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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

UN: Downing of MH17 May Be 'War Crime'

by VOA News July 28, 2014

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights says the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in rebel-held eastern Ukraine could be ruled a "war crime.'

Navi Pillay said Monday in a statement 'the horrendous shooting down' of the aircraft on July 17 was a violation of international law that 'may amount to a war crime.' She called for a 'prompt, thorough, effective, independent and impartial investigation' into the downing of the plane.

Pillay said every effort will be made to ensure that anyone committing serious violations of international law in the Ukraine conflict, 'including war crimes,' will be brought to justice, 'no matter who they are.'

U.S. analysts say the Malaysian airliner was shot down by a surface-to-air missile near the Russian border. U.S. experts have concluded that a Russian SA-11 'Buk' missile downed the aircraft and that ill-trained rebels likely fired the missile, who mistook the aircraft for a Ukrainian military plane. Rebels have dismissed the charge.

U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken said Monday he believes there are still SA-11 launchers in Ukraine, potentially in separatist hands.

Meanwhile, a Ukrainian official said that analysis of the black boxes retrieved from the crash site showed it was destroyed by shrapnel from a missile blast causing a "massive explosive decompression." Investigators in Britain, who downloaded the data, had have not commented. They said they had passed information to the international crash investigation led by the Netherlands.

Fighting in the area where the plane crashed has forced a team of international investigators to abandon plans to gain access to the site for a second straight day. The team of Dutch and Australian experts said earlier Monday the group was renewing efforts to reach the site.

UN releases Ukraine report

Pillay's office has also just released a report on the conflict in Ukraine, saying that to date it has killed 1,129 people, wounded 3,442 and displaced more than 100,000 internally.

The report points to an alarming increase of human rights violations in eastern areas controlled by armed groups. It says such groups continue to abduct, detain, torture and execute people kept as hostages to intimidate and exercise power over the population.

According to Gianni Magazzeni of the U.N. Human Rights Office, the report also notes an increasing "professionalization of the armed groups," which he said are "led both politically and militarily by citizens of the Russian Federation."

The report also says the situation in Crimea, which Russia annexed in March, also continues to worsen. It says harassment and discrimination against Ukrainian nationals, Crimean Tatars, religious minorities and activists is intensifying.

Europe ready to impose more sanctions

European leaders have made clear that they are ready to impose new sanctions on Russia over Ukraine in the financial, energy and arms sectors.

The announcement was made by the White House Monday following telephone consultations by President Barack Obama with the leaders of Germany, Britain, France, and Italy.

The decision was announced earlier today by the Office of French President Francois Hollande.

Washington said on Friday it would likely follow up with additional sanctions of its own.

Russia, meanwhile, said it would not impose tit-for-tat measures or "fall into hysterics" over Western sanctions.

"We can't ignore it. But to fall into hysterics and respond to a blow with a blow is not worthy of a major country," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday.

He added that sanctions could in fact have the opposite effect of making Russia more economically independent.

Ukraine reports battlefield progress

Ukraine says its troops have taken more territory from pro-Russia rebels near the MH17 crash site. Officials say two rebel-held towns have been recaptured and an operation launched to take a village Kyiv says was near the launch site of the surface-to-air missile that downed the plane.

A spokesman for Ukraine's Security and Defense Council, Andriy Lysenko, told a news conference in Kyiv Ukrainian troops were now in the towns of Torez and Shakhtarsk, while fighting was underway for the village of Snizhne - close to the presumed missile launch.

In rebel-held Donetsk local officials said artillery fire had damaged residential blocks, houses, power lines and a gas pipeline. The city, which before the conflict broke out had a population of nearly one million, has largely become a ghost town since rebels dug in for a stand in the face of advancing Ukrainian troops.

Moscow questions US images

Russia's Defense Ministry on Monday questioned the authenticity of images the United States says are providing proof that the Russian military has fired rockets at Ukrainian troops from Russian territory.

The satellite images were released Sunday by the State Department in a four-page document and tweeted by U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt (see below).

"Such materials weren't posted on Twitter coincidentally, since it's impossible to establish their authenticity due to the lack of exact reference to the location and the extremely low resolution," Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov was quoted by RIA Novosti as saying.

According to the State Department, the images show launch sites and impact craters around Ukrainian military locations.

​​VOA's Lisa Schlein contributed to this report from Geneva. Some information provided by Reuters.

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