Few conflicts in history have been as black and white as Russia’s war on Ukraine. Ukraine must be supported until its territorial integrity is restored. Anything less is to side with the aggressor.
Human rights group Amnesty International was back in the news last week after the New York Times revealed that it had sat for months on an internal review that criticised the group for accusing, in a report published last August, Ukrainian forces of illegally endangering civilians while fighting Russia.
The report prompted widespread anger in Ukraine, leading to an apology from Amnesty. Among those who condemned the report was Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, who accused Amnesty of “shift[ing] the responsibility from the aggressor to the victim”.
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To pour further scorn on the report, a gift for Russia’s propaganda outlets, which portrayed the findings as essentially showing that Ukraine was to blame for the deaths of Ukrainian civilians, it later emerged that Amnesty’s Ukraine chapter had not been involved in researching or preparing the report.
Oksana Pokalchuck – head of Amnesty International’s Ukraine office – said concerns were raised by her branch about the report, but it was published regardless.
“Already at the initial stage of developing this report, we reached a dead end, where the arguments of our team regarding the inadmissibility and incompleteness of such material were not taken into account,” she said.
Pokalchuk later resigned in protest.
Now, according to the New York Times, the unpublished review of the report has concluded that it was “written in language that was ambiguous, imprecise and in some respects legally questionable”.
An Amnesty International spokesperson characterised the independent review as “part of an ongoing internal process, and these findings will inform and improve our future work”, but did not indicate whether the group agreed with the review’s criticism.
Amnesty’s missives from Ukraine have, since last August’s controversial report, been unequivocal in condemning Russia – and Russia alone – for the deaths of Ukrainian civilians.
On April 28, in response to Russia’s attacks on an apartment building in Uman which is reported to have killed at least 17 civilians, including two children, Marie Struthers, Amnesty’s regional director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, called on the international community, “to step up and coordinate and act to ensure that Vladimir Putin and all those suspected of responsibility for war crimes in Ukraine are brought to trial and held accountable to secure truth, justice and reparations for all victims of crimes under international law.”
“The harm caused by Russia goes beyond the physical; the civilian population of Ukraine is enduring unimaginable psychological and economic harm as a direct result of Russia’s aggression and economic and humanitarian aid are crucial to combat its dreadful impact,” she added.
The reputational damage Amnesty has suffered since its misguided report of last August may, however, be difficult to repair. Within weeks of the report appearing, the organisation admitted that it had lost “a number” of members and donors.
Siding with the aggressor
Others – organisations, countries, individuals – might want to take note. Few wars in history have been as black and white as Russia’s war on Ukraine. One country invaded another with the intention of wiping it from the face of the earth. This is a conflict in which there is no moral equivalence, no moral comparison to be made between aggressor and victim. Ukraine must be supported until its territorial integrity is restored. Anything less is to side with the aggressor.
That has not prevented several European countries from pursuing a policy of what they call neutrality, notably Hungary, which has tried at every opportunity to delay or prevent the EU imposing sanctions on Russia.
Just last week, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán expressed indignation when NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that Ukraine should become a member of the Alliance in the future – an indication that Hungary, as long as Orbán remains prime minister, would veto Kyiv’s membership.
Orbán’s foreign minister, Péter Szijjártó, has visited Moscow several times since Russia invaded Ukraine, leading Zelensky to accuse him of “inadequate” behaviour for a NATO minister.
Hungary is not alone in its ambiguous stance on Russia’s invasion. Georgia, despite one-fifth of its territory being occupied by Russia, has offered Ukraine little support.
“The Georgian government not only refused to join the Western sanctions regime, but its leaders have also rebuffed demands for non-military help, like power generators, and declined to provide military assistance,” writes Stefan Hedlund, director of research at the Centre for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Uppsala University.
The wrong side of history
For Georgia’s government, which at least on paper aspires to join the EU (it formally applied for membership in March 2022, along with Ukraine and Moldova), its current policy is likely to prove an impediment to membership.
Unlike Ukraine and Moldova, quickly made candidates for membership following their applications, Georgia was told to wait. Its stance on Ukraine was not cited as an issue, but it could not have helped. It will need to change course if it is serious about joining the bloc.
With the war in Ukraine still in the balance, it is not too late for organisations and countries which risk being accused of being soft on Russia, such as Amnesty International, Hungary and Georgia, to rethink their stance.
Should they wait until Ukraine has won, they will be accused of cowardice. Should the unthinkable happen and Russia win, they will be held at least partially responsible.
The same goes for all of us. We can all do our bit: helping Ukrainian refugees; donating to UNITED24, Ukraine’s official fundraising platform; attending demonstrations; boycotting firms still doing business in Russia; and – perhaps most crucially – ensuring that in our own countries we vote only for parties and politicians that will support Ukraine.
Do not end up on the wrong side of history.
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