Amnesty International stands by report critical of Ukraine
A woman stands in front of destroyed buildings after the Russian shelling in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, August 3, 2022 | AP

Amnesty International is standing by its highly critical report on Ukraine after the head of its branch in the country resigned, accusing the human rights group of peddling pro-Russian propaganda.

The study, published last Thursday, accused the Ukrainian armed forces of “endangering civilian lives” by deploying soldiers and military hardware in schools, hospitals and residential areas.

It said that these actions were in breach of the Geneva conventions, while stressing this was no excuse for Russia’s indiscriminate shelling of residential areas.

Amnesty’s report backed claims made by a number of people on the ground and the testimony of many civilians from the eastern part of Ukraine, who said that Kiev’s forces had destroyed their homes.

However, Amnesty’s Kiev bureau chief Olga Pokalchuk said that the NGO had “unwittingly created material that sounded like support of Russian narratives.

“Seeking to protect civilians, this study instead has become a tool of Russian propaganda,” she said.

“If you don’t live in a country invaded by invaders who are tearing it to pieces, you probably don’t understand what it’s like to condemn an army of defenders.

“And there are no words in any language that can convey this to someone who has not felt this pain.”

Ms. Pokalchuk said that her organization had fought to block publication of the report, while Western media organizations have joined condemnation of the human rights group.

“The Times view on Amnesty International’s Ukraine report: Putin’s propagandists” was the headline of a leading article in Britain’s newspaper of record, whose standfirst added: “The human rights charity shamefully castigates the victims of Russian aggression.”

Writing in the Telegraph, Stephen Pollard described the NGO as “morally bankrupt” and “a de facto offshoot of Stop The War,” with the same agenda of “the extreme left.”

Amnesty International insisted that it “fully stands by our research,” with secretary-general Agnes Callamard adding: “The findings … were based on evidence gathered during extensive investigations which were subject to the same rigorous standards and due diligence processes as all of Amnesty International’s work.”

It said that the Ukrainian Defense Ministry had not responded to a request for comment before a deadline that was given.


The above article appeared in the August 7th issue of the Morning Star, Britain’s socialist  daily newspaper. Following is an editorial that appeared in that publication the same day:

Amnesty not of the left, so why the backlash?

The furious backlash against Amnesty International for an investigation suggesting Ukraine may have committed war crimes is an ominous sign of the times.

No matter that the study emphasized there was no justification for Russia’s shelling of civilian targets.

Simply reporting the fact that Ukraine was placing civilians in danger by launching attacks on Russian forces from residential areas has been enough to see the rights group labelled “Putin’s propagandists” in The Times and savaged as “morally bankrupt” by the ever-hysterical Stephen Pollard in the Telegraph.

Pollard, who has previously accused Amnesty of anti-Semitism for describing Israel’s systematic oppression of Palestinians as “apartheid,” believes the organization is driven by “anti-Western obsessions” and belongs “on the fringes of extreme left politics.”

But Amnesty is not on the left. It is a liberal organization which promotes a liberal understanding of human rights.

Anti-imperialists have long had cause to criticize a charity whose campaigns have as often served US foreign policy interests as contradicted them.

Amnesty itself would argue that this is down to impartiality. That it calls out “human rights abuses” wherever they are committed.

Socialists could retort that impartiality in a world of oppressors and oppressed is to side with the oppressors.

Amnesty has historically ignored the dynamics of imperialism and the power structures that maintain the political and economic supremacy of the West over the majority of humanity.

It will equate the actions of an embattled left government trying to stop violent counter-revolution with those of a brutish imperialist state persecuting a minority.

So no matter that in Venezuela US-funded white supremacists might be dousing suspected “Chavistas” in petrol and setting them alight, or stringing metal wires across roads to decapitate motorcyclists: using police force to fight back against armed revolt amounted to “a policy of repression” by President Nicolas Maduro.

So after a year of popular resistance defeated the military coup in Bolivia and overthrew the army-appointed president Jeanine Anez, the elected government’s decision to prosecute her for multiple massacres was deemed to show a “pattern of bias in the system of justice” by Amnesty.

This is not evidence of bias exactly, though individual Amnesty reports can show it. It is rather the consequence of an individualist approach that ignores the power relations that define exploitation, oppression, resistance and revolt.

That’s why Amnesty could never accept Nelson Mandela as a “prisoner of conscience,” since armed revolutionary struggle was in its eyes the same as armed state repression.

In an analogous way, its liberal approach to human beings as atomized individuals, whose rights exist independently of social context, explains its more recent lobbying for legalization of the sex trade: with the buying and selling of sex seen as a transaction agreed freely between equals, when it looks very different if considered as a coercive industry built on human trafficking, child abuse and women’s oppression.

Clashing views on human rights are not new. Talks on the UN Declaration of Human Rights in the 1940s exposed a gulf between a “Western” view of individual rights defined mostly against state interference on questions such as free expression or religious observance, and a Soviet approach which emphasized rights to things: housing, healthcare, education.

Amnesty’s entire tradition stresses the former, Western view. This is why it cared more last year about the arrest of a Hong Kong media tycoon (Jimmy Lai) than about the elimination of absolute poverty across China.

If it is now being accused of anti-Western bias, this speaks to the rise of a dangerously illiberal agenda in Establishment media.

Amnesty may not be on the left. But it should still be defended from right-wing attacks.

Their aim is to silence dissenting voices entirely — and promote a worldview in which the US and its allies can do no wrong, while its adversaries are evil incarnate.

The editorial above reflects the opinion only of its authors, not necessarily of the Peoples World editorial board or any other entity connected with it.


Steve Sweeney
Steve Sweeney

Steve Sweeney writes for Morning Star, the socialist daily newspaper published in Great Britain. He is also a People's Assembly National Committee member, patron of the Peace in Kurdistan campaign, and a proud trade unionist. Steve Sweeney escribe para Morning Star, el diario socialista publicado en Gran Bretaña. También es miembro del Comité Nacional de la Asamblea Popular, patrocinador de la campaña Paz en Kurdistán y un orgulloso sindicalista.