The head of Amnesty International’s Ukrainian branch has said that the concerns of the human rights watchdog’s Ukrainian office regarding a controversial report accusing Ukrainian forces of endangering civilians were ignored by Amnesty’s head office.
Amnesty International Ukraine said that the report and related data collection was done by the head office’s Crisis Response Department, with spokesperson Kateryna Miteva telling hromadske that the Ukrainian office was not involved, in keeping with Amnesty International guidelines. In a statement published on Amnesty International Ukraine’s website, Amnesty Ukraine head Oksana Pokalchuk said that the Ukrainian office had been assisting forensic investigators from other countries in their investigation of war crimes in Ukraine.
In a longer statement on Facebook, Pokalchuk said that the Amnesty Ukraine team had entered a “dead end” early in the preparation of the report, when it became clear that the team’s feedback on the inadmissibility or incompleteness of some material cited was being ignored. As a result, Amnesty Ukraine “did everything they could” to prevent the report from being published, and sought to limit its spread once their requests were rejected.
Pokalchuk continued that the Amnesty Ukraine team’s requests to be sent advance copies of the report were also declined, and while they were able to convince the authors to request an official comment from the Ukrainian military, the report was published before receiving a formal response. As a result, Amnesty Ukraine has “categorically” refused to publish the report on its website or translate it into Ukrainian due to its one-sidedness, with the team apologizing that their concerns were ultimately not heard by Amnesty’s head office.
The Amnesty International report released on Wednesday instantly sparked controversy after it accused the Ukrainian military of endangering civilians by establishing bases and operating weapons systems in populated residential areas, including in schools and hospitals, as it fought to repel the Russian invasion of Ukraine. While the report itself notes that its accusations “does not in any way justify indiscriminate Russian attacks”, the statement in question is buried towards the end of the report.
The report was roundly bashed by pro-Ukrainian activists and Western politicians, with criticism further inflamed by Amnesty International secretary-general Agnes Callamard’s dismissal of critics as “Ukrainian and Russian social media mobs and trolls”. Callamard went on to accuse critics of the report as spreading “war propaganda, disinformation, misinformation”.
Kyiv has since issued multiple condemnations of the report, with President Volodmyr Zelensky accusing Amnesty of attempting to “shift responsibility from the aggressor to the victim” in a Thursday night speech. In his nightly video address, Zelensky said:
“Aggression against our state is unprovoked, invasive and openly terroristic. And if someone makes a report in which the victim and the aggressor are allegedly the same in something, if some data about the victim is analyzed and what the aggressor was doing at that time is ignored, this cannot be tolerated.”
Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said that the Ukrainian military was all that was standing between Ukrainian civilians and the “bestial” behavior of occupying Russian forces. “Any attempt to question the right of Ukrainians to resist genocide, to protect their families and homes, to protect their lives and the lives of their children, to resist the actions of Russia as a terrorist state, is a perversion, no matter what legal structures disguise it”, said Reznikov, who added that Amnesty’s attempt to equate unprovoked Russian aggression and Ukrainian self-defense damaged its credibility.
Lead image: State Emergency Service of Ukraine photograph of debris removed from the wreckage of the Amscor mall in Kremenchuk, after a June 27 Russian cruise missile attack that killed at least 20 civilians.