August 4, 2022 - 5:25pm

Amnesty International has been roundly condemned by pro-Ukraine voices for a new report criticising Ukraine. The human rights group warned that Ukrainian forces were jeopardising the safety of civilians by establishing bases in populated residential areas, including schools and hospitals. 

“We have documented a pattern of Ukrainian forces putting civilians at risk and violating the laws of war when they operate in populated areas,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General. “Being in a defensive position does not exempt the Ukrainian military from respecting international humanitarian law.”

Pro-Ukraine voices have since come out in force to denounce the report. Olexandr Pavlychenko, former President of Ukrainian Helsinki Group called the AI report “manipulative” while Ukraine’s ambassador to the US, Oksana Markarova accused Amnesty of “victim-blaming”.

Alex Kokcharov, a risk analyst specialising in Ukraine and Eastern Europe, told UnHerd: “The piece by Amnesty was written by Western researchers parachuted into Ukraine who knew little about the area. It is highly unlikely that the Kyiv Amnesty branch was involved in the creation of the report, which is why it feels so one-sided.”

Anger directed at Amnesty is surprising given that it is the first critical piece the group has written on Ukraine since the war began. Over the last six months, Amnesty has published 40 articles on Ukraine, nearly all of which condemn Russia’s invasion, with only one exception — its latest — that could be conceivably described as critical of Ukraine.

International humanitarian law requires all parties to a conflict to avoid locating, to the maximum extent feasible, military objectives within or near densely populated areas. Though the report is critical of Ukraine’s fighting tactics, it adds that it did not find evidence of Ukrainian forces locating themselves in the civilian areas in Kharkiv, for example. The report also accuses Russia of launching indiscriminate attacks, including the use of internationally banned cluster munitions.

Nonetheless groups like the popular Visegrád 24 account, have not only attacked Amnesty’s report but the organisation itself. Accusing it of continuing its “anti-Ukraine campaign, the account tweeted that Amnesty was “doing more harm than good in Ukraine”. Meanwhile political scientist Sergej Sumlenny said that Amnesty has “effectively sided with Vladimir Putin”, a charge that goes back to its temporary removal of Alexey Navalny’s ‘prisoner of conscience’ status.

James Billot is UnHerd’s Newsroom editor.