Ukraine: Housing Rights Violations as Crimes of War
While war raged anew on the continent of Europe, HIC-HLRN monitored yet another military conflict and occupation. This new outbreak of war in Ukraine follows HLRN’s monitoring exercise in 2021 using the Violation Database as a tool for documenting the patterns of housing and land rights violations and displacement in situations of conflict despite the calls for both a moratorium on evictions and a global cease-fire during the COVID pandemic. While those urgent appeals fell on the deaf ears of many political leaders and corporate landlords, HIC-HLRN raised its voice in the chorus of those opposing war around the world, of which the Ukraine crisis forms only the latest escalation at the expense of civil life, limb, homes, infrastructure and society.
Habitat International Coalition and its Housing and Land Rights Network condemn forced evictions as a gross violation of the human right to adequate housing in every context. In the case of Russian Federation forces’ invasion of the sovereign state of Ukraine, millions of civilians stand as a frontline of military assault. They are incurring untold costs, losses and damage to their homes, lives and livelihoods by grave breaches carried out by the invading power.
We have witnessed real-time reports of the indiscriminate use of weapons against residential buildings, villages and communities across Ukraine. Such Russian attacks are prohibited in both international humanitarian law relative to the protection of civilians in times of war and always-applicable human rights norms. The Russian invasion has been using a range of tactics: multiple-launch rocket systems, tactical missiles, tank attacks and even widely banned cluster munitions.
Since the earliest phases of Russia’s campaign, advances have targeted civilian housing in and around the cities of Borodyanka, Chernihiv, Irpin, Kiev, Kharkiv, Kherson, Mariupol, Okhtyrka, Rivnopillya, Zhytomyr and others. Many homes, civilian infrastructure including fuel depots, water and power stations are under attack or threat of imminent attack. Russian forces have targeted civilian infrastructure, including water sources and delivery systems, schools, hospitals, fuel depots and power stations, including nuclear power facilities. Russian forces even have used live fire and heavy weapons against displaced persons, shelters and shelter seekers, flouting the most-fundamental humanitarian principles. Russian forces have even openly attacked Ukrainian civilians queuing for bread.
At the time of this writing, the displaced persons from these war crimes have amounted to at over 4.2 million, and the eventual number is estimated at ten million. Another 7.1 million are displaced internally, leaving behind their homes, livelihoods, and communities. No military objectives can justify this dire humanitarian outcome.
Neighboring countries have been absorbed waves of refugees across their borders. Meanwhile, border agents have revealed their selective compassion by embracing Ukrainian refugees, having rejected Black and brown refugees from similar war-torn situations and residents of Ukraine seeking refuge. These scenes evoke memory of the openly inhuman treatment of West Asian refugees on the same borders, notably including as recently as two months ago.
The deliberate targeting of civilian housing, vital infrastructure and civilians in flight from military operations, as well as population transfer, including demographic manipulation, are prima facie war crimes, as well as crimes against humanity. The personnel carrying out these crimes bear individual responsibility for their crimes, as does the offending state bear obligations to both affected states and individual victims through reparations.
We denounce these criminal practices by all parties, including analogous operations of NATO, its member states and their allies in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nicaragua, Palestine, Panama, Serbia, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere. These examples demonstrate the failure of the international relations of states and foreign policies as too often practiced as cross-border organized crime. The world system needs fundamental transformation, beginning with obligatory respect for international law as developed.
HIC Members and HLRN tracks these multiple violations consistently as a subject of regular monitoring as recorded in the HLRN Violation Database (VDB) and, in particular, in the form of a special World Habitat Day report in October 2021 on housing and land violations in the context of ongoing Conflict, Occupation and War: Habitat-related human rights violations since the pandemic-era call for a global cease-fire. Unfortunately, that thematic treatment of the global violations could not have been more timely.
Photo: A child on a swing outside a residential building in Kyiv damaged by a missile. Source: Getty Images.
 “Russia-Ukraine war: Mariupol theatre sheltering ‘hundreds’ bombed,” Aljazeera (16 March 2022), https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/3/16/war-rages-despite-glimmer-of-hope-in-russia-ukraine-talks; Human Rights Watch, “Ukraine: Russian Assault Kills Fleeing Civilians,” 8 March 2022, https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/03/08/ukraine-russian-assault-kills-fleeing-civilians; Nadim Asrar, Nigel Wilson, Hamza Mohamed and Federica Marsi, “Ukraine latest updates: Civilian convoy leaves besieged Mariupol,” Aljazeera (14 March 2022), https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/3/13/russia-ukraine-live-news-thousands-flee-via-evacuation-corridors.