Human Rights Watch called on the Ukrainian authorities to immediately investigate the allegations.
“[There was] “We look at a body of evidence that we believe strongly suggests that Ukraine is responsible,” Mary Wareham, defense director of the group’s weapons division, told The Washington Post.
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that it had “noted” the report and “will be duly studied by Ukrainian authorities”.
“Ukraine fully fulfills its international obligations while using the right of self-defense in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter, while Russian invaders are committing war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide of the Ukrainian people,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
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Human Rights Watch investigators visited the Izyum region shortly after the Russian withdrawal and interviewed more than 100 people, including victims, witnesses, first responders, doctors and Ukrainian deminers, the organization said. The findings show that Ukrainian forces fired Uragan missiles carrying PFM landmines at nine locations.
The fist-sized, wing-shaped plastic weapons known as butterfly or petal mines are often green or brown in color so they blend into the ground. They can be caused by pressure, such as footsteps on or near the unit.
According to Human Rights Watch, although they appeared to be aimed at Russian occupation forces, landmines were also found in civilian areas, in some cases near private homes or in backyards. Local medical workers told investigators they treated about 50 local people who appeared to be injured in landmines.
About half of the injuries were traumatic amputations of the lower leg or foot, injuries consistent with PFM explosive mines, the organization said.
One deminer said weapons were “everywhere”. Human Rights Watch said its investigators found unexploded mines, remnants of mines, metal cassettes carrying the mines in rockets, and blast signatures consistent with the amount of explosive contained in the weapons.
Scavengers say it could take decades to clear the area of landmines and other unexploded ordnance.
Wareham said Russian forces are using more landmines in more areas of Ukraine. Human Rights Watch has published three reports on Moscow’s use of landmines during the conflict. These include “victim-activated booby traps” where an explosive device is attached to a corpse and triggered when the corpse is moved.
However, the organization said that Russia’s use of mines does not exempt Ukraine from responsibility.
“Russian forces have repeatedly used anti-personnel mines and committed atrocities domestically, but that does not justify Ukraine’s use of these banned weapons,” said Steve Goose, director of the law group’s arms division.
Russia, unlike Ukraine, has not signed the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which bans anti-personnel mines and requires countries to destroy their stockpiles. According to Human Rights Watch, Moscow still violates international law, which bans anti-personnel mines because it does not discriminate between civilians and combatants.
Ukraine signed the agreement in 1999 and ratified it six years later. Officials in Kyiv say they have destroyed more than 3 million mines they inherited from the Soviet Union, but more than 3 million PFM mines remain. Russia also has stocks of PFM mines.
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The Defense Ministry told Human Rights Watch in November that it was complying with its international obligations, including a ban on the use of anti-personnel landmines, the organization said. But he did not respond to questions about the use of PFM mines in and around Izyum, saying that “information about the types of weapons used by Ukraine … should not be commented on until the end of the war.”
On Tuesday, the report reversed the organization’s previous findings that Ukraine did not use anti-personnel mines.
Landmine Monitor, which tracks landmine elimination efforts and is helped to edit by Human Rights Watch, wrote in November that “there is still no independent confirmation” of Ukraine’s use of mines and that “a final assessment and related use of PFM-type mines in Ukraine is not possible at this time.”
Wareham said the new findings were possible because Human Rights Watch representatives were able to visit the site in person for the first time.
Wareham said the organization was “pleased to see today’s statement by Ukraine committing to take the findings very seriously” and hoped that Kiev would “conduct a thorough investigation into what happened.”