HRW’s allegations that Ukraine used banned mines are outrageous and play into Russia’s hands – human rights activists

HRW’s allegations that Ukraine used banned mines are outrageous and play into Russia’s hands – human rights activists

An exploded PFM-1S antipersonnel mine reportedly found by Human Rights Watch in the Izium area in September 2022. Photo: HRW 

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On 31 January, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report assuming that the Ukrainian army allegedly used PFM-1 anti-personnel mines (“petal mines”) near Izium in Kharkiv Oblast. The use of such anti-personnel mines is a war crime, it is prohibited by the Ottawa Convention, which Ukraine has ratified, but Russia has not.

Ukrainian human rights activists have already said that the HRW report fuels Russian propaganda and undermines public support for continued military aid to Ukraine from Western governments.

In its report, HRW suggested that the Armed Forces of Ukraine could allegedly launch rockets containing anti-personnel mines at the locations of Russian military facilities in the then temporarily occupied Kharkiv Oblast.

HRW claims that on 23 November 23, the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine said in a written response to the request that “the military is complying with its international obligations, in particular with regard to the prohibition of the use of any anti-personnel mines.”

Moreover, HRW used the map of Ukraine with the country’s Crimean peninsula marked as a Russian territory:

Human Rights Watch published map of Ukraine without Crimea – UNIAN

The HRW report was criticized by Yevhen Zakharov, director of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group, and Oleksandr Pavlichenko, executive director of the Ukrainian Helsinki Union for Human Rights.

“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, drawing on the knowledge and experience of Ukrainian sappers. Our efforts were in vain. Regardless of the accuracy of the study, furthermore, the publication of such a report carries significant reputational risks for Ukraine,” the statement of the two leaders of Ukrainian human-rights organizations reads.

Zakharov and Pavlichenko note that 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. In proceeding to publish such a report, despite the stated concerns of Ukraine’s human-rights organizations, we feel that Human Rights Watch is supporting the aggressor, something we deeply regret and resent,” the statement reads.

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