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Amnesty International Ukraine chief quits after group accuses Kyiv of endangering civilians

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Secretary General of Amnesty International, Agnes Callamard, said their report found evidence of Ukrainian forces endangering civilians. Photo: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun.

Secretary General of Amnesty International, Agnes Callamard, said their report found evidence of Ukrainian forces endangering civilians. Photo: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun.

Secretary General of Amnesty International, Agnes Callamard, said their report found evidence of Ukrainian forces endangering civilians. Photo: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun.

The head of Amnesty International's Ukrainian branch is leaving the human rights body after the group accused Ukraine's armed forces of endangering civilians by basing troops in residential areas during the Russian invasion.

Amnesty made the comments on Thursday and Kyiv likened it to Russian propaganda and disinformation. 

President Volodymyr Zelensky accused the group of abetting what he called Russia's unprovoked attacks on Ukraine. The human rights group, he said, was trying to shift the responsibility from the aggressor to the victim.

Oksana Pokalchuk, national Amnesty leader, said on Facebook late on Friday that the Ukrainian office has consistently noted that the information that Amnesty issued on Thursday should take into account the position of the Ukrainian defence ministry.

"If you don't live in a country invaded by occupiers who are tearing it to pieces, you probably don't understand what it's like to condemn an army of defenders," she said.

"And there are no words in any language that can convey this to someone who has not experienced this pain.

"As a result of this, unwittingly, the organisation created material that sounded like support for Russian narratives. In an effort to protect civilians, this study became a tool of Russian propaganda," Pokalchuk said.

"It pains me to admit it, but we disagreed with the leadership of Amnesty International on values. That's why I decided to leave the organisation," she added.

Ukrainian officials have said they take every possible measure to evacuate civilians from frontline areas. Russia denies targeting civilians in what it describes as a "special military operation".

Amnesty workers witnessed Ukrainian forces "establishing bases and operating weapons systems" in some populated residential areas during visits to several frontline areas in Ukraine's east and south from April to July, the report said.

"We have documented a pattern of Ukrainian forces putting civilians at risk and violating the laws of war when they operate in populated areas," the report quoted Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International's secretary general, as saying.

She called on the Ukrainian government to ensure that its forces were located away from populated areas or for all civilians to be evacuated from those areas first.

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Zelensky, in his nightly video message, said the group was trying to "amnesty the terrorist state" - a term he often uses for Russia.

"There are no conditions, and nor can there be, even hypothetically, under which any Russian attack on Ukraine becomes justified," said Zelensky, clearly agitated.

"Anyone who amnesties Russia and who artificially creates such an information context where some attacks by terrorists are supposedly justified or supposedly understandable, cannot fail to understand that, in doing so, they are helping the terrorists. And if there are such manipulative reports, then you share with them the responsibility for the killings of people."


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