Amnesty International’s report on Ukraine supports claims made by other human rights groups. Writes Ahmed Adel
Reactions to Amnesty International’s report, which highlighted Ukraine’s proclivity to endanger civilians, continued this week, drawing angry reactions from Ukrainian officials and criticism from Western diplomats and media. The report, published on August 4, infuriated Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and triggered the resignation of Amnesty International’s Kiev office head, Oksana Pokalchuk, prompting the rights group to say it regretted the “pain caused”.
Zelensky accused the group of trying to shift responsibility from Russia. Pokalchuk, for her part, quit because she believes the report is a propaganda gift for Moscow. She said her office had asked Amnesty International to give the Ukrainian Defence Ministry adequate time to respond to the report’s revelations, arguing that its failure to do so would further the Kremlin’s misinformation and propaganda efforts. But Ukraine’s use of residential infrastructure cannot just be simply dismissed as so-called Russian misinformation and propaganda.
Sparking the angry responses was the expose of Ukrainian troops using residential areas to attack Russian forces, thus endangering civilians to retaliatory attacks. Highlighting this fact, one that has been made by several human rights organisations, prompted all kinds of ridiculous headlines, such as the Atlantic Council’s “Flawed Amnesty report risks enabling more Russian war crimes in Ukraine” and The Washington Post’s “Amnesty International is blaming the victims in Ukraine”.
The fact remains that several human rights groups over the years have reported Ukraine’s use of residential areas to attack Russian forces. In fact, one of the most recent reports before the Amnesty International one stirred controversy in the West, was published by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on July 21. It found that in Pokotylivka, the Ukrainian military established a base at a disease control centre in a residential neighbourhood without taking steps to first evacuate civilians, resulting in at least six wounded civilians when Russian forces attacked on April 28.
In another case reported by HRW, about 300 Ukrainian soldiers began using the cultural centre in Selekstiine village as a barracks in early March without relocating civilians, but about 10 days later, a large munition hit the centre, destroying it completely and damaging many surrounding buildings. Also, in late February, Ukrainian armed forces started using the local school and council buildings in Yakovlivka village as a military base and barracks despite civilians remaining in the area. On March 2, multiple munitions hit the village, killing 4 civilians, wounding at least 10 others, and destroying and damaging dozens of homes.
This is just but a few examples provided by HRW from 2022, but other examples exist from 2014 and go right up until the present. The Amnesty International report created extra controversy as it highlighted that “Ukrainian forces have put civilians in harm’s way by establishing bases and operating weapons systems in populated residential areas, including in schools and hospitals.”
“Such tactics violate international humanitarian law and endanger civilians, as they turn civilian objects into military targets. The ensuing Russian strikes in populated areas have killed civilians and destroyed civilian infrastructure,” the report added.
None-the-less, this objectively true accounting, and despite Ukraine’s consistent history of using civilian and residential areas to attack Russian forces, Kiev and the Western establishment exploded in anger at this expose. So intense was the outrage that it forced the human rights group to state that it “deeply regrets the distress and anger that our press release on the Ukrainian military’s fighting tactics has caused.”
“Amnesty International’s priority in this and in any conflict is ensuring that civilians are protected. Indeed, this was our sole objective when releasing this latest piece of research. While we fully stand by our findings, we regret the pain caused.”
The United Nations also reacted to Amnesty International’s report, with the secretary-general’s spokesperson stating that the international organisation has repeatedly insisted that civilians in Ukraine must be protected.
“Throughout this war, the Secretary-General’s message has been clear. We always have and will continue to call for the protection of civilians,” spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said.
However, the statement was weak in supporting Amnesty International’s findings, despite Senior United Nations Officials themselves, on several occasions, including in May 2022, stressing for schools and medical facilities to “never be used for military purposes”.
For their part, Amnesty International said it had found Ukrainian forces next to civilian residences in 19 towns and villages it visited, thus exposing them to the risk of Russian fire.
“This does not mean that Amnesty International holds Ukrainian forces responsible for violations committed by Russian forces, nor that the Ukrainian military is not taking adequate precautions elsewhere in the country,” it said.
Although Amnesty International stressed: “We must be very clear: Nothing we documented Ukrainian forces doing in any way justifies Russian violations”, it did not protect the human rights group from receiving a deluge of abuse and expressions of shock that it had the ‘audacity’ to question the morality and values of the Ukrainian military.
Amnesty International did not reveal any new revelation about the Ukrainian military’s behaviour. Rather, the report has caused controversy for the fact that it was published at a time when summer is nearing its end and the Europeans are worrying about how winter will look with the war seemingly not poised to conclude anytime soon. By exposing the Ukrainian Army, Amnesty International raises questions even louder about why the West continues to blindly support a Kiev that does not share its own values in human rights. For Washington, this revelation is intolerable as the conflict must go on…
Ahmed Adel, Cairo-based geopolitics and political economy researcher.
Please follow Blitz on Google News channel