The head of Amnesty International’s Ukraine chapter has resigned, saying the human rights organization suppressed her opposition to the release of a report that claimed Ukrainian forces had exposed civilians to Russian attacks based on populated areas
In a statement posted Friday night on Facebook, Oksana Pokalchuk accused her former employer of ignoring the realities of war in Ukraine and the concerns of local staff members who had pressed for the report to be reworked.
The report, released Thursday, drew angry denunciations from senior Ukrainian officials and criticism from Western diplomats, who accused the authors of making vague claims that appeared to equate the Ukrainian military’s defensive actions with the tactics of invading Russians.
“It is painful to admit, but I and the leadership of Amnesty International have shared 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 at the target locations.
Pokalchuk said his office had asked the organization’s leadership to give Ukraine’s Defense Ministry enough time to respond to the report’s findings, arguing that failure to do so would increase Kremlin disinformation and propaganda efforts.
“I am convinced that our surveys must be done thoroughly, taking into account 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 putting civilians at risk and violating laws of war when operating in populated areas.
“Being in a defensive position does not exempt the Ukrainian army from respecting international humanitarian law,” he said on Thursday.
State-sponsored Russian media cited the report to support Moscow’s claim that Russia has only launched strikes against military targets during the war. The Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman cited Amnesty International’s claims as evidence that Ukraine was using civilians as human shields.
Several Western scholars of international and military law took to social media to reject the human shield claim. They said the report contained poor wording that obscured legal distinctions and ignored combat conditions in Ukraine.
In a personal tweet on Friday, UN war crimes investigator Marc Garlasco accused Amnesty International of “getting the law wrong” and said Ukraine was taking steps to protect civilians, such as now help them move.
Ukrainian authorities at the national and regional levels have repeatedly urged residents of frontline areas to evacuate, even as tens of thousands of people who fled their homes since Russia’s invasion have returned after staying are unsupported or feel unpleasant.
Ukrainian leaders, including President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the country’s foreign and defense ministers, have been unequivocal in their condemnation of the report, which they said provided no context on Russia’s bombing of populated areas and documented attacks against civilians.
Callamard, Amnesty’s general secretary, posted a tweet on Friday defending the organization’s work and targeting its critics.
“Ukrainian and Russian social media trolls and trolls – today they are all attacking Amnesty’s investigations. This is called war propaganda, disinformation, disinformation. This will not affect our impartiality and will not change the facts.” he wrote.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba issued an angry response to Callamard in which he accused his organization of “false neutrality” and playing into the hands of the Kremlin.
“It seems that the Secretary General of Amnesty calls me a ‘mob’ and a ‘troll’, but that will not prevent me from saying that his report distorts reality, draws false moral equivalences between the aggressor and the victim and enhances the ‘Russia’s disinformation effort. This is fake ‘neutrality’, not truthfulness,” Kuleba wrote on Twitter.