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Amnesty International’s report on Ukraine sparks anger and resignation

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The head of Amnesty International’s Ukraine chapter has resigned, saying the human rights organization dropped its objection to the release of a report that said Ukrainian forces had exposed civilians to Russian attacks by basing themselves in populated areas.

In a statement posted Friday night on Facebook, Oksana Pokalchuk accused her former employer of ignoring wartime realities in Ukraine and the concerns of local staff members who had asked for the report to be reworked.

The report, released on Thursday, drew angry denunciations from senior Ukrainian officials and criticism from Western diplomats, who accused the authors of vague claims that appeared to equate defensive actions by the Ukrainian military with the tactics of invading Russians.

“It’s painful to admit, but the leadership of Amnesty International and I are divided on values,” Pokalchuk wrote. “I believe that any work done for the good of society must take into account the local context and think about the consequences.”

Russia has repeatedly justified attacks on civilian areas by claiming that Ukrainian fighters had set up firing positions in the target locations.

An elderly woman looks out the window of her apartment at a building damaged in a rocket attack in May in Sloviansk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, August 6, 2022.

An elderly woman looks out the window of her apartment at a building damaged in a rocket attack in May in Sloviansk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, August 6, 2022.

Pokalchuk said her office had asked the organization’s leadership to give Ukraine’s Defense Ministry adequate time to respond to the report’s findings, and argued that its failure to do so would further disinformation and the Kremlin’s propaganda efforts.

“I am convinced that our polls should be done thoroughly, keeping in mind the people whose lives often directly depend on the words and actions of international organizations,” she said.

In a press release accompanying the release of the report, Amnesty International Secretary-General Agnes Callamard said the organization had “documented a pattern of Ukrainian forces endangering civilians and violating the laws of war when they operate in populated areas.

“Being in a defensive position does not exempt the Ukrainian army from respecting international humanitarian law,” she said on Thursday.

Russian state-sponsored media cited the report to support Moscow’s claim that Russia has only launched attacks on military targets during the war. Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesman cited Amnesty International’s claims as evidence that Ukraine was using civilians as human shields.

Many Western scholars of international and military law took to social media to refute the human shield claim. They said the report contained loose language that blurred legal distinctions and ignored the conditions of the fighting in Ukraine.

United Nations war crimes investigator Marc Garlasco, in a personal tweet on Friday, accused Amnesty International of “getting the law wrong” and said Ukraine was taking steps to protect civilians, such as helping them to move.

A resident fills water bottles at a well in Sloviansk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, August 6, 2022.

A resident fills water bottles at a well in Sloviansk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, August 6, 2022.

Ukrainian authorities at the national and regional levels have repeatedly urged residents of frontline areas to evacuate, although tens of thousands of people who fled their homes since the Russian invasion have returned because they were left without support or felt unwelcome.

Ukrainian leaders, including President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the country’s foreign and defense ministers, have been harsh in their condemnation of the report, which they said failed to provide context on Russia’s bombing of populated areas and documented attacks. to civilians.

Callamard posted a tweet Friday defending the organization’s work and attacking its critics.

“Ukrainian and Russian social media trolls and trolls: they are all today attacking Amnesty’s investigations. This is called war propaganda, disinformation, disinformation. This will not damage our impartiality and will not change the facts,” she wrote.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba issued an angry response to Callamard, in which he accused her organization of “false neutrality” and playing into the Kremlin’s hands.

“Apparently, the Secretary General of Amnesty calls me a ‘mob’ and a ‘troll’, but this will not prevent me from saying that her report distorts reality, draws a false moral equivalence between the aggressor and the victim and increases efforts of Russia for disinformation. This is false ‘neutrality,’ not truth,” Kuleba tweeted.

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