Oksana Pokalchuk resigns as head of Amnesty International in Ukraine

A still image taken from a handout video made available by the Russian Defence Ministry’s press service shows a Russian Tornado-G multiple launch rocket system firing a rocket during battles at an undisclosed location in Ukraine on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Russian Defense Ministry’s Press Service/EPA-EFE

Aug. 5 (UPI) — Oksana Pokalchuk, the head of Amnesty International’s office in Ukraine, has resigned from her post after a scandal over the human rights organization’s criticism of the actions of the country’s military amid its war with Russia.

Pokalchuk announced her resignation in a statement to Facebook one day after Amnesty International accused the Ukrainian military of endangering civilians by establishing military bases in schools and hospitals, and launching counterattacks from heavily populated areas.

“If you don’t live in a country invaded by invaders and are tearing it to pieces, you probably don’t understand what it’s like to condemn an army of defenders. And there are no words in any language that can convey this to someone who has not felt this pain,” Pokalchuk said.

Pokalchuk said she held meetings with the leaders of Amnesty International to discuss information about the war but the text recommended by her office was “deleted” and replaced with what the organization published Thursday.

“I joined Amnesty International in Ukraine almost 7 years ago because, first of all, I shared the organization’s values,” Pokalchuk said.

“This organization has incredibly strong human rights defenders, activists who move the sun and the planets to protect human rights in the most remote corners of the world.”

She said that Amnesty International has been working in Ukraine for more than 30 years, since the country established its independence upon the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“Since the beginning of the full-scale aggression, we have not stopped emphasizing the violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed by Russia, the aggressor country,” Pokalchuk said.

“We thoroughly document these violations, and they will form the basis of numerous legal proceedings and help bring those responsible to justice.”

Pokalchuk said she wanted to emphasize that the Ukrainian office did not want to ignore the actions of the Ukrainian armed forces but said that Amnesty International “should have at least investigated two sides and taken into account the position of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine.”

“The principle of independence and impartiality in such work is important, after all, this is precisely why international and national human rights organizations exist,” she said.

“But such important reports, which are published at such a moment and in such a context, cannot fail to contain data about the other side of the war, about the one who started this war.”

In its statement Thursday, Amnesty International said that the tactics of the Ukrainian armed forces “violate international humanitarian law and endanger civilians, as they turn civilian objects into military targets.”

“We have documented a pattern of Ukrainian forces putting civilians at risk and violating the laws of war when they operate in populated areas,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary-general.

“Being in a defensive position does not exempt the Ukrainian military from respecting international humanitarian law.”