On August 4, 2022, the headquarters of Amnesty International (AI) published a press release that allegedly presents the results of a report (monitoring) conducted by an international team of researchers of this organization. However, the full text of the report was never published. Some of the conclusions stated in the press release coincide with the data that the AI already published in its previous report “Anyone can die at any time”: Indiscriminate attacks by Russian forces in Kharkiv” dated June 13. The data which underpin the study and which the press release refers to were collected in April and May 2022.
Since the beginning of the Russian Federation’s large-scale aggression in the territory of Ukraine, Ukraine 5 AM Coalition has been documenting war crimes for the further assessment of the content of orders, military subordination, and presence or absence of military targets during the attacks as this is should be the basis of proper justice and fairness.
The Coalition underscores the importance of documenting all possible violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) during the Russian armed aggression in Ukraine, including by international research teams. At the same time, we emphasize that such documentation should be done not only in accordance with IHL standards but also with the understanding of the context.
Norms of IHL are not a theorized or philosophical concept, they act as a tool that ensures the protection of both civilians and military personnel. Therefore, any assessment of the application of IHL norms, especially in cases where there are no direct prohibitions of attacks, should be carried out with the application of the principle of military necessity. This was actually not taken into account in Amnesty International’s study.
The nature and content of the published AI’s press release, the focus of the information campaign which was built based on the organization’s old report with almost a month’s distance and the new press release without supporting it with actual data and analytics, are reprehensible. This not only harms the adequate perception of the nature of the events taking place in Ukraine but also distorts the understanding of human rights standards and IHL principles.
Key remarks of Ukraine 5 AM Coalition:
- Documenting and highlighting the evidence of war crimes, especially in an ongoing armed conflict, require a balanced and reasoned presentation. It must necessarily take into account the context, the proportionality of the presentation of information about the parties to the conflict, provide evidence for the stated theses not only in the form of interview fragments but also provide additional details and the context of events. For example, whether there were intentions to use the civilian population and objects precisely in the form of protection against attacks; was the principle of military necessity neglected and did the command deliberately ignore the possibility of effectively countering attacks from other locations? Which had no civilians or civilian objects while not losing combat capability? Unfortunately, these issues are ignored in the presented press release. Individual episodes presented are not supported by factual data of the quantity and quality to draw conclusions even about them. Moreover, they are not enough to draw conclusions about the tactics, which, according to the researchers, are of a systemic nature.
- We assess the selected strategy of communication of the report results, which began with a significant gap between the publication of the existing report and the release, a significant change in the tone and emphasis of the published press release and the results and recommendations stated in the study, the subsequent communication of the first persons of the organization as inappropriate and as such which endangers representatives of the AI national office and the activity of the human rights sector as a whole. After all, the actual failure to provide a sufficient opportunity to comment on the results of the monitoring to the key actor of the report (the Armed Forces of Ukraine), ignoring repeated attempts to convey the local context, the chosen strategy of accusations in the absence of proper analysis, at the very least, discredits the organization and calls into question the impartiality of the human rights movement. This calls into question human rights activity at both the international and national levels, undermines trust in independent investigations and monitoring by human rights organizations, thereby creating a domino effect of falling trust in the entire sector.
- The principle of impartiality in the conduct of research is not equivalent to the lack of understanding of the local context, the mechanical bringing of frameworks and specifics of conflicts from other regions and detachment from local expertise. Conducting such research should involve comprehensive and diverse expertise, including national expertise.
We suggest that international organizations should take into account the context and involve a variety of expertise that can provide the necessary knowledge and understanding of the specifics of the events, figure out appropriate anti-crisis communications that may arise during the publication of the results, taking into account both the course of hostilities and the safety of employees and partners.
We suggest that national human rights organizations should act as initiators of a broad internal / professional and public discussion on the standards of conducting documentation processes, discussion of controversial and complicated topics that arise / will arise during the Russian-Ukrainian war to develop a consolidated position and recommendations to authorities based on compliance with IHL.
We suggest that representatives of (international) mass media should adhere to balanced and reasonable selection of experts and sources of information based on long-term expert experience and the availability of proven and verified data, consider the positions and comments of key actors for whom the relevant material is being prepared.
The member organizations of the Ukraine 5 AM Coalition are aware of the need to collect, analyze, and publish data on verified violations of IHL norms and, with their systematic work, provide, among other things, evidence for future justice for all war crimes. This should be done by conducting comprehensive research and properly communicating their results and recommendations to authorities, thereby increasing the level of civilian safety. Therefore, we emphasize once again that such documentation and verification must meet the highest standards, be based on principles of impartiality, and take into account the context and key principles of IHL.
Individual experts (Denys Rabomizo, Daria Svyrydova, Gyunduz Mamedov, Andriy Vyshnevskiy)