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HRW's report on alleged use of banned landmines by the UAF is feeding into Russian propaganda, say human rights activists

31.01.2023, 13:35

On January 31, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report on the UAF allegedly using PFM-1 anti-personnel landmines around Izyum (Kharkiv oblast), which is a war crime.

At the same time, the Kharkiv Human Rights Group and the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union said that such reports feed into Russian propaganda and undermine public support for continued military aid to Ukraine from Western governments.

Human Rights Watch said it has documented "numerous cases" in which rockets carrying PFM antipersonnel mines, also called "butterfly mines" or "petal mines," were fired into Russian-occupied areas near Russian military facilities. The organization called for such cases to be investigated.

"Ukrainian forces appear to have extensively scattered landmines around the Izium area, causing civilian casualties and posing an ongoing risk," said Arms division director at Human Rights Watch, Steve Goose.

He added that "Russian forces have repeatedly used antipersonnel mines and committed atrocities across the country, but this doesn’t justify Ukrainian use of these prohibited weapons."

The organization also reminded that Ukraine is a state party to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which prohibits any use of antipersonnel mines.

Human Rights Watch said they had conducted research in the Izium district from September 19 to October 9, interviewing over 100 people, including witnesses to landmine use, victims of landmines, first responders, doctors, and Ukrainian deminers.

Also, the human rights activists reported that in November, they submitted a series of questions about PFM antipersonnel landmine use in and around Izium to the Ukrainian Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs and the Office of the President and requested a meeting. In response, HRW notes, the Ministry wrote that "the military abides by its international obligations, including the prohibition of the use of any antipersonnel mines."

However, they did not address any of the questions about PFM mine use in and around Izium, noting that “information on the types of weapons used by Ukraine ... is not to be commented on before the war ends.”

For their part, Director of the Kharkiv Human Gights group, Yevhen Zakharov, and Executive Director of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, Oleksandr Pavlichenko, "deeply regret and resent that HRW is supporting the aggressor."

"On Sunday, 29 January 2023, we attempted to halt this publication by contacting HRW management. We proposed that we and Human Rights Watch should investigate the issue together. Our efforts were in vain," the statement reads.

The authors of the statement noted that regardless of the accuracy of the study, furthermore, the publication of such a report carries "significant reputational risks for Ukraine and will undoubtedly affect the Ukrainian government’s efforts to ensure the supply of Western weapons."

“Human Rights Watch (like Amnesty International) enjoys substantial public credibility in Europe and the United States. Such reports tend to fuel Russian propaganda in the West and undermine public support for ongoing military assistance to Ukraine by Western governments. A key principle of Freedom of Information states that information may be made publicly available when the harm from publication is less than the harm done by non-publication. When Ukraine is under sustained and relentless attack by a much more militarily-powerful country the publication of such a report, we are convinced, may bring more significant harm than benefits," the statement reads.

As IMI reported, on August 4, human rights organization Amnesty International published a report stating that the Ukrainian military was endangering the civilian population by creating bases and placing weapons in residential areas, namely in schools and hospitals, while resisting the russian invasion.

Deputy Minister of Defense Hanna Malyar stated that this AI study did not take the fact of the russian aggression, the timeline of events, and the context of Ukraine defending its statehood into account, and also distorted the real picture of the international crime of aggression that russia has been committing since 2014.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Amnesty's report was trying to "grant amnesty to the terrorist state and shift the responsibility from the aggressor to the victim."

Later, Amnesty International apologized for the "distress and anger" caused by their statement, but stood by their words.

In September, Amnesty International issued envelopes depicting two people hugging. One person is painted in the colors of the Ukrainian flag, the other – in the Russian colours.

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