Atrocity Alert #302: Ukraine, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Food Insecurity – Ukraine
Atrocity Alert is a weekly publication from the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect that highlights situations where people are at risk of or suffer mass atrocities.
FIRST TRIALS BEGIN AMID EVIDENCE OF WAR CRIMES IN UKRAINE
On May 23, Russian Sergeant Vadim Shishimarin was found guilty of the fatal shooting of a civilian, Oleksandr Shelipov, in the Sumy region of Ukraine on February 28, and sentenced to life in prison in the first trial for the abuses committed. since the start of the Russian invasion three months ago. . According to Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova, Shishimarin and other Russian soldiers encountered Shelipov and shot him to prevent him from relaying their location to Ukrainian authorities. Shishimarin’s defense claimed he shot Shelipov after refusing multiple orders to do so, fearing for his own safety.
This inaugural trial takes place as evidence continues to mount on the atrocities committed in Ukraine. Attorney General Venediktova said her office is preparing cases against 41 Russian soldiers for various offenses that could constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity, including targeting civilian infrastructure, targeted killings of civilians, rape and sexual violence and looting. The prosecutor’s office said it was investigating more than 13,000 possible war crimes involving more than 600 suspects, including Russian military and government officials.
Evidence of abuse continues to be collected by the UN and non-governmental organizations. On May 18, Human Rights Watch released a report documenting apparent war crimes committed by Russian soldiers in the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions, including summary executions, unlawful killings, enforced disappearances, and torture between the February 27 and March 14. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has also documented the apparent use of indiscriminate weapons by Ukrainian forces, causing civilian casualties and damage to civilian property in eastern Ukraine. The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine has confirmed that at least 3,900 civilians have been killed, including 250 children, while acknowledging that the true toll is likely much higher.
Fighting continues in the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine, where Russian forces apparently aim to take control of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russian attacks in Donbass had completely devastated the region, saying “it’s hell there, and that’s no exaggeration”.
Since February 24, the conflict has displaced 8 million people inside the country and forced another 6 million to cross the border. According to the UN Refugee Agency, “the war in Ukraine and other conflicts have pushed the number of people forced to flee conflict, violence, human rights abuses and persecution beyond of the staggering 100 million mark for the first time on record”.
Ensuring accountability and justice for crimes committed in Ukraine is paramount to ending further violations. Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect expert on the situation in Ukraine, Sarah Hunter, said: “While we should welcome these first trials, as well as the extensive evidence collected by international mechanisms that could be used in future accountability procedures, both sides appear committed to military gains and civilian harm has not abated. International efforts should focus on restarting communication towards peace. The international community should support efforts to ensure that trials are impartial and inclusive of all perpetrators, regardless of rank, nationality or affiliation.
OVER 1,000 PALESTINIAN FACE IMMINENT RISK OF FORCED TRANSFER
On May 4, the Israeli High Court of Justice rejected appeals against eviction orders issued to Palestinian residents of a cluster of villages known as Masafer Yatta in the occupied West Bank. The ruling ends two decades of legal proceedings and allows the Israeli government to forcibly evict the 1,200 Palestinians, including 500 children, from Masafer Yatta in order to reallocate the land for military use. The demolitions of Palestinian homes and workshops in Masafer Yatta have already begun. Forced evictions, arbitrary displacements and forced transfers of Palestinian communities constitute serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres and Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) Lynn Hastings called on Israel to stop all demolitions and evictions in accordance with its obligations under international law. A group of UN special rapporteurs also sounded the alarm, saying that “by maintaining this policy of driving the Palestinians out of Masafer Yatta, the Israeli judicial system has given carte blanche to the Israeli government”, pointing out that a justice system “which perpetuates violations of basic human rights of people who have been under military occupation for 55 years, itself becomes part of the structural system of oppression.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, at least 911 Palestinian-owned structures were demolished or seized by Israeli government authorities in 2021, forcibly displacing more than 1,200 Palestinians. So far, 257 additional structures have been demolished in 2022. Many of these demolitions are taking place to make way for illegal Israeli settlements.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the OPT determined in July 2021 that the illegal expansion of Israeli settlements aims to permanently alter the ethnic demographics of occupied Palestine and amounts to a crime of war. Israel’s plans to expand Jewish settlements on occupied lands also involve increasingly harsh methods of subjugating Palestinians. In 2021, violence perpetrated by Israeli settlers against Palestinians reached the highest level ever recorded, with more than 490 violent attacks directed against rural Palestinian families.
The international community must impose accountability measures on Israel as an occupying power that commits possible atrocious crimes, including forcible transfer. UN member states must also use all available diplomatic, political and economic measures mandated by the UN Charter to end Israeli violations. The Israeli government must immediately comply with international law obligations and cease demolitions and evictions targeting Palestinians.
WORLD HUNGER CATASTROPHE FUELED BY CONFLICT AND ATROCITIES
According to the World Food Program (WFP), more than 276 million people face acute hunger worldwide and the conflict in Ukraine could push 46 million more people into severe food insecurity. The conflict has global implications resulting from economic sanctions and the role of Russia and Ukraine as major exporters of grains and cooking oils.
On May 19, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) held a debate on conflict and food insecurity in the context of the ongoing war in Ukraine, which added a “frightening new dimension” to hunger in the world. Marking the fourth anniversary of UNSCR 2417 on May 24, Margot van der Velden, head of the emergency department at WFP, said that “the conflict in Ukraine has caused upheaval in global food and energy, with soaring food and fuel prices threatening millions of people around the world with hunger.
Food security inevitably deteriorates as communities are forcibly displaced from their homes, lands and jobs due to fighting. Similarly, hunger can exacerbate conflict, as food shortages deepen existing grievances, fueling tensions that can incite violence. According to the WFP, 60% of the world’s hungry people live in conflict zones, including Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. In all these countries, populations also face atrocity crimes. According to the International Rescue Committee, the current humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan – which has worsened since the Taliban took power in August 2021 – could lead to more deaths “than twenty years of war”.
Parties to conflicts around the world have also used deliberate starvation as a tactic of war. Throughout the conflict in northern Ethiopia, there have been widespread reports of deliberate burning of crops, looting of warehouses and aid convoys, and slaughter of livestock. UN officials have claimed that access to food has been used as a weapon of war. In Yemen, humanitarian aid has been systematically blocked, resulting in the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, and UN experts have warned that parties to the conflict may have used starvation of civilians as a military tactic. Starvation as a weapon of war can constitute a war crime and is prohibited by international humanitarian law (IHL) and customary law.
Food should never be weaponized. Under IHL, access to humanitarian relief and vital goods is protected. The international community must support longer-term investments in development to break the deadly cycle of hunger and conflict by providing additional resources towards political solutions to end conflicts and prevent their onset, as well as by strengthening sustainable food systems to protect them from future shocks.