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Human Rights Watch warns Ukraine against use of banned ‘butterfly’ landmines


“Ukraine should investigate its apparent use of thousands of rocket-launched antipersonnel mines in and around Izium when Russian forces occupied the area,” HRW wrote in a report released Tuesday.

Behind closed doors at staff meetings, Westerners warn the Ukrainian forces against excesses and excesses that would tarnish their reputation. “There would be an image risk“explained a French soldier, who follows the war in Ukraine, to a general who questioned him about the consequences of abuses made public. Anything that might scratch the Ukrainian camp threatens to weaken public support. Social networks are buzzing with rumors and “fake news”. Sometimes gray areas appear. An Amnesty International report published this summer served Russian propaganda in this way: it accused Ukraine of having used schools or hospitals as military bases, giving the impression of putting the invader and one who defends himself. This Tuesday, the new Human Rights Watch (HRW) report on the use of anti-personnel mines in the Ukrainian conflict will therefore be read with attention and caution.

If the Russian army has already been guilty of numerous war crimes, in a conflict of which it is the origin, Ukraine is not immune to crossing certain red lines itself. “Ukraine should investigate its apparent use of thousands of rocket-launched anti-personnel mines Izioumand around the city when Russian forces occupied the area“Writes HRW in a report released Tuesday morning. The city was occupied from April to September 2022 by Russian troops. The NGO investigated there in September and October.

Human Rights Watch has documented the use of PFM mine-dispersing rockets, known asbutterfly mines” Where “petal mines“, near buildings occupied by the Russian military. These mines may have been fired by artillery cannon fire. They could have been used to prevent the movement of Russian soldiers around their positions and to neutralize them if necessary. If the NGO does not dispute Ukraine’s right to defend itself, it reminds kyiv of its commitments to prevent the war from causing civilian victims. “Russian forces have repeatedly used anti-personnel mines and committed atrocities in every country, but this does not justify Ukraine’s use of prohibited weaponswrites Steve Goose, director of HRW’s armaments division.

Prohibition Treaty

Ukraine is a party to the 1997 anti-personnel mine ban treaty. Between 1999 and 2020, it destroyed 3.4 million anti-personnel mines. In 2021, it still had 3.3 million mines to destroy. Requested by HRW for the preparation of its report, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense did not wish to have to answer on the weapons used by its army. Moral principles are sometimes tested and mishandled by the urgency and pressure of war.

The mines “petals” Where “butterfly“, which owe their nicknames to their shapes and their colors, can be dispersed via different media: artillery, aviation… It is about “small plastic blast mines that are fired into an area, land on the ground and explode when pressure is applied to the body of the mine, such as when a person steps on it. The PFM mine can also explode when handled or moved. Some PFM mines can self-destruct and randomly detonate up to 40 hours after use“says the HRW report. The organization carried out investigations in nine areas near Izium and verified at least eleven cases of civilian injuries. The NGO also collected testimonies on other possible victims, around fifty including at least five children, she said to show the dangerousness of these weapons to civilians.

While HRW has not been able to identify cases of use of PFM mines by Russia, the NGO attests to the use by Russian forces of MOB, MON-50, MON-100, OZM-72, PMN-4, POM-2, POM-2R, and POM-3. She had also documented the use of antipersonnel mines by pro-Russian separatist groups in 2014 and 2015. Russia is not a party to the Ottawa Convention banning antipersonnel mines.

After the fighting, the Ukrainian armed forces are the first to intervene to demine areas that may have been deliberately “trappedby the Russians during their withdrawal. They can be hidden in the ground or sometimes on bodies. After the deminers’ operation, the danger is not always totally averted. Other non-governmental organizations, such as Handicap International, work in liberated areas in Ukraine to carry out prevention work with populations. “We distribute leaflets and posters to explain, to children in particular, that nothing should be touched“, explained this fall Olga Savchenko, head of the prevention program. “It will take years to demine everythingshe would say.

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