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Head of Amnesty Ukraine quits over human rights report

The controversy was sparked by an Amnesty report criticising the Ukrainian military for how it has conducted its operations.

Soldier exits a bunker at his unit’s position near Sloviansk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine
Soldier exits a bunker at his unit’s position near Sloviansk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine
Image: David Goldman/AP

THE HEAD OF Amnesty International’s Ukraine office has resigned, accusing the rights organisation of parroting Kremlin propaganda in a controversial report that criticised the war-torn country’s military response to Russia’s invasion.

Amnesty sparked outrage in Ukraine when it released a report on Thursday accusing 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 yesterday.

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

But Amnesty’s secretary general has insisted that Ukraine’s defensive position “does not” exempt its military from “respecting international humanitarian law” during the war.

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 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 organisation 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 secretary general Agnes 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 analysed, and the aggressor’s actions at the same time is ignored, then this cannot be tolerated,” he said.

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