HRW report 2023: Russian abuses in Ukraine part of a pattern that has been repeated ‘countless times’

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Russian war crimes and human rights abuses during the war in Ukraine add up to a “litany of violations of international humanitarian law,” according to Human Rights Watch.

In the rights group’s annual report reviewing human rights standards in nearly 100 countries, it said that evidence of war crimes in Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv, are part of a pattern that “has been repeated countless times.”

HRW’s World Report 2023 also highlights the bombing of a theater in Mariupol, despite signs warning that children were sheltering there, as well as strikes on other non-military targets.

A woman injured by a Russian strike on the Ukrainian town of Chuguiv in February 2022.

“Inflicting civilian suffering, such as the repeated strikes on the energy infrastructure that Ukrainians depend on for electricity, water, and heat, seems to be a central part of the Kremlin’s strategy,” reads the report.

And while the authors praise the response of European countries in receiving Ukrainian refugees, they also say that “governments should reflect on where the situation would be if the international community had made a concerted effort to hold Putin to account much earlier – in 2014, at the onset of the war in eastern Ukraine; in 2015, for abuses in Syria; or for the escalating human rights crackdown within Russia over the last decade.”

A woman in Ethiopia carrying water after the armed conflict in the Tigray region knocked out infrastructure.

Elsewhere, HRW highlights the armed conflict in the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia, which it notes doesn’t get anywhere near as much attention as Ukraine.

“Governments and the UN have condemned the summary killings, widespread sexual violence, and pillage, but have done little else” as an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Tigrayan population in Western Tigray resulted in many deaths, sexual violence, mass detention, and the forced displacement of thousands,” the report said.

A protest in Istanbul, Turkey, against China's treatment of the Uyghur ethnic group.

The report also calls for more scrutiny of China after Xi Jinping secured a third term as Communist Party leader and president in October.

“Xi has surrounded himself with loyalists and doubled down on building a security state, deepening rights violations across the country,” the report said.

And as Western governments have grown increasingly uncomfortable with China’s policies, they have sought to deepen alliances with India. But HRW’s report said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party was deploying some of the same repressive practices as China.

“The seemingly careless trade-off on human rights that world leaders make, justified as the cost of doing business, ignores the longer-term implications of their compromises,” reads the report. “Deepening ties with the Modi government while avoiding its troubling rights record squanders valuable leverage to protect the precious, but increasingly endangered, civic space on which India’s democracy relies.”

Other cases highlighted by HRW include Hungary, where the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban has “continued its attacks on rule of law and democratic institutions,” declaring a state of danger over the war in Ukraine which allows it to rule by decree and avoid parliamentary scrutiny.

In addition, HRW noted that 2022 saw the UK government has introduced new laws that “violate rights and proposed significantly weakening human rights protections in domestic law.”

And the organization warned against the temptations of autocratic rule the world over.

“Autocrats benefit from the illusion they project as being indispensable to maintaining stability, which in turn seemingly justifies their oppression and widespread human-rights violations committed toward achieving that end,” reads the report.

The effort to cement this control “erodes” the pillars of a society based on the rule of law, the report added.

“The result is frequently massive corruption, a broken economy, and a hopelessly partisan judiciary,” it said. “Vital civic space is dismantled, with activists and independent journalists in jail, in hiding, or fearing retaliation.”

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