Head of Amnesty International Ukraine quits over rights report

Amnesty International had accused the Ukrainian military of endangering civilians by establishing bases in schools and hospitals
Aug 06, 2022
<p>Ukrainian troops fire surface-to-surface rockets towards Russian military posts in the eastern region of Ukraine. Photo AFP</p>

Ukrainian troops fire surface-to-surface rockets towards Russian military posts in the eastern region of Ukraine. Photo AFP

The head of Amnesty International’s Ukraine office has resigned, accusing the rights organization of parroting Kremlin propaganda in a controversial report that criticized the war-torn country’s military response to Russia’s invasion.

Amnesty sparked outrage in Ukraine with the publication of a report on Thursday that accused the military of endangering civilians by establishing bases in schools and hospitals and launching counterattacks from heavily populated areas.

“If you don’t live in a country invaded by occupiers who are tearing it to pieces, you probably don’t understand what it’s like to condemn an army of defenders,” Amnesty’s Oksana Pokalchuk said on social media, announcing her resignation late Friday.

“And there are no words in any language that can convey this to someone who has not experienced this pain.”

Pokalchuk said she had tried to warn Amnesty’s senior leadership that the report was one-sided and failed to properly take into account the Ukrainian position, but she was ignored.

Amnesty Secretary General, Agnes Callamard, responded to Pokalchuk’s resignation, saying: “Oksana has been a valued member of Amnesty staff and has led the Amnesty International Ukraine office for seven years with many significant human rights successes.

“We are sorry to hear that she is leaving the organization, but we respect her decision and wish her well,” Callamard said.

Amnesty says it contacted defence officials in Kyiv with its findings on July 29, but had not received a response by the time of publication – but Pokalchuk argued that this wasn’t nearly enough notice.

“As a result, the organization unintentionally put out a statement that sounded like support for Russian narratives. Striving to protect civilians, this research instead became a tool of Russian propaganda.”

Amnesty listed incidents in which Ukrainian forces appeared to have exposed civilians to danger in 19 towns and villages in the Kharkiv, Donbas, and Mykolaiv regions.

“We have documented a pattern of Ukrainian forces putting civilians at risk and violating the laws of war when they operate in populated areas,” Amnesty chief Callamard said.

“Being in a defensive position does not exempt the Ukrainian military from respecting international humanitarian law.”

Ukraine’s government pushed back hard, with Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba branding the allegations “unfair” and Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov calling the report a “perversion”.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said the rights group had tried to “amnesty the terrorist state and 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, if some data about the victim is analyzed, and the aggressor’s actions at the same time is ignored, then this cannot be tolerated,” he said.

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