Amnesty International’s Oksana Pokalchuk resigns over Ukraine report

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The head of Amnesty International in Ukraine said she was quitting her job after the human rights organization published a report criticizing the Ukrainian military, sparking a backlash among Ukrainian officials who said she unjustly blamed the victim of the war in Russia.

Oksana Pokalchuk, who had led the organization‘s efforts in Ukraine, said in a Facebook post announcing her resignation that it was “another loss the war has cost me”.

She said while she was proud of the work done by Amnesty International to shine a light on Russian war crimes, the report released last week – which alleged that “Ukrainian combat tactics endanger civilians” – has become a point of conflict between the staff of the Ukrainian office and the wider organization.

Pokalchuk said the organization’s employees in Ukraine pushed Amnesty International to allow the Ukrainian Defense Ministry to respond to the report’s findings before it was released, but that the organization gave Ukrainian officials “very little time to answer “.

“As a result, albeit against its will, the organization created material that looked like support for Russian narratives,” she said. “Seeking to protect civilians, this study has instead become a Russian propaganda tool.”

What are war crimes, and is Russia committing them in Ukraine?

Amnesty International said “Ukrainian forces put civilians at risk by establishing bases and operating weapon systems in populated residential areas, including schools and hospitals.”

The organization said it had “found evidence that Ukrainian forces were launching strikes from populated residential areas and based in civilian buildings in 19 towns and villages in the regions”. The report also says the violations “in no way justify Russia’s indiscriminate attacks.”

“Being in a defensive position does not exempt the Ukrainian military from respecting international humanitarian law,” said Agnes Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International, in a statement accompanying the report. Callamard previously said that Russia was “violating Ukraine’s sovereignty and challenging the global security architecture”, calling the invasion “the worst disaster of its kind in recent European history”.

The report drew a strong reaction from Ukrainian officials. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in an address on Saturday evening, criticized Amnesty International’s “very eloquent silence” on alleged Russian attacks on a nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine. Zelensky said this “indicates once again the manipulative selectivity of this organization”.

Responding to Pokalchuk’s resignation, Callamard hailed her “significant human rights achievements”, adding, “We are sorry to hear that she is leaving the organization, but we respect her decision and wish her well. chance”. The organization did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Pokalchuk’s complaints.

Callamard tweeted Friday in response to criticism, calling out “Ukrainian and Russian mobs and trolls on social media” for attacking Amnesty’s investigations. “This is called war propaganda, disinformation, misinformation,” she wrote, saying the criticism would not “taint our impartiality” or “change the facts.” .

Dmytro Kuleba, Ukrainian Foreign Minister repliedobjecting to the “crowds and trolls” comment and saying the report “distorts reality, establishes a false moral equivalence between aggressor and victim, and bolsters Russia’s disinformation efforts.”

On Thursday, after the report was released, Zelensky said Amnesty International was trying “to amnesty the terrorist state and shift the blame from the perpetrator to the victim.”

Presidential Advisor Mykhailo Podolyak wrote on Twitter that “people’s lives are the priority for Ukraine, that’s why we are evacuating people from frontline cities”. Throughout the war, Ukrainian regional and federal authorities urged civilians to evacuate towns where heavy fighting was occurring or was expected to occur.

Podolyak said Russia was trying to discredit the Ukrainian military with Western audiences. “It is a shame,” he wrote, that an organization like Amnesty International “is taking part in this disinformation and propaganda campaign.”

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