Bodily injury as a war crime against Ukrainians

Formally, it’s not torture, but the consequences are even worse.
Hanna Korchmar31 May 2024UA DE EN ES FR IT RU

[телесни ушкодження]

Photo source: Depositphotos

In the temporarily occupied territories, the Russian military committed a whole range of crimes, among which the most significant were arrests, torture, and murder. Against such background, the media and human rights activists do not pay substantial attention to intentional bodily harm — they are not easy to distinguish from torture or attempted murder, and this requires advanced knowledge of legal practice.

As of May 2024, the T4P initiative has documented 336 cases of intentional bodily harm against civilians during the war in Ukraine.

  • Kyiv region — 95 cases
  • Chernihiv region — 60 cases
  • Kherson region — 48 cases

Most injuries were caused using small arms or vehicles. Snipers shot victims in the legs or arms to limit their mobility or force them to remain in a particular area. Russian soldiers hit and ran over residents of the occupied territories with their cars — according to the victims, this happened under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

Although torture or intentional killing in the context of the Russian invasion predominates in sheer numbers, the consequences of bodily harm can be equally devastating — victims suffer greatly. They may die due to lack of medical care. Many survived miraculously.

We were able to identify 153 people who were injured. Eight of them died from the consequences — often because there was no one to help them or those around them were afraid to do so due to possible retaliation from the Russians. We have identified 7 perpetrators of these crimes who should be brought to justice.

Most of the injuries were inflicted on victims during individual attacks on the streets or checkpoints. Only a small proportion (less than 10% of victims) were injured in their own homes. In this case, the Russian military carried out rounds, raids, or mass searches in the homes of residents. People were beaten for the slightest resistance to a search. In this case, it did not matter whether the victim was suspected of something — the beating was carried out to suppress resistance and force silence. Questions about the motives and grounds for the searches were not accepted.

A certain part of the victims resisted the illegal seizure of property during searches. People protested against having their valuables, furniture, and household appliances stolen. For this, they could be beaten.

Why isn’t this torture?

How do we distinguish between torture and intentional bodily harm? It is a difficult question for an international criminal lawyer. Although torture usually involves inflicting physical harm of varying severity, it has another qualifying feature — it is used for some purpose. Such violence consists of an attempt to force the victim to do something or refrain from performing specific actions. It is usually used during interrogations or against prisoners in cells — to suppress their will.

As for intentional bodily harm, they do not have a clearly defined purpose — other than causing physical damage. Therefore, purposeful (using small arms, vehicles, and improvised means) cases of injury to civilians in temporarily occupied territories that are not related to the demand for specific information, money, valuables, etc., can be classified as intentional bodily harm in the context of war.

The most common motive for causing intentional bodily harm is to suppress the resistance of the victim, creating an atmosphere of fear and impunity for the occupying forces.

According to Article 8 (2)(a)(iii) of the Rome Statute, “intentionally causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health” is considered a war crime.

Intentional bodily injury as a crime has an objective and subjective side. The objective side includes damage to the victim. Such damage can be inflicted in different ways: by kicking or punching, using bladed weapons, firearms, or using improvised means. The severity of the damage can vary from minor injuries that do not require hospitalization to life-threatening conditions.

A sniper’s shots are considered intentional bodily harm when he aims at limbs rather than vital organs. It is worth emphasizing that if the victim did not die from a shot only by luck but received bodily injuries, such actions should be qualified as attempted premeditated murder.

Although intentional bodily harm is not often found among the qualifications of the Russian military actions in Ukraine, this crime is one of the most serious. It requires active concentration by law enforcement agencies and the public.

Editor: Denys Volokha

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