Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Thursday hailed the international response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, urging governments to show the same concern for civilians caught up in other conflicts.
“Amongst the fog of war and the darkness that we have seen in this war in Ukraine, there has been a shining light,” the US-based NGO’s acting executive director, Tirana Hassan, told AFP in London.
“That has been the international response and the commitment to international justice,” she said as HRW released its annual report on rights worldwide. “It actually is a moment of hope,” she added.
In the report, HRW urged governments to “replicate the best of the international response in Ukraine” and “scale up the political will to address other crises”.
Millions of Ukrainian civilians fled across the borders to take refuge in European countries after the war broke out in February last year.
By September, “more than 4 million refugees from Ukraine — approximately 90 per cent of them women and children” — had moved to European Union countries, the report said.
“The European states came together to actually welcome refugees,” Hassan said. Britain, however, kept visa restrictions for Ukrainians.
The United Nations human rights office and the International Criminal Court at The Hague are both probing alleged war crimes in Ukraine.
“Never in the history of responding to conflicts have we seen a coordinated international response where we have all the arsenal of the international community to protect human rights and ensure accountability,” HRW said.
Yet it also wrote that the response “exposed the double standards” of most EU countries “in their ongoing treatment of countless Syrians, Afghans, Palestinians, Somalis and others seeking asylum”.
The report also said that the brutal two-year conflict in Tigray in Ethiopia — Africa’s second-largest country — has received a “tiny fraction of the global attention”.
“It’s very important that the international community continues to push for accountability in places like Ethiopia,” said Hassan, describing the situation there as “one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises”, affecting over 22m people.
HRW warned that international support for Ukraine did not amount to a “quick fix” for the conflict.
It urged governments to “reflect” on what would have happened if they had made a “concerted effort” to call Russian President Vladimir Putin to account earlier over military intervention in Syria and Ukraine and his crackdown on human rights in Russia.
During the current hostilities, “Russian forces committed a litany of violations of international humanitarian law, including indiscriminate and disproportionate bombing”, the report said.
In occupied areas, “Russian or Russian-affiliated forces committed apparent war crimes, including torture, summary executions, sexual violence, and enforced disappearances”, it added.
The report said some violations were committed by both Ukrainian and Russian forces.
Both sides “at times used schools for military purposes, leading to their coming under attack by the opposing force” and “used cluster munitions”, HRW said.
“Prisoners of war (POWs) on both sides have been ill-treated, tortured, and in some cases apparently summarily executed,” the NGO added.
Both sides “also broadcast images and details of captured prisoners of war, thereby exposing them to public curiosity, in violation of the Geneva Conventions,” it said.