Oksana Pokalchuk, who headed Amnesty International in Ukraine, is stepping down after the human rights organization issued a report last week criticizing Ukraine’s military.
What did the military do wrong?
The report said 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”. “Being in a defensive position does not exempt the Ukrainian military from respecting international humanitarian law,” the secretary general of Amnesty International said in a statement accompanying the report.
Why the resignation?
The criticism wasn’t well received, as it sparked a backlash among Ukrainian officials who said Amnesty was unfairly blaming the victim in Russia’s war. Pokalchuk noted that the organization’s employees in Ukraine had pushed Amnesty International to allow the Ukrainian Defense Ministry to respond to the report’s findings before it was published, but the organization gave Ukrainian officials “very little time to respond”.
Is the content of the report not a reflection of reality?
It is, but while she noted being proud of the work that Amnesty did in highlighting Russian war crimes, Pokalchuk said the Ukraine report created a conflict between Amnesty’s staff in Ukrainian and the larger organization. “As a result of this, although unwillingly, the organization created a material that sounded like the support of Russian narratives,” Pokalchuk said, adding that, “seeking to protect civilians, this study instead has become a tool of Russian propaganda.”
In response to the backlash from Ukrainian officials, the secretary general of Amnesty International, Agnès Callamard called out “Ukrainian and Russian social media mobs and trolls” for attacking Amnesty’s investigations, and insisted that Amnesty’s report does not justify Russia’s invasion, but the organization remains neutral in the conflict. “This is called war propaganda, disinformation, misinformation,” she tweeted about the backlash, saying the criticism wouldn’t “dent our impartiality” or “change the facts.”