A week ago, the international human rights organization Amnesty International (Amnesty) published a report “Ukrainian fighting tactics endanger civilians” [1], which caused outrage both in Ukraine and abroad. The President of Ukraine said that with this Amnesty reporttransfers responsibility for crimes from the perpetrator to the victim [2]. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine expressed the opinion that the report distorts reality [3].

The head of the Ukrainian office of the organization, Oksana Pokalchuk, resigned in protest, noting that the Ukrainian office opposed the publication of the report in the form in which it was made public [4]. Pokalchuk’s example was followed by the co-founder of the organization’s Swedish office [5]. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland condemned the publication [6]. The report was criticized by the Minister of Defense of Latvia [7]. It got to the point that the British newspaper Timesaccused Amnestyof being “Putin’s propagandists” [8], while Daily Telegraph proclaimed the “moral bankruptcy” of the organization [9].

Later, there were reports about the dismissal of employees of the organization at their own request and the termination of funding from donors [10]. It seems that a small and far from the most fundamental report turned out to be a real reputational disaster for a large and respected international human rights organization.

On August, 13, it was reported that Amnestyagreed to an external review of the published report with the possibility of further revision, taking into account the positions of national representations, including Ukrainian [11]. Amnesty President Agnes Callamard no longer calls critics “bots and trolls” and the organization no longer “stands by the findings” [12]. It looks like the central office has admitted defeat and is moving on to minimizing losses.

The ARC followed the development of the situation with interest, but refrained from commenting, so as not to take either side of this overly emotionally charged conflict. However, now that the passions have died down and the conflict seems to be coming to an end, Alexey Plotnikov, PhD in Law, will make some observations.

Let’s start with one principle statement: there is hardly any reason to call Amnesty International “Putin’s agents”. On the contrary, even a simple review of the organization’s publications on Ukraine and Russia shows that Amnesty consistently and actively criticizes the repressive Russian regime, demands the condemnation of Russian aggression, and contributes to the investigation of the crimes of the occupiers. Amnesty collected evidence of attacks against civilians [13] [14] [15], massacres of civilians in the occupation [16], was one of the first global human rights organizations that called crimes and demanded international criminal prosecution of those responsible for the bombing of the theater in Mariupol [17] and torture of Ukrainian prisoners [18] [19]. It also put pressure on European governments to improve the protection of Ukrainian refugees [20] [21]. Also, Amnesty fights against the persecution of Russian citizens who openly protest against aggression [22] [23].

It must be said that Amnesty criticized Ukraine before, for example, in connection with the murders of protesters on the Maidan (then criticism was directed against the actions of the Yanukovych government), or on some routine issues, such as the need to ratify the Istanbul Convention against Domestic Violence [25]. At the same time, after the start of a full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022, Amnesty characterizes Russian aggression as a “human rights disaster” [26], to which the Russian authorities responded by blocking the organization’s website [27].

Against this backdrop, one cannot help but wonder why Amnesty International suddenly published a scandalous report with accusations of the Ukrainian army, and what is the problem with this report. Let’s start by looking at the second question, and in the process try to find the answer to the first.

The report in question came about as a by-product of the study on Russian war crimes. As the organization notes, between April and July, AIexperts undertook an investigation of Russian strikes in the Kharkiv region, in the Donbass and the Mykolaiv region. The organization examined the sites of the strikes, interviewed those who survived, witnesses and relatives of the victims of the attacks [1].

That is, a special study on the probable violation of international humanitarian law by Ukraine was not carried out at all. The report reflects information obtained during the study of Russian war crimes. And this is its first fundamental drawback. “Compiling” reports of this level from fragments of information obtained during the preparation of other reports is simply not acceptable, and even more so, global conclusions cannot be drawn on the basis of such a compilation.

Many experts in Ukraine and abroad criticized the Amnesty reportfor the lack of a clear methodology. Such a methodology was simply nowhere to come from, because a special study was not carried out at all. According to Wayne Jordash from Global Rights Compliance, “Claiming to have based its analysis on witness evidence, strike sites inspected, the selection of criteria and “remote-sensing and weapons analysis,” Amnesty International deftly sidesteps any real examination of its methodology by declining to provide any meaningful detail of their purportedly supporting evidence. The reader is left to guess at the number of witnesses interviewed or strike sites inspected, which selection criteria were examined, and the expertise purportedly deployed to carry out remote-sensing and weapons analysis” [28].

