Civilian causalities in eastern Ukraine spiked in June and July, prompting the United Nations human rights chief to call on the parties to the conflict to make protection of civilians a priority and take urgent steps to de-escalate the increasingly tense situation at the contact line.
“The escalation of hostilities and the accompanying civilian casualties in eastern Ukraine over the last two months are very worrying,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said today in a news release.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) documented 69 civilian casualties in June, including 12 dead and 57 injured, and 73 civilian casualties in July, including eight dead and 65 injured, the highest figures since August 2015. The average of 71 for these two months was more than double the monthly average of 34 from September 2015 through May 2016.
“The many casualties we have documented in recent weeks suggest that neither Ukrainian forces nor the armed groups are taking the necessary precautions to protect civilians,” Mr. Zeid said, urging all sides to respect the ceasefire provisions, to remove combatants and weapons from civilian areas, and to scrupulously implement the provisions of the Minsk agreements.
More than half of all the casualties recorded in the past two months were caused by shelling. Between 1 June and 31 July 2016, 72 civilians were injured and six killed by shelling, including allegedly through the use of weapons expressly prohibited by the Minsk agreements. Mines, explosive remnants of war, booby traps and improvised explosive devices were responsible for most of the remaining casualties.
UN human rights teams on both sides of the contact line have documented reports of civilian homes looted, schools and hospitals shelled or used by Ukrainian forces and armed groups.
An estimated 25,000 to 30,000 people cross the contact line each day, using five crossings that are surrounded by inadequately marked minefields, according to OHCHR. In recent weeks, the situation has become even more dangerous as exchanges of fire have reportedly taken place between Ukrainian forces and armed groups, particularly around the footbridge at Stanytsia Luhanska, the only crossing point in Luhansk region.
Mr. Zeid urged the parties to heed the calls of the international community to disengage from the contact line and adhere to a full and sustainable ceasefire.
The High Commissioner recalled that Ukraine has committed to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, but has yet to do so. “The ratification of the Statute, with its focus on individual criminal responsibility, will serve as incentive for all parties to the conflict to respect the law and ensure the protection of civilians,” he said.
In total, from mid-April 2014 to 31 July 2016, the UN human rights office has documented 31,690 casualties, including 9,553 killed and 22,137 injured in the conflict area in eastern Ukraine, including Ukrainian forces, civilians and members of the armed groups.