Amnesty Ukraine says headquarters 'ignored' its concerns about 'incomplete evidence' in war crimes report

·3-min read
Agnes Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International - REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
Agnes Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International - REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

The head of Amnesty’s Ukrainian operation has publicly discredited its international headquarter’s report into alleged war crimes by Kyiv’s armed forces.

Oksana Pokalchuk accused the campaign group of publishing “inadmissible and incomplete” evidence, and said her colleagues in the war-torn country had been shut out of the investigation.

In its report, published on Thursday, Amnesty International claimed Ukraine had endangered civilians by setting up military bases in residential areas, including hospitals and schools, in the Kharkiv, Donbas and Mykolaiv regions.

Its publication was met with fury in Kyiv, including from President Volodymyr Zelensky, with the Ukrainian government accusing the human rights organisation of siding with Russia.

In a social media post, Ms Pokalchuk, head of Amnesty Ukraine, said: “The Ukrainian office was not involved in the preparation or writing of the text of the publication. And, unfortunately, already at the initial stage of this report, we have entered a dead corner where our team's arguments about the inadmissibility and incompleteness of such material were not taken into account.”

“On their part, the representatives of the Ukrainian office did everything they could to prevent this material from being published,” she added.

A school in the Mykolaiv region of Ukraine is reduced to rubble after a Russian strike - Handout
A school in the Mykolaiv region of Ukraine is reduced to rubble after a Russian strike - Handout

While looking into Russian attacks between April and July, Amnesty investigators claimed they found evidence of Ukrainian forces operating out of civilian buildings in at least 19 towns and villages.

The organisation, which said its evidence was supported by satellite imagery and witness accounts, said Ukraine had committed “a clear violation of international humanitarian law" by operating military bases out of at least five hospitals.

It also claimed 22 out of 29 schools visited throughout the Donbas and Mykolaiv regions during the probe had been turned into military bases.

Amnesty said subsequent Russian strikes on the locations had resulted in multiple deaths and injuries.

But the report was criticised by some analysts. Among them was Jack Watling, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, who wrote on Twitter: "The @amnesty report demonstrates a weak understanding of the laws of armed conflict...

"It is not a violation of IHL (international humanitarian law) for Ukrainian military personnel to situate themselves in the terrain they are tasked to defend rather than in some random piece of adjacent woodland where they can be bypassed. The Ukrainian military has regularly urged civilians to leave areas of fighting and facilitated them doing so."

At the same time, the report was leapt on by Russia's embassy in the UK, which said the allegations had been made by Moscow "all along".

In his overnight address, Mr Zelensky said the report sought to pardon Russian war crimes in his country.

"We saw an Amnesty International report that attempts to amnesty a terrorist state and shift responsibility from the aggressor to its victim," the Ukrainian President said.

Meanwhile, Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary-General, defended the report's publication and hit out at Ukrainian "social media mobs and trolls" criticising her organisation.

"This is called war propaganda, disinformation, misinformation. This won't dent our impartiality and wont change the facts," she wrote on Twitter.