Ukraine-Russia: Human rights group verifies incidents of Russian soldiers firing on civilian vehicles

Human Rights Watch has verified three incidents where Russian forces fired on civilian vehicles, killing six people and wounding three. It said that in one case, they pulled a man from a van and summarily executed him.

The incidents took place some weeks ago, but add to the growing evidence of atrocities carried out during the conflict. HRW said Russia should conduct “impartial, thorough, and transparent investigations into these killings” and should compensate victims of any unlawful attacks.

HRW said that on 28 February, Russian forces opened fire on two vehicles carrying nine civilians who were trying to flee the area. On 3 March, they shot at a vehicle with four men who were going to negotiate delivery of humanitarian aid. The third incident took place in the village of Nova Basan, in Chernihiv region, 70 kilometers east of central Kyiv, when Russian forces shot at a civilian van carrying two men, injuring one of them. Soldiers pulled the second man from the van and summarily executed him, while the injured man escaped.

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“Russian soldiers at checkpoints opened fire on passing vehicles without any apparent effort to verify whether the occupants were civilians,” said Belkis Wille, senior crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The obligation to distinguish between civilians and combatants is a constant as is the prohibition on targeting civilians, whether in their homes, on the streets, or in their cars.”

Russian soldiers stand guard at the Luhansk power plant in the town of Shchastya. This picture was taken during a trip organised by the Russian military. (Photo by Alexander NEMENOV / AFP)

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He added: “The Russian military has an obligation to investigate these incidents, hold those responsible to account, and ensure these kinds of killings cease.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed nine witnesses who were each present during one of the three incidents, including two who were wounded in these attacks. Researchers visited the sites of the three incidents and examined the four cars that were fired upon. Witnesses say that there were no Ukrainian forces in the vicinity at the time.

Under international humanitarian law, or the laws of war, civilians may never be the deliberate target of attacks. Parties to an armed conflict must take all feasible precautions to minimise harm to civilians and civilian objects, and not carry out attacks that fail to discriminate between combatants and civilians.

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