New report documents cross-border attacks in eastern Ukraine

Photo: IPHR field mission in Ukraine
Photo: IPHR field mission in Ukraine

A new report published by International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) together with the Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC) and the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union (UHHRU) presents evidence of cross-border shelling and cross-border interventions carried out as part of the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine, which proves that these hostilities can be qualified as an international armed conflict. The report also provides evidence of violations of international humanitarian law and international criminal law perpetrated in the context of the conflict.

The report, entitled Where did the shells come from? – Investigation of cross-border attacks in eastern Ukraine, examines armed attacks targeting the Kolesnykivka, Komyshne, Milove, Krasna Talivka, Dmytrivka and Pobeda settlements in the eastern Ukrainian province of Luhansk in the summer of 2014 and assesses these in the light of applicable international law and customary law. It is based on information obtained by IPHR through field research, as well as analyses of satellite images and open-source material.

“During our field work in eastern Ukraine, we interviewed over 45 victims and witnesses about these attacks,” said Svitlana Valko, IPHR’s Ukraine Field Mission Coordinator. “We carefully studied the first-hand statements that we obtained and compared them with other available evidence, allowing us to draw conclusions about the nature of the attacks and the violations that they involved,” she continued.

The new report published by IPHR, the NHC and the UHHRU finds that several of the investigated attacks involved illegal crossing of the state border by Russian military units, as well as shelling originating from Russian territory. These findings support the conclusion that the hostilities can be qualified as an armed international conflict, as defined by article 2 that is common to the 1949 Geneva Conventions. The report also finds that the attacks on the Kolesnykivka and Komyshne settlements were characterized by violations amounting to war crimes under article 8 (2) (b) (iv) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which prohibits intentional attacks causing damage to civilian objects or the natural environment that is clearly excessive to the military advantage anticipated.

It is imperative that the events documented in our report are investigated in a thorough and impartial manner and that those responsible for international crimes are brought to justice,” stated Svitlana Valko, IPHR’s Ukraine Field Mission Coordinator. “Ensuring accountability is key to efforts to bring about lasting peace in eastern Ukraine,” she added.

Since it began in early 2014, the conflict in eastern Ukraine has resulted in at least some 10 000 deaths, many more injuries, widespread destruction and suffering and the displacement of over 2.5 million civilians. In spite of a ceasefire agreed in 2015, occasional fighting continues.

Together with the NHC, the UHHRU and other partners, IPHR has been engaged in ongoing efforts to investigate and document human rights violations perpetrated in the context of the conflict in eastern Ukraine with a view to fighting impunity. As part of a project implemented in the framework of the Civic Solidarity Platform (a region-wide network of human rights NGOs), IPHR has carried out dozens of field missions to eastern Ukraine. In October 2015, the organization submitted a communication to the International Criminal Court (ICC) featuring over 300 victim and witness testimonies regarding alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in this region. Shortly before this, the Ukrainian government granted the ICC jurisdiction over all international crimes taking place on Ukrainian territory.

The report Where did the shells come from? – Investigation of cross-border attacks in eastern Ukraine can be downloaded here.

The Ukrainian version of the report, Звідки відкрили  вогонь? Pозслідування транскордонних атак на сході України, is available here.