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Ukraine was accused by Human Rights Watch of banning the use of PFM mines in Izyum


KYIV, Ukraine — Human Rights Watch said Tuesday it had uncovered evidence that Ukrainian forces had fired “thousands” of antipersonnel landmines into Russian-occupied territory in eastern Ukraine, in apparent violation of pledges from Kyiv not to use arms, injuring and maiming dozens of civilians.

The landmines were scattered “in and around” the town of Izyum in eastern Ukraine, the New York-based organization said in a press release. Russian forces seized and held the area from April until Ukrainian forces dislodged them in September.

Human Rights Watch called on Ukrainian authorities to immediately investigate these allegations.

“[There was] a whole host of evidence that we believe strongly suggests that Ukraine was responsible,” Mary Wareham, advocacy director for the group’s arms division, told The Washington Post.

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday it “took note” of the report, which it said would be “duly considered by the relevant Ukrainian authorities.”

“Ukraine, exercising its right to self-defense in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, fully discharges its international obligations as the Russian occupiers commit war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the genocide of the Ukrainian people,” the Foreign Ministry said.

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Human Rights Watch investigators traveled to the Izyum area shortly after the Russian withdrawal, the organization said, and interviewed more than 100 people, including victims, witnesses, first responders, doctors and Ukrainian deminers. The results indicate that Ukrainian forces fired Uragan rockets carrying PFM landmines at nine locations.

The fist-sized, wing-shaped plastic weapons, also known as butterfly or petal mines, are often colored green or brown in order to blend into the ground. They can be triggered by pressure, such as stepping on or near the device.

Although they appeared to be aimed at Russian occupation forces, Human Rights Watch said, the mines were also found in civilian areas, in some cases landing near private homes or in yards. Local health workers told investigators they had treated about 50 area residents for injuries resembling those caused by landmines.

About half of the injuries involved traumatic amputations of a leg or foot, injuries consistent with PFM blast mines, the organization said.

A deminer said the weapons “are everywhere”. Human Rights Watch said its investigators saw unexploded mines, remnants of mines, metal cassettes that carry the mines in rockets, and explosion signatures matching the amount of explosives in the weapons.

Deminers say it could take decades to clear the area of ​​landmines and other unexploded ordnance.

Wareham said Russian forces used more mines in more areas across Ukraine. Human Rights Watch has published three reports on Moscow’s use of landmines during the conflict. These include “victim-activated traps”, in which an explosive device is connected to a corpse and detonates when the body is moved.

But the organization said Russia’s use of mines does not absolve Ukraine of responsibility.

“Russian forces have repeatedly used anti-personnel mines and committed atrocities across the country, but this does not justify Ukraine’s use of these banned weapons,” said Steve Goose, director of the weapons division. of the advocacy group.

Russia, unlike Ukraine, is not a signatory to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which bans antipersonnel mines and requires countries to destroy their stockpiles. But Moscow continues to violate international law, said Human Rights Watch, which bans landmines because they do not discriminate between civilians and combatants.

Ukraine signed the treaty in 1999 and ratified it six years later. Kyiv officials say they have destroyed more than 3 million mines inherited from the Soviet Union, but more than 3 million PFM mines remain. Russia also has stockpiles of PFM mines.

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The Ministry of Defense told Human Rights Watch in November that it abided by its international obligations, including a ban on the use of antipersonnel mines, the organization said. But he did not address questions about the use of PFM mines in and around Izyum, saying “information on the types of weapons used by Ukraine…should not be commented on until the end.” of the war”.

Tuesday’s report reversed the organization’s earlier findings that Ukraine had not used antipersonnel landmines.

Landmine Monitor, a publication that tracks efforts to abolish landmines, and which Human Rights Watch helps edit, wrote in November that “there is no independent confirmation…at this time” that Ukraine has used landmines and that “a final assessment and attribution of the use of PFM-type mines in Ukraine is not possible at this time.

The new findings were possible, Wareham said, because Human Rights Watch representatives were able to visit the scene in person for the first time.

Wareham said the organization was “pleased to see Ukraine’s statement today committing to look very seriously at the findings” and that it hoped Kyiv would “conduct a thorough investigation into what happened. “.

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