Amnesty 'fully stands by' accusation Ukraine endangering civilians

Amnesty 'fully stands by' accusation Ukraine endangering civilians
4 min read
05 August, 2022
Amnesty's report said Ukrainian forces were violating international law and endangering civilians by 'establishing bases and operating weapons systems in populated residential areas'.
Amnesty International's Agnès Callamard (centre) said the rights group 'fully stands by' its research [Dogukan Keskinkilic/Anadolu Agency/Getty-archive]

Amnesty International on Friday said it stands by its accusation that Ukraine is endangering civilians by creating army bases in residential areas to counter Russian forces, after a Thursday report from the rights group prompted a furious response from Kyiv.

Russia's UK embassy on Thursday tweeted allegations from the rights group's news post which it said were "exactly what Russia has been saying all along", using the hashtag "#StopNaziUkraine".

"Well played Amnesty. I gather office space in Moscow is quite cheap now, for your new headquarters," retorted Art Newspaper columnist Bendor Grosvenor on Friday.

But the Russian embassy did not include Amnesty's comment that Ukraine's "violations in no way justify Russia's indiscriminate attacks, which have killed and injured countless civilians".

Jack Watling, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, criticised the rights group's understanding of the issues at hand.

"The Amnesty International report demonstrates a weak understanding of the laws of armed conflict, no understanding of military operations, and indulges in insinuations without supplying supporting evidence," he tweeted.

"It is not a violation of [international humanitarian law] for Ukrainian military personnel to situate themselves in the terrain they are tasked to defend rather than in some random piece of adjacent woodland where they can be bypassed."

But others supported Amnesty, saying violations should be called out no matter who is responsible.

"People are flipping out about Amnesty International documenting human rights abuses on the Ukrainian side, calling AI a Russian propaganda outfit (absurd!)," Gulf State Analytics CEO Giorgio Cafiero wrote on Twitter.

"Yes, Russia's the aggressor, but documenting human rights violations committed by all actors in this conflict is AI's job."

Amnesty UK crisis response manager Kristyan Benedict made a similar argument in defending his organisation.

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"People want us to ignore or excuse or justify human rights violations all the time. Especially when 'their side' is facing a far more powerful and brutal enemy. It's a sad reality," he tweeted.

"But as a wise man once said: 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.'"

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky lashed out at Amnesty, saying the rights group was drawing a false equivalence between Ukraine as victim of aggression and the Russian invaders.

Amnesty "fully stands by our research", the organisation's Secretary General Agnès Callamard told AFP in emailed comments.

"The findings… were based on evidence gathered during extensive investigations which were subject to the same rigorous standards and due diligence processes as all of Amnesty International's work," she added.

Amnesty's report said Ukrainian forces were violating international law and endangering civilians by "establishing bases and operating weapons systems in populated residential areas, including in schools and hospitals".

Residential areas where Ukrainian soldiers based themselves were miles away from frontlines, and "viable alternatives" were available that would not endanger civilians, the report said.

But Zelensky accused Amnesty of trying to shift "the responsibility from the aggressor to the victim".

"If someone makes a report in which the victim and the aggressor are supposedly equal in some way... then this cannot be tolerated," he said.

Callamard however expressed concern that the Ukrainian government's "reaction risks chilling legitimate and important discussion of these topics".

She said that the Ukrainian government did not respond to Amnesty's request for a response to its findings and also emphasised that the group had issued multiple reports "documenting war crimes committed by Russian forces in Ukraine".

Adding to the controversy, the head of Amnesty's Ukraine office, Oksana Pokalchuk, wrote in a statement on Facebook that Amnesty had ignored her team's pleas not to publish the report.

Amnesty's Ukraine office would not translate the report into Ukrainian or upload the material on its Ukrainian website, she added.

Callamard said that it was not appropriate at the current moment to comment on "inaccuracies" in Pokalchuk's statement but emphasised that its report "underwent a full internal review process" where Amnesty Ukraine could raise any concerns.

The New Arab has contacted Amnesty International for comment.

Agencies contributed to this report.