Human Rights Watch, in a presentation of the Landmine Monitor 2023 report to the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), accused Kiev of violating the 1997 Ottawa Convention on banning anti-personnel mines, something which should not shock any observer of the war in Ukraine.
“There is substantial evidence to believe that Ukraine violated the 1997 Ottawa Treaty banning anti-personnel mines during the fighting in Izium in 2022,” said Mark Hiznay, editor of Landmine Monitor 2023 and associate director of the Arms Division at Human Rights Watch.
The autonomous UN institute says it has evidence of the use of anti-personnel mines in Donbass by Ukrainian forces. Civilians in Donetsk have made videos of these mines and watched them explode in villages, according to Hiznay.
One of the mines referred to is the Lepestok model. This explosive anti-personnel mine is designed to cause lower limb damage and detonates when a person steps on it. It is an almost exact replica of the American BLU-43/B (Dragontooth) mine.
Ukraine ratified the Ottawa Treaty in 2005, which prohibits the use, stockpiling, and production of anti-personnel mines. Therefore, Kiev is violating the international obligations it has undertaken, and certainly not for the first time during this war.
According to an investigation conducted by Human Rights Watch last autumn, Ukrainian troops used cluster munitions in shelling Izium and its surroundings. At least eight civilians died, and another 15 were injured because of these bombings.
Human Rights Watch reported that “Ukrainian authorities said in September that they are investigating the circumstances of its forces’ use of antipersonnel mines in and around the city of Izium, in Kharkiv province, in 2022, when the city was under Russian control.”
The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine said in a report to the Human Rights Council in March 2023 that it “has found instances where Ukrainian armed forces likely used cluster munitions and rocket-delivered antipersonnel landmines to carry out attacks in Izium city.” The commission reported that “Ukrainian armed forces were at that time stationed within striking distance of such rockets” and said that it “found it likely that Ukrainian armed forces.”
In response to the allegations, Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Defence Oleksandr Polishchuk stated in November 2022 that authorities cannot comment on the types of weapons used “before the end of the war and the restoration of our sovereignty and territorial integrity.” He stated, “Ukraine is a reliable member of the international community, and it fully commits to all international obligations in the sphere of mine usage. This includes the non-use of antipersonnel mines in the war.”
At the same time, Ukrainian representatives claimed at the annual meeting of the Ottawa Convention in Geneva in June that the Ukrainian armed forces do not use this type of weaponry.
However, the damning report proves that Polishchuk and Ukraine’s representatives at the Convention in Geneva were not truthful in their claims. In fact, even as recently as June 2023, HRW reported further evidence of Ukrainian use of PFM antipersonnel mines.
Russia’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations, Vassily Nebenzia, said at the end of October that from February 2022 to September 2023, in the Donetsk People’s Republic alone, there were 136 cases of civilians, including 11 children, treading on Lepestok anti-personnel mines. Three victims subsequently died.
Ukraine’s use of these illegal weapons demonstrates the desperate situation it is in when it must resort to indiscriminately injuring and killing citizens, including children. Due to the failure of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, the conflict between Israel and Hamas, and the internal political problems in the US, we can expect Kiev to continue its targeting of citizens and use of illegal weapons.
Although Russia has repeatedly indicated its willingness to hold peace talks, Ukraine has banned them by law. It is recalled that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said at the G20 summit in November 2022 that “there will be no Minsk 3.” Nonetheless, reality dictates that at some point in the near future, Kiev will have to open negotiations and make huge concessions.
Kiev missed many opportunities to negotiate with Moscow by believing that Western countries would support them to the end and that a final victory would be achieved. The continued use of banned anti-personnel mines, even from well before the failed counteroffensive and the break out of the conflict in the Middle East, indicates that Ukraine has been in a desperate situation for a lot longer than Kiev and the West will have their citizens believe.