Oleksandr Pavlichenko, executive director of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, points to the one-sidedness of the presentation of the situation, since the Amnesty researchers “had access only to the territory controlled by Ukraine and they tried, as they say, to collect facts objectively where they were allowed to. At the same time, they are not allowed to enter either the Crimea or the other territories not controlled by Ukraine. They can only use the information that is given in doses by the occupiers from those territories, and this already distorts reality” [29].

The lack of proper methodology has led to the second fundamental flaw of AI research – it is based on correct premises, but leads to a wrong conclusion. The text of the report asserts a lot of correct things with which one cannot but agree. For example, it is perfectly true that international humanitarian law requires parties to a conflict to avoid, to the extent possible, placing military targets in or near densely populated areas and obliges evacuate civilians from a war zone, as well as give proper warnings of attacks that could affect civilians. The report also notes that Russian shelling is carried out using indiscriminate weapons, including internationally banned cluster munitions, and the deployment of military personnel in a populated area does not justify such violations. Finally, the report states, somewhat paradoxically, that “International humanitarian law does not specifically ban parties to a conflict from basing themselves in schools that are not in session. However, militaries have an obligation to avoid using schools that are near houses or apartment buildings full of civilians, putting these lives at risk, unless there is a compelling military need” [1].

These are all fair statements theoretically. Yet further the Amnesty describes cases of such alleged improper deployment, but avoids analysis of whether there was a compelling military need and whether evacuation measures were taken. Without this analysis, it is not possible to draw a conclusion about the violation. And even more so, it cannot be concluded that the instances in questions were not individual violations (which can hardly be completely avoided by any side in any armed struggle), but about the general tactics of conducting military operations, not about isolated cases, but about a “pattern”. It is unlikely that such a global conclusion can be drawn on the basis of testimonies of a small number of witnesses mentioned in the report, and as part of a completely different study. Therefore, the statement that the Armed Forces of Ukraine allegedly use the placement of military facilities next to civilian ones as a tactic of warfare does not stand up to scrutiny.

The question cannot but arise: can it be that the Amnesty experts indeed did not realize the shortcomings of the report? This is hardly believable for one of the World’s largest and most reputable human rights NGOs.

Why publish a study that is manifestly unfounded, lacks an intelligible methodology, and draws hasty conclusions from extracts of other reports? Why is the position of the Ukrainian side so flagrantly disregarded, beginning with the suspension of Ukrainian office experts from participation in the report’s preparation and concluding with the organization’s decision not to wait for the comments of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, which it itself requested?

Amnesty International’s motivations remain inexplicable, and one can only speculate, with the most likely explanation being the central office’s obsessive devotion to the neutrality concept. According to a tweet from the Ukrainian minister of foreign affairs, “fake “neutrality” should not be confused with truthfulness [30]. The renowned Ukrainian expert Maxim Dvorovoy is sarcastic about Amnesty’s “out-of-context super-impartial statements” [31] because the history of the preparation of the infamous report gives the impression that international human rights activists decided to show that they are following both sides of the conflict equally, and just in case, blamed Ukraine. For the sake of their abstract conception of neutrality, they opted to sacrifice the concrete context of the fight by refusing not only to study the situation on the ground but also to permit the Ukrainians, who cannot be neutral, to compile a report.
To form a balanced opinion, however, it is necessary to listen to both sides in order to demonstrate true neutrality. The pursuit of “balance” resulted in the creation of an unbalanced, low-quality “product” of research for Amnesty International. Instead of bringing attention to hypothetic violations of the rules of war that the Ukrainian side should correct, its appearance led to a crisis in Amnesty’s reputation and a decline in confidence in their findings.

Despite this, we would like to hope that Amnesty International would be able to overcome this problem in its own judgment and crisis of trust. In the end, we are discussing an organization that has fought tirelessly for human rights in Ukraine and throughout the world. Particularly, AI frequently notifies the world about the violation of human rights in Crimea and the persecution of Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians by the occupying authorities [32]. Ukraine referred to Amnesty’spublications in international courts. For instance, a case on racial discrimination in Crimea that was filed with the International Court of Justice included a link to Amnesty reports [33].

