NEW YORK (Reuters) - Advocacy group Human Rights Watch called on Ukraine on Tuesday to investigate accusations that its military used thousands of rocket-fired antipersonnel landmines in and around the eastern city of Izium when Russian forces occupied the area.
Human Rights Watch noted that it had also issued three reports last year accusing Russian forces of using antipersonnel mines in multiple areas across Ukraine since they invaded the country on Feb. 24, 2022.
Reuters could not immediately verify the reports.
"Ukrainian forces appear to have extensively scattered landmines around the Izium area, causing civilian casualties and posing an ongoing risk," said Steve Goose, Arms Division director at Human Rights Watch.
"Russian forces have repeatedly used antipersonnel mines and committed atrocities across the country, but this doesn't justify Ukrainian use of these prohibited weapons," he said.
Ukraine is a party to the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction. Russia is not. Moscow has denied targeting civilians or committing war crimes.
Human Rights Watch said use of antipersonnel mines also violates international humanitarian law because the devices cannot discriminate between civilians and combatants.
In response to questions, Human Rights Watch said Ukraine's Deputy Defense Minister Oleksandr Polishchuk wrote in a Nov. 24 letter that Ukraine fully commits to all international obligations in the sphere of mine usage, including "the non-use of anti-personnel mines in the war."
Polishchuk told Human Rights Watch that Ukraine's forces strictly adhere to international humanitarian law and the 1997 antipersonnel mine convention.
The New York-based advocacy group said it conducted research in Ukraine's Izium between Sept. 19 and Oct. 9, interviewing over 100 people, including witnesses to landmine use, victims of landmines, first responders, doctors, and Ukrainian deminers.
"Human Rights Watch documented PFM mine use in nine different areas in and around Izium city and verified 11 civilian casualties from these mines," it said on Tuesday. "The nine areas were all close to where Russian military forces were positioned at the time, suggesting they were the target."
A PFM is a scatterable antipersonnel mine, commonly called the 'butterfly mine'.
Human Rights Watch said Polishchuk did not respond to any of its specific questions about PFM mine use in and around Izium, noting that "information on the types of weapons used by Ukraine... is not to be commented on before the war ends."
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)