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Who is Australian Matilda Bogner, head of UN Human Rights Mission in Ukraine, investigating war crimes


Bogner said while many were local journalists, officials and activists, there was a “disturbing trend” of people being “disappeared” for no clear reason.

“And again we think the numbers are much higher – we are receiving allegations every day. It’s a very concerning pattern. Not all one-sided, we have documented arbitrary detention and disappearances on the other side, but the scale is much less than in Russian controlled areas.”

Matilda Bogner delivers a report on the human rights situation in Ukraine in Kyiv last year.

Matilda Bogner delivers a report on the human rights situation in Ukraine in Kyiv last year.Credit:Getty Images

Bogner has had oversight of more than 60 staff at the UN mission in Ukraine since July 2019, with the organisation establishing a full-time base in the nation following the 2014 conflict in the east and the annexing of Crimea by Moscow. She said the current conflict had “many nuances” because of recent history.

Bogner previously headed regional offices in Central Asia, the Pacific and South East Asia and oversaw the UN Human Rights Mission in Libya. She studied law and Russian in Adelaide before working as a criminal defence lawyer in Australia, joining the UN in 2006.

She has voiced concerns about the torture and ill-treatment of people believed to be so-called marauders, bootleggers, pro-Russian supporters and curfew violators in territory controlled by the Ukraine government. She said both sides had likely mistreated prisoners of war.

But in a matter-of-fact manner, Bogner said she only dealt in verified evidence and warned that lazy speculation could be the enemy of ensuring those who have violated internation human rights law were held accountable. She warned the international media needed to be cautious of those attempting to weaponised death tolls and allegations of rape and torture.

Ukrainian investigators announced last week they had uncovered horrific cases of sexual violence committed by Russian troops, including women and girls kept in a Bucha basement for 25 days.

Ukraine’s official ombudsman for human rights, Lyudmyla Denisova, said nine of them were now pregnant.

“We have received allegations of sexual violence, and we have corroborated some cases and we have information about others that we are trying to corroborate,” Bogner said.

“We do believe there is sexual violence taking place. But what we also know that often victims of sexual violence don’t speak out for some time. They need to find a safe place to go, they need to be supported and provided with services. And usually, only after that, they will they feel safe and able to talk about their situation.”

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She said sexual violence was a familiar presence in any war with such a high levels of hostilities, with a “gender element” to it that goes back to age-old discrimination against women.

“Usually wars are fought by men, men who have power, men who have guns and if there’s no strict regime in place to ensure accountability, then that leaves it open for violence to happen,” she said.

Bogner said rigorous investigation of allegations of sexual violence would be conducted to ensure justice and accountability, as a central aspect of deterrence and prevention of such crimes.

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She said while security and access restrictions continued to pose significant challenges for the verification of information, it should not paralyse urgent and immediate action to enact prevention and response measures.

She said in cities such as Mariupol, lists of the missing would likely guide death tolls, which she expected to be “into the thousands”.

“They need to be documented, but they need to be documentary carefully, so we have real information rather than information that is used for propaganda or other purposes,” she said.

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