KYIV, UKRAINE (AP) — The head of Amnesty International’s Ukraine section has resigned, saying the human rights organization has rejected her opposition to publishing a report that claimed Ukrainian forces had exposed civilians to Russian attack by setting up in populated areas.
In a statement posted Friday night on Facebook, Oksana Pokalchuk accused her former employer of ignoring the realities of wartime Ukraine and the concerns of local staff members who had pushed for the report to be redrafted.
The report, released on Thursday, drew angry denunciations from senior Ukrainian officials and criticism from Western diplomats, who accused the authors of making vague claims that seemed to equate the defensive actions of the Ukrainian army with the tactics of the Russian invaders.
“It is painful to admit, but Amnesty International leaders and I have been divided over 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 set up firing positions at targeted locations.
Pokalchuk said his office had asked the organization’s leadership to give Ukraine’s Defense Ministry adequate time to respond to the report’s findings, arguing that failure to do so would increase the Kremlin’s disinformation and propaganda efforts.
“I am convinced that our surveys must be done thoroughly, taking into account the people whose lives often depend directly on the words and actions of international organizations,” she said.
In a press release accompanying the report’s release, Amnesty International’s Secretary General Agnes Callamard said the organization had “documented a pattern in which Ukrainian forces endanger civilians and violate the laws of the war when operating in populated areas.
“Being in a defensive position does not exempt the Ukrainian army from respecting international humanitarian law,” he said Thursday.
Russian state-sponsored 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.
Multiple Western military and international law scholars took to social media to reject the human shield claim. They said the report contained poor wording that blurred legal distinctions and ignored combat conditions in Ukraine.
United Nations war crimes investigator Marc Garlasco, tweeting in his personal capacity on Friday, accused Amnesty International of “misreading the law” and said Ukraine was taking steps to protect civilians, such as helping them relocate.
Ukrainian authorities at the national and regional levels have repeatedly urged residents of frontline areas to evacuate, though tens of thousands of people who fled their homes since Russia’s invasion have returned after being left without support or feeling unwelcome.
Ukrainian leaders, including President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the country’s foreign and defense ministers, have been scathing in their condemnation of the report, which they said did not provide context for Russia’s bombing of populated areas and attacks. documented against civilians.
Callamard, secretary general of Amnesty, posted a tweet on Friday defending the organization’s work and taking aim at its critics.
“Ukrainian and Russian mafias and social media trolls – they are all attacking Amnesty investigations today. This is called war propaganda, disinformation, misinformation. 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, accusing his organization of “false neutrality” and playing the Kremlin’s game.
“Apparently the Amnesty General Secretary calls me a ‘mafia’ and a ‘troll’, but this will not stop me from saying that his report distorts reality, establishes a false moral equivalence between the aggressor and the victim, and increases the effort of disinformation from Russia. This is false ‘neutrality’, not truth,” Kuleba wrote on Twitter.