Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Ukraine: War Intensifies, So Does Harm to Civilians in Eastern Ukraine

Source: Human Rights Watch
Dispatches: War Intensifies, So Does Harm to Civilians in Eastern Ukraine
Ole Solvang

After a relatively calm period over the winter holidays, fighting in eastern Ukraine has renewed with a vengeance. Flaring up about ten days ago, clashes between rebel and government troops reached a deafening crescendo this weekend as they battled for control of Donetsk’s airport, just north of the city, and fighting spilled over to other parts of the front. The shelling this weekend was the worst I have heard since the outbreak of war in the spring of 2014. From the city center we could hear the sounds of outgoing and incoming artillery literally every few seconds for several hours Saturday evening and Sunday morning.

We are still investigating reports of civilian casualties, but we have already documented several, showing that the fighting continues to severely harm civilians. On January 16, a shell killed three civilians in Oleksandrivka, a small village just south of Donetsk. The same day unguided rockets killed two women in western Donetsk. And yesterday morning, shelling killed three civilians, including a four-year-old boy, near a closed-down mine in western Donetsk. The attack also seriously injured his mother and seven-year-old brother.

Today has been calmer compared to the weekend, but we still heard occasional explosions throughout the day and the fighting continues to affect civilians. This morning in western Donetsk, an attack killed a man, and around mid-day, a shell struck a hospital in central Donetsk. While there were no serious injuries there, the hospital had to evacuate the patients and it is unclear when it will be operational again.

There are also reports of civilian casualties in government-controlled areas, which we plan to investigate in the coming days.

All parties to the war have an obligation under international law to take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians and to only use means and methods capable of distinguishing between civilians and combatants. At least some of the cases we have documented appear to be clear violations of these principles.

Parties to the war are also obligated not to endanger civilians unnecessarily by, for example, launching attacks from civilian areas. In several of the cases that we documented, local residents told us that they had heard outgoing fire in the area before it was attacked.

As the fighting continues, all sides should take greater care to avoid civilian casualties.