Amnesty International “should engage in reporting the truth about the war and war crimes in Russia,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a video message on August 4 commenting on the recent Amnesty International statement he called to be “unfair.”
Kuleba stressed that “it is Russia that destroys the civilian population of Ukraine by the thousands, destroys Ukrainian cities and territories, while the Armed Forces of Ukraine are trying to protect the country and the continent from the invader.”
“I understand that in response to the criticism, Amnesty International will say that ‘we criticize both sides of the conflict.’ But let’s clearly agree on the understanding of simple things. This behavior of Amnesty International is not about finding and bringing the truth to the world, it is about creating a false balance between the criminal and the victim.[…]
Please stop creating a false reality where all are guilty of something. Start telling the truth about what Russia is today. Do it at least in the name of the civilian victims who were hit by Russian shells at a bus stop in the city of Toretsk, Donetsk Oblast [on August 4],” Kuleba said.
What did Amnesty International accuse the Armed Forces of Ukraine of?
On Wednesday, 3 August, Amnesty International released an article accusing the Ukrainian Armed Forces of “having put civilians in harm’s way by establishing bases and operating weapons systems in populated residential areas, including in schools and hospitals, as they repelled the Russian invasion that began in February.”
Amnesty “found evidence of Ukrainian forces launching strikes from within populated residential areas as well as basing themselves in civilian buildings in 19 towns and villages.”
It also accused the Ukrainian Army of using hospitals and schools as bases.
Amnesty notes that not every Russian attack they documented followed this pattern, however. “In certain other locations in which Amnesty International concluded that Russia had committed war crimes, including in some areas of the city of Kharkiv, the organization did not find evidence of Ukrainian forces located in the civilian areas unlawfully targeted by the Russian military,” it wrote.
Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General said that “Being in a defensive position does not exempt the Ukrainian military from respecting international humanitarian law.”
Ukrainian officials slam Amnesty International’s accusations of the Ukrainian Army
As Amnesty states, international humanitarian law requires all parties to a conflict to avoid locating, to the maximum extent feasible, military objectives within or near densely populated areas. Other obligations to protect civilians from the effects of attacks include removing civilians from the vicinity of military objectives and giving effective warning of attacks that may affect the civilian population.
“Urban warfare,” that is, a war in the conditions of the city, is not prohibited by international law and is not a violation only in fact. Yet if there is fighting going on in the residential areas, the state and the military forces must take possible measures to protect the civilian population.
Ukrainian officials claim this is being done.
“The [Ukrainian] government in places of active hostilities stopped the educational process, carried out and continues to carry out evacuations, provides support both to internally displaced persons and to those citizens who found themselves outside of Ukraine. Currently, a mandatory evacuation has been announced in the Donetsk Oblast. The Civil Protection Code provides for the following measures,” Human Rights Commissioner of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine Dmytro Lubinets commented.
On August 4, Lubinets wrote that he is “outraged” by Amnesty’s statement and believes it is “manipulative and gives greater priority to the actions of the aggressor country,” and not to the “country that is waging a defensive war, protecting its own population and own sovereignty.”
He said that in making its recommendations, “Amnesty International behaves as if the war is in the Middle Ages, where battles were fought in an open field outside the fortress.”
“We are defending against an attack by a country that violates all possible norms of international law. A country that rapes, tortures and kills the civilian population. Therefore, leaving populated areas alone with military personnel of the Russian Federation poses the greatest threat to human rights,” Lubinets stressed.
Hanna Maliar, deputy Defense Minister, stated at a briefing that Ukraine is ready to investigate all facts of war crimes with the involvement of international partners. Russia does not allow any international organizations into the occupied territories. Therefore, the primary priority for all international organiazations should not be advising the Ukrainian Army, which “defends Europe,” but demanding that the whole world stop the Russian armed aggression, which is a threat to the whole world, she said.
Maliar said that Ukraine is open to investigating war crimes of both the aggressor and its own defensive forces.
She reminded that since the war’s start in 2014, Ukraine had cooperated with the International Criminal Court and allowed the jurisdiction of the ICC to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity, “in contrast to the Russian Federation, which, on the contrary, closes information about all its crimes from the international community and does not comply with the decisions of international courts and human rights of the ECtHR.”
Maliar said that when evidence is supported by names and specific details, Ukraine is open to investigate the context of the situation where the events took place.
“Because without context, if we are talking about bare actions, there cannot be an objective assessment. Therefore, if international organizations have such facts, our law enforcement agencies should investigate the circumstances,” Maliar emphasized.
She drew attention to the fact that the international organization’s latest study does not take several factors into account.
“For example, the Russians use the tactics of capturing and holding populated areas. As long as we wait for the Russian enemy in the field, as sometimes we are advised, the Russians will simply occupy all our houses. That is why Ukrainian cities and villages are being strengthened and defended against the criminal state, which is the Russian Federation.”
Maliar emphasized that the deployment of air defense units and other armed forces of Ukraine takes place to most effectively cover populated areas. The Ukrainian state regularly evacuates civilians from the surrounding areas before hostilities take place.
“Everyone is given equal rights to voluntarily move to safe regions. But not all civilians agree to this. In order to obtain an objective and correct study, methods and approaches are important… When there is no analysis of the enemy’s actions in a text about the actions of the Ukrainian armed forces, then it is similar to studying the actions of the victim without taking into account the actions of the armed rapist. That is, it is simply impossible to obtain objective conclusions with such an approach.”
She noted that Ukraine is not only a victim of aggression but a victim of its own openness, as it allows international organizations to conduct fact-finding expeditions while Russia does not allow the same on the territories it occupies. Russia generally ignores any rules, customs, norms of war, and international conventions, not allowing studying what it does. In such a situation, according to Maliar, any investigation that looks into only the victim’s actions will be unobjective.
“Such reports, without aiming to do so, distort the real picture of the international crime of aggression, which has been committed since 2014. The report does not include the conditions in which Ukraine defends itself, the chronology of events about the crime committed by Russia, and how Ukraine defends and saves its own existence as a state,” the deputy minister emphasized.
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov stated that any attempt to even casually equate unprovoked Russian aggression with Ukrainian self-defense, as done in the Amnesty International article, is “evidence of a loss of adequacy and a way to destroy one’s authority”:
“The Russians have already used all types of weapons, except nuclear ones, against the civilian population.
The Russians commit mass murders of prisoners of war.
The Russians en masse rape women and children, mutilate, rob, destroy all living things.
The Russians are committing the crime of genocide against the Ukrainian people.
Any attempt to question the right of Ukrainians to resist genocide, to protect their families and homes, to protect their lives and the lives of their children, to resist the actions of Russia as a terrorist state, is a perversion, no matter what legal structures disguise it.”
Lubinets stressed that the most massive violations of human rights and war crimes were committed in places that were and are under the control of the Russian military—Bucha, Irpin, Motyzhyn, Mariupol, Kherson, and other cities.
“The civilian population is under threat only because of the unjustified armed aggression of the Russian Federation, and this threat will stop as soon as Russian military personnel leave the borders of Ukraine, and the Russian military command stops issuing criminal orders to attack Ukrainian cities and towns,” he stressed.
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