HRW urges Ukraine to probe its military’s use of banned mines

HRW says Ukrainian forces ‘extensively’ scattered anti-personnel mines in Izyum, causing civilian casualties.

The top-view of an exploded PFM-1S antipersonnel mine, also called a “butterfly” or “petal” mine, found by Human Rights Watch in the Izium area in September 2022
An exploded PFM-1S antipersonnel mine, also called a 'butterfly' or 'petal' mine, found by HRW in the Izyum area in September 2022 [Courtesy of Human Rights Watch]

Ukraine should investigate the “apparent use” of banned antipersonnel landmines by its troops in the northeastern area of Izyum when it was under Russian occupation, Human Rights Watch has said.

The city in the Kharkiv province was occupied by Russian forces on April 1, more than a month after President Vladimir Putin ordered a full military invasion into the neighbouring country. The area was then liberated by Ukrainian forces in early September as part of a sweeping counteroffensive pushing back Russian soldiers from the northeastern region.

“Ukrainian forces appear to have extensively scattered landmines around the Izyum area, causing civilian casualties and posing an ongoing risk,” said Steve Goose, director of the arms division at HRW, in a report released on Tuesday.

The rights group found that Ukrainian forces fired PFM antipersonnel mines into Russian-occupied areas near Russian facilities. Also known as “butterfly mines” or “petal mines”, PFM antipersonnel mines differ from other mines which are placed by hand. Instead, the PFM mines found in Izyum “operate only when scattered by aircraft, rockets and artillery, or when fired from specialised vehicles or launchers”.

Their use is banned under the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty – which Ukraine signed in 1999 and ratified in 2005.

“Uncleared landmines drive displacement, hinder the delivery of humanitarian aid, and prevent agricultural activities,” read the report.

Russian forces have also used antipersonnel mines in several areas across Ukraine since the war started in February, said the rights group, which documented the issue in three different previously published reports.

“But this doesn’t justify Ukrainian use of these prohibited weapons,” Goose said.

Ukraine’s defence ministry has so far failed to address an inquiry by HRW over the mine use, saying in a written response on November 23 that “information on the types of weapons used by Ukraine … is not to be commented on before the war ends”.

According to the report, the ministry said the “military abides by its international obligations, including the prohibition of the use of any anti-personnel mines”.

A resident who lost the lower part of the leg after stepping on a PFM antipersonnel mine near their home
A resident of Izyum who lost the lower part of their leg after stepping on a PFM antipersonnel mine near their home [Courtesy of Human Rights Watch]

The report’s findings come after HRW researchers spoke to more than 100 people, including witnesses, victims of landmines, doctors and Ukrainian de-miners between September 19 and October 9 in the Izyum area.

HRW said it verified 11 civilian casualties from the mines in nine different areas in and around Izyum city.

“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,” read the report.

Healthcare workers who spoke to HRW said nearly 50 civilians, including five children, were treated for what looked like injuries from antipersonnel mines, with half of them involving amputations of the foot or lower leg.

“They are everywhere,” one Ukrainian de-miner told HRW.

The report also collected more than 100 accounts from residents saying that the Russian occupying forces had posted and distributed flyers to warn about the risk of landmines.

“They also cleared landmines from public areas and civilians’ private property and took some mine victims to Russia for medical care – actions inconsistent with being responsible for laying the mines,” read the report.

Source: Al Jazeera