President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine speaks during a parliament session in Kiev on September 16, 2014.

(Washington, DC) – The Obama administration should urge Ukraine’s leadership to stop human rights violations by Ukrainian forces in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine is expected on September 18, 2014, to request United States military and economic assistance in an address to Congress and a meeting with President Barack Obama.

“The Obama administration’s support for Ukraine in the conflict against the Russia-backed insurgency needs to include urging the government to meet its obligations to protect all civilians,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

The United Nations has estimated that the conflict in eastern Ukraine has killed over 2,000 people and injured over 3,000, many of them civilians. Human Rights Watch has found that both sides in the conflict have committed serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. Rebel forces have abducted civilians and subjected them to torture and forced labor

Both sides, including Ukrainian government forces, have carried out indiscriminate attacks that have killed and injured civilians and destroyed civilian property. These include attacks using Grad rockets in or near populated areas. Grad rockets are unguided, cannot be targeted accurately, and are often fired in salvos of multiple rockets to saturate a wide area, thereby endangering civilians if used in or near populated areas.

Throughout August and September evidence mounted that Russian forces are taking part in military operations in eastern Ukraine, and the Obama administration has sought to counter Russia’s interference in the country.

Obama should press Poroshenko for a commitment to stop using Grad rockets in areas where civilians live, Human Rights Watch said. Ukraine’s president should also promise to investigate indiscriminate attacks thoroughly and effectively and to commit publicly to justice for victims of serious violations of international law, irrespective of which party is responsible. 

“Russia’s role in the conflict is no reason for silence on violations by Ukrainian government forces,” Williamson said. “Ukraine’s closest friends have the most effective voices to speak with the Ukrainian leadership about human rights concerns, and the Obama administration shouldn’t miss this opportunity.”