Human Rights Watch accuses Ukraine of using banned antipersonnel mines, human rights defenders and Ombudsman react

31 January, 07:47 PM
Anti-personnel petal mine (Photo:Human Rights Watch)

Anti-personnel petal mine (Photo:Human Rights Watch)

The international non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch has accused the Ukrainian military of using banned antipersonnel mines in and around the Izyum region of Kharkiv Oblast while the area was under occupation by Russian troops.

This is stated in the HRW report published on Jan. 31. The organization claims to have documented “numerous cases” of missiles with PFM antipersonnel mines (“petal mines”) being fired into occupied territories near Russian military facilities.

HRW also noted that Russian troops used antipersonnel mines, including booby traps, in various regions of Ukraine. During the seizure of part of Kharkiv Oblast, the Russians kidnapped, interrogated and tortured, and in some cases killed civilians, the report said.

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“Russian forces have repeatedly used antipersonnel mines and committed atrocities across the country, but this doesn’t justify Ukrainian use of these prohibited weapons,” said HRW Arms Division Director Steve Goose.

The report states that HRW interviewed “over 100 people, including witnesses to landmine use, victims of landmines, first responders, doctors, and Ukrainian deminers. Everyone interviewed said they had seen mines on the ground, knew someone who was injured by one, or had been warned about their presence during Russia’s occupation of Izyum.”

“Human Rights Watch documented PFM mine use in nine different areas in and around Izyum city and verified 11 civilian casualties from these mines.”

According to the organization, all nine areas were near the places where Russian troops were stationed at the time. HRW suggests that the Ukrainian military could have allegedly shelled these areas with Uragan multiple launch rocket system shells with PFM mines. Meanwhile, the organization believes that the use of antipersonnel mines by Russia “on the territory that it hoped to permanently control” “is unlikely.”

HRW reached out to the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Office of the President, and “contacted several government officials.” The Ministry of Defense replied that the Ukrainian military adheres to international obligations, in particular the ban on the use of any antipersonnel mines, and said that until the end of the war they cannot comment on information about the types of weapons used by Ukraine.

The use of antipersonnel mines is prohibited by international humanitarian law because they can harm both military personnel and civilians.

Reaction of Ukrainian Foreign Ministry

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine said Ukraine was fully fulfilling its international obligations against the background of the war crimes of the Russian invaders and their crimes against humanity and genocide of the Ukrainian people.

“We remind you that according to the Ottawa Convention, Ukraine has already destroyed 3 million antipersonnel mines, in particular stocks of extremely dangerous POM-3 mines. Russia, having attacked Ukraine, used and is using the entire range of prohibited mines, in particular the POM-3 Medallion mines, which are particularly dangerous for civilians,” the agency said in a statement.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs added that Ukraine is always open to cooperation with international organizations, and expressed hope that HRW will help Ukraine in consolidating international efforts to support the country in the field of demining.

“Ukraine has taken note of the HRW report, which will be properly analyzed by the involved institutions of Ukraine,” the agency added.

Ukrainian Ombudsman reacts

Dmytro Lubinets, Ukrainian Parliament’s Commissioner for Human Rights, wrote on his Telegram channel on Jan. 31 that during the nine years of the war unleashed by Russia, Ukraine has become the most polluted country with antipersonnel mines, which threatens the lives of civilians.

He added that Russia has many more different weapons and uses its entire arsenal against Ukrainians, not complying with the norms of international law, since its goal is the destruction of the Ukrainians.

“Despite this, Ukraine appealed to the UN that it could not fully guarantee the implementation of the Ottawa Convention (the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Antipersonnel Mines and on their Destruction) in connection with the war in 2018. Russia, in turn, is not a party to this convention,” he said.

The ombudsman said that Ukraine needs more high-precision weapons from Western allies in order to repel the aggressor.

He noted that on Jan. 25, the Russians fired at eight-story buildings in Bakhmut with thermobaric ammunition from the Solntsepek system. The occupiers also used POM-3 Medallion mines, which explode when approaching and can kill a person within a radius of 16 meters.

“Ukraine remains committed to its international legal obligations!” Lubinets added.

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“Our state has always shown openness to investigations into any allegations. At the same time, Ukraine has reliable evidence that Russia is making every effort to discredit Ukraine, primarily with the aim of weakening its military support. Therefore, we call on all partners to take this factor into account before drawing conclusions about any accusations against Ukraine!”

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