four Ukrainian regions in the first weeks of the invasion.

The body of evidence they have since collected shows, they say, that Russian forces “committed a wide range” of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, also known as the laws of war.

“Many of these constitute war crimes and include deliberate killings, attacks on civilians, unlawful confinement, torture, rape, forcible transfer and deportation of children.”

The Commission also says it has documented “a small number of violations committed by the Ukrainian armed forces”, including two incidents qualified as war crimes, in which Russian prisoners of war were shot, injured and tortured.

Russian justice on Thursday designated as a “terrorist organization” a legion of Russians fighting with the Ukrainian army against Moscow, paving the way for heavy sentences for its members in the event of capture.

The Supreme Court decided to satisfy a request to this effect from the Prosecutor’s Office and recognized the “Freedom of Russia” Legion as a “terrorist organization” and “prohibited its activities on Russian territory”, Russian news agencies reported.

Anyone aiding or funding this group and its members and leaders now faces penalties of up to life imprisonment.

The “Russian Freedom” Legion was created at the start of the conflict in Ukraine last year and has Russians in its ranks who fight alongside the Ukrainian army against the forces of Moscow.

His spokesman, going by the nom de guerre “Caesar”, told AFP in January that his legion had “several hundred” Russians deployed in the Donbass, including in Bakhmout, the epicenter of the fighting in the region. eastern Ukraine.

Essentially engaged in artillery, they are under the command of Ukrainian officers.