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25 Jul, 2014 08:35

HRW blames Kiev army for indiscriminately killing civilians with missiles

HRW blames Kiev army for indiscriminately killing civilians with missiles

The Ukrainian army is using indiscriminate Grad missiles to attack densely populated areas in Donetsk, which violates international humanitarian law, Human Rights Watch alleged. It also blamed militia for taking cover in those areas.

The rights organization confirmed four rocket attacks by the Ukrainian military, or Kiev-allied paramilitary, on residential areas in or near Donetsk, which resulted in at least 16 civilian deaths and many more wounded. The attacks were carried out with Grad multiple rocket weapon systems, highly indiscriminate weapons that cannot be used against populated areas.

Judging by the trail of impact the rockets left, “in four attacks they were coming from areasd under the control of the Ukrainian army,” Ole Solvang, researcher and security adviser for Human Rights Watch told RT.

“We were not able to see any kind of possible military target in that area and it’s quite clear that this is a residential area. Everybody that we spoke to said that there had been no fighters, no weapons in that area,” Solvang added.

The group released a statement on Friday.

“Although Ukrainian government officials and the press service of the National Guard have denied using Grad rockets in Donetsk, a Human Rights Watch investigation on the ground strongly indicates that Ukrainian government forces were responsible for the attacks that occurred between July 12 and 21,” HRW said.

The interior of an apartment in a residential building destroyed in an artillery attack by the Ukrainian army in the village of Peski in the Donetsk region. (RIA Novosti / Mikhail Voskresenskiy)

Kiev routinely denies causing civilian deaths in its conflict with armed militias in the east of the country and put the blames for such deaths on the militias themselves. But the attack sites investigated by HRW clearly point to the Ukrainian military.

“The attacks’ proximity to the front line also makes it unlikely, and in some cases impossible, that insurgent forces were responsible for the attacks. In two of the attacks, rockets hit on or near insurgent bases and checkpoints at the same time as they hit residential areas, indicating government forces were responsible,” the report said.

HRW didn’t report any evidence that militias were responsible for any Grad attacks on civilian-populated areas, but warned that they should avoid operating in those areas. The group also blamed them for failing to keep civilians out of harm’s way.

“Insurgent forces have failed to take all feasible precautions to avoid deploying in densely populated areas, thereby endangering civilians in violation of the laws of war,” it said. “In one case, separatist forces moved their base closer to the center of the town when Grad rockets struck their base and a nearby residential area. Violations of the laws of war by one side to the conflict do not justify violations by the other side.”

Solvang described two major problems with using Grad rockets.

“One – they’re unguided, so you cannot target them precisely. There is a pretty big area where a rocket can land if you just shoot it off. Secondly, very often they’re used in salvos, so the ones who use them – they shoot off up to 40 – or maybe more – at the same time. And that means that they’re going to cover a big area at the same time," he said.

"And when you use these kinds of weapons in populated it’s a really high risk for civilians to be injured and killed, and that’s what we saw in the Petrovsky district,” he added.

A dweller of an apartment building damaged during an artillery attack by the Ukrainian Security Forces in Donetsk suburb, inside his destroyed apartment. (RIA Novosti / Mikhail Voskresenskiy)

Belligerent parties in Ukraine must keep in mind that they are responsible for keeping their hostilities within international humanitarian law, HRW warned.

“Ukrainian authorities should order all their forces, including volunteer forces, to immediately stop using Grads in or near populated areas, and insurgent forces should avoid deploying in densely populated areas,” said Ole Solvang, senior emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“Commanding officers on all sides should recognize that one day they could face legal consequences for their actions.”

Earlier the International Red Cross officially declared the hostilities in eastern Ukraine a civil war, which opened the way for prosecuting atrocities committed there in international courts.

Residents of a multi-storey building damaged by the artillery shelling of Donetsk by the Ukrainian army. (RIA Novosti / Mikhail Voskresenskiy)

Grad is a Russian-made rocket launcher used by the Ukrainian military, which fires volleys of unguided missiles from multiple tubes mounted on a rack. The weapon is meant to cause massive damage to enemy positions, with individual rocket capable of killing unprotected soldiers in a radius of up to 28 meters from impact.

Kiev troops are continuing their attacks on cities held by militia forces, using their aviation and heavy artillery to barrage defense forces. The outgunned militias try to compensate by maneuvering and taking cover among city buildings. The army is hesitant to advance into hostile urban areas, where their superiority in armor and heavy weapons would be irrelevant.

Solvang said that HRW was calling on both the Ukrainian government and separatists to stop using grad rockets in populated areas.

“Neither side really seems to take enough precautions to make that sure civilians are not killed or injured,” he said.