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Remnants of a misfired Uragan cluster munition rocket lying in a field in territory controlled by the Ukrainian government near Novomykhailivka, Ukraine on October 14, 2014. (Photo: 2014 / Ole Solvang/Human Rights Watch)

US-Backed Ukraine Army Used Cluster Bombs Against Its Own People: Reports

'Firing cluster munitions into populated areas is utterly irresponsible and those who ordered such attacks should be held to account,' says rights group.

Jon Queally

The Ukraine Army, backed by both the U.S. and NATO throughout its military campaign against rebel factions in eastern regions of the country over recent months, appears to have fired cluster munitions on the city of Donetsk earlier this month, according to a Human Rights Watch investigation and independent reporting by the New York Times.

Citing the HRW report, physical evidence and its own interviews with both witnesses and victims, the Times reports:

Sites where rockets fell in the city on Oct. 2 and Oct. 5 showed clear signs that cluster munitions had been fired from the direction of army-held territory, where misfired artillery rockets still containing cluster bomblets were found by villagers in farm fields.

The two attacks wounded at least six people and killed a Swiss employee of the International Red Cross based in Donetsk.

If confirmed, the use of cluster bombs by the pro-Western government could complicate efforts to reunite the country, as residents of the east have grown increasingly bitter over the Ukrainian Army’s tactics to oust pro-Russian rebels.

“It is shocking to see a weapon that most countries have banned used so extensively in eastern Ukraine,” said Mark Hiznay, senior arms researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Ukrainian authorities should make an immediate commitment not to use cluster munitions and join the treaty to ban them.”

Human Rights Watch said it was "not possible to conclusively determine responsibility for many of the attacks," but that the available evidence points to Ukrainian government forces’ responsibility for several cluster munition attacks on Donetsk. The New York Times said it could not verify any claims that rebel forces had fired any such weapons.

Though more than a hundred nations have signed onto the global treaty to ban use of cluster munitions, neither Ukraine nor its most powerful ally in the conflict, the United States, have signed the agreement.  Ukraine Army's use of the weapons, the Times notes, adds credibility to Russia's long-held version of the conflict inside Ukraine, "which is that the [government in Kiev] is engaged in a punitive war against its own citizens."

According to the Human Rights Watch report, the evidence is particularly strong that Ukrainian government forces were responsible for the several confirmed cluster munition attacks on central Donetsk in early October:

In addition to evidence at the impact site indicating that the cluster munitions came from the direction of government-controlled areas southwest of Donetsk, witnesses in that area said that they observed rockets being launched toward Donetsk on the times and days when cluster munitions struck the city. A New York Times journalist tracked down several rockets in that area, which appeared to have malfunctioned and fallen to the ground shortly after they were launched, clearly establishing the flight path of the rockets.

In the 12 incidents documented by Human Rights Watch, cluster munitions killed at least 6 people and injured dozens. The real casualty number from use of cluster munitions in the conflict is probably higher, Human Rights Watch said, since it has not investigated all allegations of cluster munition use. Also, in some cases, it was not possible to determine what weapon caused the death or injury because several types of explosive weapons were used at the same time in the same area.

Human Rights Watch identified the cluster munitions by the distinctive crater and fragmentation pattern that submunitions create when they explode, by remnants of the submunitions found at the impact sites, and by remnants of the rockets found in the vicinity. Several of these remnants included markings that allowed for positive identification of the weapon.

“Firing cluster munitions into populated areas is utterly irresponsible and those who ordered such attacks should be held to account,” Hiznay said. “The best way for the Ukrainian authorities to demonstrate a commitment to protect civilians would be an immediate promise to stop using cluster munitions.”


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