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UN: Downing of Malaysian Airliner May Be 'War Crime'

Armed pro-Russian separatists guard the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in Donetsk region July 22, 2014.

Armed pro-Russian separatists guard the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in Donetsk region July 22, 2014.

A United Nations official says the shooting down of a Malaysian airplane over eastern Ukraine may be judged a war crime.

Navi Pillay is the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. On Monday, she called for an independent investigation to establish the events that led to the incident.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down with a surface-to-air missile earlier this month. The plane crashed in territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

Rupert Colville is a spokesman for Navy Pillay. He says no one believes the crash was an accident. He says it is widely accepted that the plane was shot down.

“The proof about who exactly is not there yet and that is why you need a full investigation. But, if this plane was shot down, as most people seem to think, then obviously the question of whether this is a war crime would come up. It contained around 300 civilians and they were killed.”

The human rights chief’s office released a report on human rights in Ukraine. The report notes a sharp increase in the number of human rights violations in eastern Ukraine between June 8th and July 15th. It describes a serious worsening of the situation in areas controlled by armed groups.

The report says armed groups continue to capture, detain, torture and execute people. It says the groups take such actions to frighten and exercise power over the local population.

Gianni Magazzeni is the chief of the Americas, Europe, and Central Asia Branch at the U.N. Human Rights Office. He says armed groups have kidnapped or detained more than 800 people in the Donetsk and Luhansk areas since the middle of April. He says these individuals are held until someone pays for their release. He says they may also be exchanged for rebels held by the central government in Kyiv. And he says the detainees also are used to build defenses for the armed groups or to fight government forces.

“The report also describes a total breakdown of law and order and the reign of fear and terror that exists in these areas under the control of the armed groups. The report also notes the professionalization of the armed groups with increasing, well-organized and well-equipped militarily led both politically and militarily by citizens of the Russian Federation. There are also instances referred to in the report in which a military tribunal has been convicting people to death.”

The UN report says at least 1,129 people have been killed and more than 3,400 wounded in Ukraine since April. And it says more than 100,000 have been displaced within the country.

The report says the UN human rights office is worried about the increase in the number of heavy weapons in civilian areas. These weapons include artillery, tanks, rockets and missiles. It says this is resulting in greater loss of life and severe damage to buildings, bridges and other infrastructure. And it says the infrastructure will be extremely costly to repair once the fighting ends.

The UN human rights office also says the situation in Crimea continues to worsen. Russia took control of Crimea in March. The report also noted an increase in harassment of and discrimination against Ukrainian nationals, Crimean Tatars, religious minorities and activists. I’m Bob Doughty.

*This report was based on a story from reporter Lisa Schlein in Geneva.

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