Rocket Attacks in Ukraine: Civilian Death Toll Rising

Funeral for a four-year-old boy who was killed when a shell struck his family's house in Donetsk on January 18, 2015.
Funeral for a four-year-old boy who was killed when a shell struck his family’s house in Donetsk on January 18, 2015.

Separatist rebel forces seem to be responsible for two recent unlawful attacks with unguided rockets in eastern Ukraine, which together killed at least 41 civilians, including two children, and wounded more than 100 civilians, Human Rights Watch said today.

During a recent on-the-ground investigation, Human Rights Watch also found that both Ukrainian government forces and the Russia-backed rebel forces have unnecessarily endangered civilians by locating military objectives and using explosive weapons with wide-area effect in populated areas, including near school buildings, in violation of international humanitarian law.

“Two of the deadliest attacks with civilian casualties in recent fighting were due to the unlawful use of unguided rockets by the Russian-backed rebels,” said Ole Solvang, senior emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch. “All sides should reject the use of these weapons in populated areas.”

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Around January 10, 2015, after a relatively calm two-month period, fighting in eastern Ukraine significantly intensified and spread to several parts of the front as Ukrainian government forces and rebels fought for control of the Donetsk airport. The intensified fighting has resulted in a significant increase in casualties, according to Human Rights Watch.

A medical official collecting information from both rebel and government-controlled areas said that at least 341 people, including 71 women and 6 children, had died in the Donetsk region in January. Human Rights Watch research has found that a significant number of the January casualties were civilians, including children as young as 2.

Many of the recent civilian deaths were due to violations of the laws of war, in particular the unlawful use of unguided rockets in populated areas, Human Rights Watch found. On January 24, unguided rockets, probably launched from rebel-controlled territory, killed 30 civilians and 1 solider in Mariupol and wounded more than 90 civilians.

One rocket struck the courtyard of a school. On January 13, unguided rockets, also probably launched from rebel-controlled territory, killed 12 civilians and wounded 18 at a checkpoint near Volnovakha.

Human Rights Watch reports that circumstances point to Ukrainian government forces’ responsibility for an unguided rocket attack in Donetsk on January 13 that killed two civilians.

This article is part of our editorial section Wars and Conflicts that carries related news and views from all parts of the world.

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