Unquestionably, the documents collected by Amnesty International exposing Russian aggression and atrocities in Ukraine might be incredibly beneficial in Ukraine’s diplomatic and legal struggle. Therefore, when criticizing the organization, it is essential not to “throw away the baby with the bathwater”, that is, to not disregard monumental accomplishments because of a single, but brutal and clear error. We hope that an unbiased examination of the Amnesty International report will help to the objective elucidation of the real circumstances underlying the unfounded charges. In a situation in which one party is clearly the aggressor and the other clearly the victim, Amnesty may choose to reconsider their neutrality approach so as not to tip the scales in favor of the perpetrator.

1. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/08/ukraine-ukrainian-fighting-tactics-endanger-civilians/
2. https://www.pravda.com.ua/news/2022/08/4/7361927/
3. https://detector.media/infospace/article/201647/2022-08-05-kuleba-genseku-amnesty-international-vash-zvit-spotvoryuie-realnist-tse-falshyva-neytralnist/
4. https://hromadske.radio/news/2022/08/05/ochil-nytsia-amnesty-international-ukraina-zvil-niaiet-sia-pislia-skandalu-zi-zvitom-iz-krytykoiu-zsu
5. https://www.ukrinform.ua/rubric-world/3547601-spivzasnovnik-svedskoi-amnesty-international-podav-u-vidstavku-cerez-nezgodu-zi-zvitom-pro-zsu.html
6. https://rubryka.com/2022/08/08/u-mzs-polshhi-zayavyly-shho-zvit-amnesty-international-svidchyt-pro-sylnyj-vplyv-rf-na-organizatsiyu/
7. https://suspilne.media/268615-sproba-vipravdati-dii-rosiu-ministr-oboroni-litvi-rozkritikuvav-zvit-amnesty-international/
8. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/the-times-view-on-amnesty-internationals-ukraine-report-putins-propagandists-kcf3m5ww0
9. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2022/08/06/amnesty-now-utterly-morally-bankrupt/
10. https://frontnews.eu/en/news/details/38479
11. https://euromaidanpress.com/2022/08/13/amnesty-to-review-controversial-statement-on-ukrainian-army/
12. https://genevasolutions.news/global-news/amnesty-apologises-for-report-slamming-ukrainian-army
13. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/04/ukraine-russias-cruel-siege-warfare-tactics-unlawfully-killing-civilians-new-testimony-and-investigation/
14. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/06/ukraine-hundreds-killed-in-relentless-russian-shelling-of-kharkiv-new-investigation/
15. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/07/ukraine-civilians-killed-by-reckless-russian-attacks-on-serhiivka-apartment-block-and-beach-resort/
16. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/04/ukraine-russian-forces-extrajudicially-executing-civilians-in-apparent-war-crimes-new-testimony/
17. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/06/ukraine-deadly-mariupol-theatre-strike-a-clear-war-crime-by-russian-forces-new-investigation/
18. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/07/ukraine-russian-soldiers-filmed-viciously-attacking-ukrainian-pow-must-face-justice/
19. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/06/ukraine-russia-death-sentences-against-three-foreign-members-of-ukrainian-forces-by-separatists-courts-a-blatant-violation-of-international-law/
20. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/03/poland-authorities-must-act-to-protect-people-fleeing-ukraine-from-further-suffering/
21. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/03/eu-temporary-protection-is-needed-for-everyone-fleeing-ukraine/
22. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/04/russia-artist-detained-amid-clampdown-on-anti-war-feminists/
23. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/07/russia-municipal-councillor-sentenced-to-seven-years-in-jail-for-opposing-the-ukraine-war/
24. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2014/02/ukraine-prosecute-perpetrators-protest-deaths/
25. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/06/ukraine-historic-victory-for-womens-rights-as-istanbul-convention-ratified/
26. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/03/russia-ukraine-invasion-of-ukraine-is-an-act-of-aggression-and-human-rights-catastrophe/
27. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/03/russia-authorities-block-amnesty-internationals-russian-language-website/
28. https://www.pravda.com.ua/columns/2022/08/5/7362086/
29. https://helsinki.org.ua/articles/zyava-amnesty-international-rozbir-ukraina-rosiya-vijna/
30. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/aug/05/zelenskiy-and-envoys-attack-amnesty-report-on-endangering-civilians-in-russia-crossfire
31. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/amnesty-international-impartiality-some-other-free-speech-dvorovyi/
32. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/05/russiaukraine-crimean-tatar-human-rights-defenders-sentence-upheld-in-mockery-of-international-law-2/
33. https://www.icj-cij.org/public/files/case-related/166/166-20180612-WRI-01-00-EN.pdf