Photo Credit: Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay

Human Rights Watch on Tuesday issued a report titled, “Ukraine: Banned Landmines Harm Civilians – Ukraine Should Investigate Forces’ Apparent Use; Russian Use Continues,” urging Ukraine to “investigate its military’s apparent use of thousands of rocket-fired antipersonnel landmines in and around the eastern city of Izium when Russian forces occupied the area.”

The use of antipersonnel mines violates international humanitarian law because they don’t discriminate between civilians and combatants. Uncleared landmines cause the displacement of the civilian population and hinder the delivery of humanitarian aid. It also prevents agricultural activities as farmers fear the scattered landmines, with the end result being hunger and starvation.


The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine issued a response on the same day, stating, “Ukraine took note of the report of the international NGO Human Rights Watch, which will be properly analyzed by the relevant institutions of Ukraine. Ukraine, exercising its right to self-defense in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter, fully fulfills its international obligations against the background of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide of the Ukrainian people by the Russian occupiers.”

But Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Oleksandr Reznichenko added that his country adheres to international humanitarian law, but Ukrainian authorities cannot comment on specific weapons “before the end of the war and restoration of our sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Good to know.

Soviet anti-personnel cluster landmine PFM-1.
Soviet anti-personnel cluster landmine PFM-1. / Juergen Lumpp

The HRW report contradicts previous claims made, among other groups by HRW, that Ukraine is using only anti-vehicle mines following the February 2022 Russian invasion. Anti-vehicle mines are permissible under the laws of war.

HRW said it documented numerous cases in which rockets carrying antipersonnel PFM (Russian for anti-infantry high-explosive mine), also called “butterfly mines,” or “petal mines,” were fired into Russian-occupied areas near Russian military facilities.

Ukraine is a state party to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which prohibits any use of antipersonnel mines.

HRW also acknowledged that Russian forces used antipersonnel mines in multiple areas across Ukraine, including victim-activated booby traps, since the February 24, 2022 invasion. The group published three reports documenting Russian forces’ use of antipersonnel landmines in Ukraine in 2022.

Steve Goose, Arms Division director at HRW, said, “Ukrainian forces appear to have extensively scattered landmines around the Izium area, causing civilian casualties and posing an ongoing risk,” noting: “Russian forces have repeatedly used antipersonnel mines and committed atrocities across the country, but this doesn’t justify Ukrainian use of these prohibited weapons.”

Goose assured NPR that “the massive use of these things makes it highly unlikely that it’s a mistake or that it’s a rogue commander.”

Unlike most types of antipersonnel mines, which are placed by hand, the PFM antipersonnel mines that were used in Izium operate only when scattered by aircraft, rockets, and artillery, or when fired from specialized vehicles or launchers, according to HRW.

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