Amnesty International said it is standing by its recent findings that the Ukrainian military put civilians at risk by operating out of schools and hospitals, but the group on Sunday sought to clarify its report to appease an uproar from Ukrainian officials and Western diplomats.
The report, published on Thursday, concluded that Ukrainian forces operated in close proximity to civilians, putting them at higher risk for Russian attacks. The head of the group’s Ukraine chapter resigned the following day, saying she and other local staffers had opposed the report’s publication.
“Amnesty International’s priority in this and in any conflict is ensuring that civilians are protected; indeed, this was our sole objective when releasing this latest piece of research,” the group said in a statement. “While we fully stand by our findings, we regret the pain caused and wish to clarify a few crucial points.”
Beyond drawing anger from Ukrainian leaders and others in the West, who argued the report unfairly blamed Ukraine for Russia’s tactics, Russian state-sponsored media and top officials quoted Amnesty’s findings to support Moscow’s argument that it was only launching strikes on military targets.
Amnesty’s new statement notes the group documented instances of Ukrainian forces locating themselves right next to where civilians were living in all 19 towns and villages the group visited between April and July, arguing that international humanitarian law requires all parties to avoid doing so to the maximum extent feasible.
“This does not mean that Amnesty International holds Ukrainian forces responsible for violations committed by Russian forces, nor that the Ukrainian military is not taking adequate precautions elsewhere in the country,” the group said.
“We must be very clear: Nothing we documented Ukrainian forces doing in any way justifies Russian violations,” the statement continues. “Russia alone is responsible for the violations it has committed against Ukrainian civilians.”
The group also noted its criticism of Moscow since the war’s start. Amnesty previously argued Russia has committed war crimes in Ukraine and has documented Moscow’s use of cluster munitions, arbitrary executions and torture.
“Amnesty’s work over the last six months and our multiple briefings and reports on Russia’s violations and war crimes reflect their scale and the gravity of their impact on civilians,” the group said on Sunday.
Amnesty also reiterated that it had reached out to the Ukrainian government prior to publishing the findings but did not hear back.
“Amnesty International is not attempting to give the Ukrainian military detailed instructions regarding how they should operate – but we call on the relevant authorities to abide by their international humanitarian obligations in full,” the group said.