Saturday

7th Dec 2019

Ukraine war becoming bloodier, dirtier

  • Refugees in ad-hoc shelter in government-controlled Ukraine (Photo: Christopher Bobyn)

The war in Ukraine claimed more civilian lives in the past three months than it did in spring, with the UN also documenting gross human rights violations on both sides.

Its monitoring mission, the HRMMU, said in a report out Tuesday (8 September) that 105 non-combatants were killed and 308 were injured in the past three months, compared to 60 people killed and 102 injured in the previous three months.

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The UN said the war is being “fuelled by the presence and continuing influx of foreign fighters and sophisticated weapons and ammunition from the Russian Federation”.

It noted that both sides are guilty of “indiscriminate shelling” using “mortars, canons, howitzers, tanks, and multiple launch rocket systems in daily clashes”.

But it said most of the casualties are being caused by Ukrainian forces in Russian-occupied parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Indiscriminate killing is a war crime under international law.

The UN’s “conservative estimate” is that the conflict has, since April 2014, caused 7,883 deaths and 17,610 injuries. At least 1,200 more are “missing”.

It has displaced 1,437,967 people.

But people trying to get to safety are forced to walk for several kilometres and to wait, sometimes overnight, in areas which are both under fire and littered with mines and unexploded ammunition.

Meanwhile, damage to infrastructure means 1.3 million people are “facing a serious water crisis”.

Damage to Ukraine’s economy has seen real income go down by 23.5 percent since 1 January and the price of basic commodities go up 40.7 percent.

Going backward

The UN report comes after a week in which the two sides, in the words of French president Francois Hollande on Monday, “almost completely” respected ceasefire terms.

Hollande said it gives grounds for hope of ending the fighting and of lifting EU sanctions on Russia.

But the UN notes that one of the main parts of the so-called Minsk ceasefire accord is going backwards.

Point 12 of the pact says the Russia-controlled Donetsk and Luhansk “republics” must fall in with Ukrainian law by holding internationally-monitored local elections.

Local elections in Ukraine are going ahead on 25 October.

But the “republics” plan to hold independent elections, in Donetsk on 1 November, and in Luhansk on an as-yet unknown date.

They're also consolidating power over the 3 million people who live under their control by building up parallel government institutions.

Torture and rape

The UN notes that life under Russian occupation is grim.

It speaks of routine “killings, abductions, torture and ill-treatment, sexual violence, forced labour, ransom demands, and extortion of money”.

In one case in Luhansk on 10 August 2014, militants with no insignia entered a house, looted it, and took away a man and a woman, whose bodies were later found with gunshot wounds to the head.

In July last year, also in Luhansk, Russian Cossacks abducted a woman, who was later “beaten with rifle butts and bullet proof vests until she lost consciousness. As a result, four ribs were fractured, and her nose and most of her teeth were broken”.

Ukraine government forces are also guilty of abuse.

In October last year in the town of Avdiivka, forces abducted a man, who was later “beaten, subjected to electroshocks (with wires put to his fingers and genitals), and twice to a mock execution”.

The UN said Mariupol airport is reportedly being used by Ukrainian forces as an irregular detention and torture site.

But authorities blocked monitors from going to see what’s going on.

“The shelling of residential areas on both sides of the contact line has led to a disturbing increase in the number of civilian casualties over the past three months”, UN human rights Chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a statement.

“More needs to be done to protect civilians and put a complete stop to the hostilities”.

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