Ukraine: a new armed conflict would be “devastating” for millions of people

The Russian military’s record in Ukraine, Syria and Chechnya is littered with war crimes and other atrocities

Warning on the “militarization” of European energy supplies

“It is frightening to imagine the scale that the refugee crisis could reach if hostilities escalate in Ukraine” – Agnès Callamard

Amnesty International has warned that an escalation of the armed conflict in Ukraine could have “devastating” consequences for human rights in the region – threatening civilian lives, livelihoods and infrastructure, potentially causing severe food shortages and causing flow of refugees which could amount to a “continent-wide humanitarian disaster”.

Any broader conflict will further undermine human rights in the region due to the likelihood of prolonged guerrilla warfare in Ukraine, accompanied by illicit arms outflows and an influx of irresponsible private military contractors. Russia’s recent military record (see below) raises particular concerns.

The economic devastation and its repercussions for the region – including in European countries dependent on Russian gas passing through Ukrainian territory – could be enormous.

The current situation in parts of Ukraine is already dire – with rising prices for basic foods and other goods, including medical supplies. This is particularly felt by the very old, the very young and those on low incomes. Education has also been affected, with schools closing intermittently over the past two weeks due to heightened security concerns.

Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International, said:

“The consequences of actual military force are likely to be devastating.

“Russia’s history of military interventions – whether in Ukraine or Syria, or its military campaign at home in Chechnya – is marred by a flagrant disregard for international humanitarian law.

“The Russian military has repeatedly flouted the laws of war by failing to protect civilians and even attacking them directly. Russian forces launched indiscriminate attacks, used prohibited weapons and sometimes apparently deliberately targeted civilians and civilian objects – a war crime.

“If the West and Russia enter a more bitter confrontation, it could potentially lead to more active intervention by parties in regional conflicts around the world, the militarization of energy policy and more countries ready to use force as part of their foreign policy.”

The disturbing human rights record of the Russian military

Russian military forces have a disturbing human rights record. For example, in Syria in 2015, a series of Airstrikes on residential areas in Homs, Idlib and Aleppo between September and November killed at least 200 civilians. And in 2020, Amnesty reported that Russian planes were targeting both schools and hospitals in Syria, some of which the UN said needed to be protected from attack.

In the ongoing conflict in Donbass, eastern Ukraine, Russian-backed separatist forces violated international humanitarian law by using imprecise explosive weapons in populated civilian areas, as the Ukrainian forces have done. They also stationed and fired these weapons from homes and civilian infrastructure.

Amnesty is particularly concerned about the prospect of the creation of new militias on Ukrainian territory. These Russian-backed armed groups in the Donbass are notorious for their disregard for the norms of international humanitarian law and for their complete lack of accountability, as were the pro-Ukrainian government. paramilitaries. All parties to the Donbass conflict have violated international humanitarian law, leading to the displacement of more than one million people and the death of more than 13,000 people.

In military conflicts, civilians must be protected and anyone who commits abuses must be held accountable. Amnesty will closely monitor the situation to denounce violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law by all parties.

Potential refugee crisis

In 2014-2015, the conflict in Eastern Ukraine caused a real human rights crisis, the consequences of which continue to be sorely felt to this day. Millions of people have been forced from their homes and those who have returned or remained in the conflict zone have been living hand to mouth ever since.

Hundreds of people have been killed in extrajudicial executions and other unlawful killings, torture, kidnappings, enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions by separatist and government forces.

According to Ukraine’s Ministry of Social Policy, around 1.45 million people are still internally displaced after fleeing the conflict in Donbass and occupied Crimea.

Agnes Callamard adds:

“It is frightening to imagine the magnitude of the refugee crisis if hostilities in Ukraine escalate.

“It will be a continent-wide humanitarian catastrophe with millions of refugees seeking protection in neighboring European countries.”