What Amnesty got wrong in Ukraine and why I had to resign

By | August 13, 2022

Oksana Pokalchuk writes:

On Aug. 4, Amnesty International issued a report that accused the Ukrainian army of violating the laws of war by placing military bases close to civilian infrastructure. The report triggered a wave of public outrage worldwide and across Ukraine. For me, the report’s deepest flaw was how it contradicted its main objective: Far from protecting civilians, it further endangered them by giving Russia a justification to continue its indiscriminate attacks. That’s why I resigned as head of Amnesty International’s Ukrainian office. Many of my colleagues followed.

As a human rights defender, I am driven by a core set of values. Before this crisis, I had always felt proud of Amnesty’s work and guiding statute. However, I believe the organization’s current approach is at odds with its mission. Having worked for the organization for seven years, I would have never imagined that a single report could jeopardize 30 years of achievements in human rights protection in Ukraine. Yet this is exactly what happened.

Most of the recent Amnesty research on Ukraine has been produced by a special “Crisis Team” that works on armed conflicts around the world. These researchers have exceptional training and experience in human rights, laws of war, weapons analysis, etc. What they often lack is a knowledge of local languages and context.

Of course, no one can be expected to understand the local context and languages of every conflict. But instead of trusting and relying on local staff, some international organizations like Amnesty fail to be inclusive and centralize decision-making, which was the case with this report. The attitude couldn’t be more condescending and unfair, because we all signed up to work together out of commitment to shared values.

The fact that we were not properly consulted and included in the drafting of this report shows a total disregard to the principle of international solidarity proclaimed in Amnesty’s statute and the aim of amplifying local voices. [Continue reading…]

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