The Ukrainian military has deployed thousands of antipersonnel mines in battle in apparent violation of an international treaty barring their use, according to a report by Human Rights Watch published on Tuesday.
The report said that artillery rockets carrying antipersonnel mines were fired toward Russian military targets in and around the northeastern Ukrainian city of Izium while it was under Russian control last year.
“Russian forces have repeatedly used antipersonnel mines and committed atrocities across the country, but this doesn’t justify Ukrainian use of these prohibited weapons,” Stephen Goose, the executive director of the Human Rights Watch’s arms division, said in a statement.
The mines have been blamed for “causing civilian casualties and posing an ongoing risk,” Mr. Goose said.
Rights groups have long condemned the use of antipersonnel land mines — small explosive weapons that typically detonate after an unsuspecting person steps on them — as a leading cause of preventable civilian casualties. They kill or maim thousands of people per year, many of them children, often long after conflicts have ended and the munitions are forgotten.
The weapons have been banned by most countries because of their indiscriminate nature. According to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Ukraine ratified the Mine Ban Treaty, an international pact banning the possession and use of antipersonnel land mines, in 2005.
PFM antipersonnel mines, the kind used in Izium, are some of the smallest antipersonnel mines ever developed, dating back to the Cold War. They are packed together into a dispenser, such as a rocket warhead, that breaks open midair and scatters the mines randomly.
These mines are “inherently indiscriminate,” because it is impossible to control where they fall, said Brian Castner, a weapons investigator at Amnesty International. “By their very nature, you can’t target military forces as opposed to civilians.”
They are usually green or brown, blending into their environment and making them tough to spot. Plus, “they are designed to maim and not necessarily kill you,” Mr. Caster said, “So it’s a particularly ugly and gruesome effect.”
According to an online resource for bomb-disposal technicians, the plastic-cased PFM-1 mine measures just over four and a half inches long, about two and a half inches wide and just over three quarters of an inch thick. It explodes when about 11 pounds of pressure is applied, meaning that even small children are at risk by stepping on one.
Eleven civilians have died from Ukrainian antipersonnel mines in the Izium area, and about 50 have been injured, including five children, the report said. Nearly half of the injuries required amputations of a patient’s foot or lower leg, according to local health care workers cited in the report.
All of the 100 people researchers interviewed for the report said they had seen the mines, been warned about them while Russian forces occupied Izium or knew someone who was injured by one.
The report adds to a growing list of documented brutalities in Izium during the war. Moscow’s forces seized the city last April, but Ukrainian troops reclaimed it in a September counteroffensive. After the Russians retreated, workers discovered mass grave sites containing hundreds of people who had died in the months of Russian occupation, some showing signs of torture.
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that it was investigating the findings of the report and called antipersonnel mines “inhumane.” The report will be “duly studied by the competent authorities of Ukraine,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Human Rights Watch said in a statement responding to the Foreign Ministry that it appended to the report on its website that the group welcomed “further dialogue with the Ukrainian authorities” on the issue. “We hope that the government will carry out a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation into our findings,” the group said.
John Ismay contributed reporting.