The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights says it is gathering evidence of possible war crimes committed by Russian forces in the Ukrainian town of Bucha.

U.N. rights chief Michelle Bachelet has expressed horror at the images of civilians lying dead on the streets of Bucha, a town on the outskirts of the capital, Kyiv. Her spokeswoman, Liz Throssell, says photos of bodies that have been desecrated are extremely disturbing.

Throssell notes that pictures of people with their hands bound, of partially naked women, and of bodies being burned strongly suggest they have been directly targeted.

Under international humanitarian law, she says, the deliberate killing of civilians is a war crime.

“We are not saying that this specific incidence is a war crime. We cannot establish that yet. That is why there needs to be detailed forensic examinations, for example. That is why there needs to be detailed monitoring and information gathering of what happened to whom, by whom, and on what particular date. Now we are working to do that kind of work, as are other bodies.”

The International Criminal Court has opened an investigation into alleged war crimes by Russian military in Ukraine. The chief prosecutor of the ICC has said there was a reasonable basis to believe war crimes have been committed during the conflict. He said evidence was being gathered on possible war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Throssell says it is important for this work to continue and for perpetrators of such crimes to be held accountable and brought to justice.

“We have been talking about war crimes in the context of shelling, of bombardment and civilian attacks. Now they need to be investigated. But you could argue they were used in a military context, for example to a building being hit. It is hard to see what was a military context of an individual lying in the street with a bullet to the head or having their bodies burned.”

Russia dismisses as fake propaganda allegations that its soldiers have committed war crimes in Ukraine. It accuses Ukrainian special forces of staging a false scenario in Bucha to besmirch the Kremlin’s reputation.

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