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Ukraine endangers civilian lives by deploying troops nearbyExBulletin




Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Adviser Donatella Rovera (centre) released a report on 4 August 2022 condemning the Ukrainian military for putting civilians at risk, a possible war crime.

Dogukan Keskinkilic/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

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Dogukan Keskinkilic/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Adviser Donatella Rovera (centre) released a report on 4 August 2022 condemning the Ukrainian military for putting civilians at risk, a possible war crime.

Dogukan Keskinkilic/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Published by Amnesty International a report on Thursday accusing the Ukrainian military of deploying its troops and artillery near hospitals, schools and residential buildings in ways that could amount to war crimes. The international human rights organization says it spent two months in Ukraine interviewing locals and collecting physical evidence to compile the report.

“Possible alternatives were available that would not endanger civilians, such as military bases or densely forested areas nearby, or other structures further away from residential areas,” the report said.

The report drew a backlash from Ukrainian officials and civil society leaders. Perhaps the most surprising criticism came from Amnesty’s own operation in Ukraine.

“We did everything we could to prevent this report from becoming public,” Oksana Pokalchuk, head of Amnesty Ukraine, wrote on Facebook. She and her team claim there are several inconsistencies in the report, which was compiled by foreign observers without any help from local staff.

Responding to questions about Amnesty International’s findingsUkraine’s Deputy Defense Minister, Hanna Maliar, said that Ukraine “regularly carries out evacuations of civilians from conflict zones”. Thousands cannot or will not flee from several cities along the front.

But Amnesty International says Ukrainian troops are sheltering alongside civilians away from active conflict zones and that Russian missile attacks on Ukrainian military positions have left several civilians dead nearby.

Donatella Rovera, the author of the report, says that such situations arise on all sides of any war and that it is up to Ukrainians to address concerns as soon as possible.

“I think the level of self-censorship on this issue has been quite extraordinary,” said Rovera.

A clue to this self-censorship may lie in the way Ukrainian public sentiment has rallied against any criticism of the Ukrainian military. Despite Pokalchuk’s efforts to shut down the report, a Ukrainian website known for leaking personal information of alleged “enemies” of Ukraine listed her as “participating in acts of humanitarian aggression in Ukraine” and “guilty of denying Ukraine’s right to defend itself.” One of the website’s founders is a high-ranking official in Ukraine’s foreign ministry, who manages relations with foreign journalists.

Like Amnesty International, NPR reporters have also witnessed some evidence of military presence near civilian bombed areas.

Ukrainian officials have claimed that their defensive posture against Russia justifies all the tactics used so far and that the report unfairly implicates Ukraine in war crimes. A senior adviser to Ukraine’s president even accused the human rights group of being Russian propagandists pushing disinformation.

“Please stop creating a false reality where everyone is equally guilty [for the war]” Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, said in a televised video. He joined a chorus of others saying that foreign observers should blame Russia alone for any threats against civilians.

“Every member of the Amnesty office in Ukraine knows this, only the Russian Federation [capitalization-sic] bears responsibility for the crime of aggression against Ukraine, not least because some of our colleagues had to leave everything behind to save themselves and their families,” Amnesty Ukraine said in a statement.

Amnesty International has produced dozens of reports on Russian war crimes. Rovera said she personally investigated when hundreds of tortured bodies appeared on the outskirts of Kiev after Russia withdrew from the area.

“To say that issuing a four-page press release compares to the hundreds of pages we’ve published since the beginning of the Russian invasion… it’s just not true,” Rovera said.

The report notes that reports of Russia’s use of illegal weapons in civilian areas, including cluster munitions and anti-personnel landmines, should give Ukraine even more reason to keep its troops away from civilians.

Amnesty International gave Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense six days to respond to specific evidence of Ukraine’s military presence in civilian areas. The rights group’s office in Ukraine says that was not enough.

Rovera says she understands that the Ukrainians are, in many ways, outgunned and outgunned, but that the credibility of Ukraine’s moral high ground requires full compliance with international law even if it puts its military at a tactical disadvantage.

As for Amnesty Ukraine, Pokalchuk writes, “we will continue to fight in any way we can, no matter the cost. My office and I believe in human rights, we believe in the victory of Ukraine, and we believe that every guilty person for war crimes will be brought to justice”.




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