At least 2,593 people have been killed in eastern Ukraine since the start of the Kiev’s military operation against anti-government forces there started in mid-April, according to a new estimate by the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights.
The death toll includes civilians, members of the Ukrainian troops and also fighters in the anti-government forces.
“The trend is clear and alarming. There is a significant increase in the death toll in the east,” Ivan Simonovic, U.N. Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights, told journalists.
“The current number of killed is 2,593 – close to 3,000 if we include the 298 victims of the MH17 (Malaysian airliner) plane crash,” he said.
The report, issued on Friday, August 29, 2014, and covering the period July 16 to August 17, condemns the killing and wounding of civilians in urban areas, which have lately turned into battlefields.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has called on both sides of the conflict to lay down their arms.
“There is an urgent need to end the fighting and violence in the eastern regions, before more civilians are harmed or forced to flee, or face intolerable hardships trapped inside the conflict zones,” she said.
Pillay has urged all of the military units fighting in eastern Ukraine against “deliberately targeting civilians.”
“All those involved in the hostilities in the affected areas of the east must at all times comply with the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution. This is particularly important in densely-populated areas,” she said.
The report says half the population of the cities of Lugansk and Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, have now left. However, evacuation has not been easy and not all of those wanting to flee were able to do so.
Some civilians lost their lives while trying to escape the violence, as the report says refugees were targeted and killed on their way out of conflict zones.
“Supposedly ‘safe’ corridors established by the Ukrainian forces to enable residents to flee from these cities traversed areas where the fighting was ongoing. Civilians using these corridors were subsequently killed or injured,” the UN HR office statement on the report reads.
The report accuses the anti-government forces in Ukraine’s east of allegedly preventing residents from leaving war zones, conducting attacks from densely-populated areas, and obstructing the international investigation into the crash of the Malaysian Airlines flight MH17.
Both sides have been blamed for deaths of civilians, abductions and torture.
The report also focuses on pro-Kiev volunteer battalions under the Ministry of Defense or under the Interior Ministry. According to the document, those forces are responsible for multiple human rights violations.
“The relevant ministries should exercise more control over these volunteer battalions, in particular instructing them in international humanitarian law,” the report reads.
It also urges Kiev against reprisals targeting the populations of territories which were once under the control of the anti-government forces.
“Military prosecutors and the Security Service of Ukraine have already investigated over 1,500 cases of various offences committed by local officials and citizens in the east, and more than 150 people have been prosecuted,” the report reads. “Residents of these regions back under the control of the government report the fear of reprisals, the lack of confidence that their own cases will be investigated, and fear that impunity will continue with no accountability.”
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