Reports of pro-Kiev prisoners being paraded before locals at site of this morning’s attack
A mortar strike on a trolleybus that killed at least eight and possibly as many as 15 civilians in pro-Russian separatist-controlled Donetsk this morning, is likely to be a violation of international humanitarian law and must be investigated promptly and impartially, Amnesty International said.
The mortar strike came at 8.30 am this morning just hours after the pro-Kiev forces acknowledged that separatists had seized control of the embattled Donetsk International Airport. Sources in Donetsk told Amnesty that the attack happened as people were going about their daily business, while the previous night had been calmer than the days before.
The de facto authorities in Donetsk have claimed that pro-Kiev forces used an improvised mobile mortar launcher within the city for the strike, but Kiev has denied responsibility for the incident.
The missile hit a trolleybus with passengers on Kuprina Street in the city’s Leninsky district, causing visible damage to surrounding buildings. Videos and photographs posted on social media in the aftermath showed the trolleybus with its windows blown out and the bodies of seven people inside, including elderly men and women. A burnt-out car and buildings with windows missing can be seen in the immediate vicinity. The driver of a passing tram was also injured, as well as a man in another vehicle nearby. Blood and shrapnel marks can be seen staining the vehicle and the pavement around it. A former Soviet military base, which according to local sources is being used by the pro-Russian separatist forces, is located approximately 500 yards from the site of the attack and might have been the intended target.
Amnesty International Europe and Central Asia Programme Deputy Denis Krivosheev said:
“This appalling loss of civilian life is another reminder of the deadly consequences of ignoring the rules of international humanitarian law.
“A thorough, impartial and independent investigation into this possible violation of the laws of war is needed immediately.
“Mortars should not be used in densely-populated civilian areas. All sides in this conflict are well aware of the price being paid in civilian lives as a result of such imprecise explosive weapons being used in cities. This attack shows callous disregard for civilian lives and the laws of war.”
Increase in civilian deaths, parading of prisoners
Today’s incident follows a sharp increase in the number of civilian deaths amid an escalation in fighting in recent days, including the 13 January attack on a bus in Volnovakha that killed 12 and injured 16 civilians. By basing troops, weaponry and other military targets in residential areas, using them as firing positions and firing artillery, rockets and mortars into these locations, pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces are both endangering civilians in violation of the laws of war.
Meanwhile, Amnesty has received worrying reports of more than a dozen pro-Kiev fighters who had been taken prisoner being paraded before locals at the site of this morning’s attack, and local media have released video of at least one being beaten. Mistreatment of prisoners constitutes a violation of international humanitarian law.
Mounting death toll
Hundreds of people have been killed since the ceasefire was announced last September, and both sides increasingly engage in tit-for-tat reprisals. In all, around 5,000 people have died since the conflict broke out last year.