By Katya Maynzyuk and Yuriy Dzhygyr
THE STATEMENT BY THE AI
Amnesty International (AI) – an international NGO – has recently posted its communication on the Ukraine-Russia conflict. This communication states that Ukrainian and Russian sides are both responsible for committing war crimes. “All sides in this conflict have shown disregard for civilian lives and are blatantly violating their international obligations,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General. Here is the link to the text.
We do not intend to challenge the evidence gathered by Amnesty International. We truly trust it. Moreover, we truly believe that today’s turbulent world badly needs organizations like Amnesty International and their independent positions. We respect that Amnesty International has the courage to raise uncomfortable issues and to voice unpleasant messages in protecting human rights of civil and military victims in various conflicts all over the world.
At the same time, we believe that such a high profile organization should be extremely vigilant over the accuracy of the messages it is sending to the global society.
We claim that in this particular communication Amnesty International was not accurate in the interpretation of the evidence. The organization’s concluding observation is sending a highly distorted and misleading message: that both sides are allegedly equal in terms of the war crimes they committed.
Evidence on violations by Russia and the separatists
This communication by Amnesty International makes two essential statements on human rights violations by Russia and the separatists.
First, it provides details and explanations based on clear evidence, such as satellite images, which prove that Russia supplies various types of weapons and has directly fuelled “what AI now considers an international armed conflict.”
Secondly, it states that the separatists supported by Russia “commit indiscriminate shelling, abductions, torture and killings.” The example used to illustrate this accusation is a story told by residents of Sloviansk of the killing of several people (a local pastor, his sons and two churchgoers) after the community failed to supply US $50,000 of ransom.
Evidence on violations by the Ukrainian military
There are two accusations over the conduct of the Ukrainian side.
The first accusation – and the only one which is supported by credible evidence — is on “abductions and beatings carried out by volunteer battalions operating alongside regular Ukrainian armed forces.” This accusation is illustrated by a personal account of a Luhansk Oblast resident who was detained by the Aidar battalion as a suspected separatist and “beaten by rifle butts.”
The second accusation is questionable. Amnesty International quotes civilians who claim that “Ukrainian government forces subjected their neighbourhoods to heavy shelling.” With all due respect to the tragedy of these people who were shelled and forced to move from their settlements, their accusation is speculative. It is a guess.
We do not claim that the Ukrainian army has not committed indiscriminate shelling. We claim that the collected evidence is insufficient to state who was the source of that indiscriminate shelling. It is impossible for one and the same person to be the target of the shelling and to simultaneously physically observe the source of the fire.
Moreover, Amnesty International interviewed people in the separatist regions and Ukrainian refugees in Rostov (Russia). Given that Ukrainian media are not available in these regions, it is likely that the interviewees, who were sharing speculations rather than personal experience, have based their views on the theories promoted by the Russian media. In other words, if Amnesty International had interviewed refugees who escaped to Ukrainian cities rather than to Rostov, they might have provided different theories on who shelled their neighbours. The evidence is not confirmatory (speculations rather than experience), the investigation sample is not representative, and the conclusions are therefore strongly biased.
THE QUESTIONS TO AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL
To summarise, all the evidence provided by Amnesty International suggests that Russia committed major war atrocities which resulted in several thousand people killed. On the other hand, AI’s own evidence shows that the Ukrainian side committed minor offences which did not cause a single death. We are not justifying those offences committed by the Ukrainian army. None of us would want to be beaten by soldiers and to be refused the opportunity to contact our families while in detention. We truly empathize with the suffering of these persons.
Nevertheless, these two types of war crimes are simply incomparable. It may be mathematically true that both sides violated human rights. But the message by Amnesty International that the gravity of the offences is comparable is manipulative and dishonest. And this is wrong.
Given the high international reputation of Amnesty International, this manipulative message was uncritically retranslated by major respected media like the BBC. It affects attitudes and political decisions, and may be a factor in further escalation of the conflict. How does that outcome correspond with AI’s organizational objective “To demand justice for those whose rights have been violated”?[hr]By Katya Maynzyuk and YuriyDzhygyr