In the context of the ongoing armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine, Amnesty International (AI) recently issued a report, dated August 4, 2022, entitled “Ukrainian Fighting Tactics Endanger Civilians.”1 This report names Ukraine responsible for the deaths of Ukrainian citizens caused by Russian bombardments. The report accuses Ukraine of violating international humanitarian law and endangering its own civilians “by establishing bases and operating weapons systems in populated residential areas, including in schools and hospitals…” and thereby turning civilian objects into military targets, generating Russian strikes in populated areas thereby causing civilian fatalities and destruction of civilian infrastructure.”
There can be no doubt as to the centrality and essential nature of those humanitarian requirements set out in the internationally accepted and recognized instruments of international humanitarian law, requiring the protection of civilians and avoidance of military attacks against civilian concentrations and objects. Such instruments include the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, Geneva, 12 August 1949,3 and the Protocol Additional relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), 8 June 1977.4
To maintain credibility and dignity as a bona fide human rights watchdog, Amnesty International must carry out its duty impartially and without the slightest indication of political partisanship.
The choice of Amnesty International to direct the bulk of its criticism against Ukraine and to hold Ukraine partly responsible for the deaths of Ukrainians attacked by the Russian military has become the subject of considerable international criticism.5 This is especially true since the report implies that Ukraine may be committing war crimes and that its soldiers’ actions might be interpreted as using civilians as human shields.
Much of the criticism revolves around serious flaws and clumsy and negligent methodology used by Amnesty International researchers and the fact that the organization chose to publish its findings despite a lack of solid facts and without taking into due consideration pertinent constraints generated by the context of the Russian offensive.6
Nevertheless, one cannot avoid drawing a comparison between Amnesty International’s demonstrated and justified concern for the protection of civilians and civilian centers in Ukraine and its demonstrated and unjustified lack of concern about the actions of Palestinian terror groups in the Gaza Strip.
While Amnesty calls out Ukraine for allegedly “establishing bases and operating weapons systems in populated residential areas, including in schools and hospitals, thereby turning civilian objects into military targets,” it curiously refrains from addressing precisely the same phenomenon employed by the Palestinian terror groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Such an apparent double standard is incompatible with Amnesty International’s core principles and stated mission.
Amnesty appears to ignore or minimize blatant violations of international humanitarian law committed by these Palestinian terror groups in using the local Palestinian public in the Gaza Strip as human shields and in flagrantly directing thousands of rockets against Israeli civilian targets, including towns, villages, agricultural centers, schools, and hospitals.
If Amnesty is so genuinely concerned with preventing Ukrainian abuse of the civilian population through the emplacement of weapons and forces within civilian areas, then one may justifiably ask why it has refrained from criticizing the Palestinian practice of housing military headquarters and strategic command centers in and under hospitals, in high-rise commercial buildings and civilian commercial centers.
Similarly, why has Amnesty International not found it necessary to stress the dangers of Hamas locating rocket emplacements in or next to hospitals, schools, mosques, and private homes?
Why has Amnesty been silent about the practice of Hamas in excavating and operating hundreds of kilometers of tactical tunnels underneath Gaza City, endangering civilian roads, commercial centers, and local communities living above their tunnels?
If Amnesty International genuinely and impartially focused on all and any violations of humanitarian law in all circumstances and on voicing genuine concern for all individual civilians, civilian centers, buildings, and localities, wherever they are, then Amnesty International should express equal concern at the blatant and deliberate disregard by Palestinian terror groups of the very same humanitarian norms.
From a brief perusal of Amnesty International’s website and daily media briefings, one perceives a distinct fixation, a plethora of accusations against Israel, as opposed to an acute paucity – indeed an almost non-existent coverage – of the grave humanitarian violations by Palestinian terror groups.7
During the hostilities of May 2021, the Palestinian terror groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad fired over 4,000 rockets at Israeli populated areas, of which almost 700 landed within the Gaza Strip, endangering the Palestinian population. Similarly, in the hostilities between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in August 2022, 1,175 rockets were launched at Israel, and approximately 200 rockets fell inside the Gaza Strip.8
However, Amnesty International, in its media briefings and reports, could hardly bring itself to refer to the actions of the Palestinian terror groups, preferring to call them “Palestinian armed groups” and virtually ignoring their deliberate targeting of Israeli civilians and their use of their Palestinian population as human shields.9
In its coverage of the hostilities between Israel and the Palestinian terror groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Amnesty chose to refrain from calling out and detailing the blatant abuse and endangering of residential areas and civilians.
Instead, Amnesty preferred to pay minimal lip service to the firing of thousands of rockets into Israel’s population centers and to the Palestinian construction of hundreds of kilometers of tactical tunnels underneath their civilian population centers.
A screen-grab from an Al Jazeera video on Hamas’ tunnels under Gaza.
In referring to this, Amnesty glibly and generally stated, “Palestinian armed groups have also committed violations of international humanitarian law with impunity.” Similarly, “Amnesty International has consistently condemned indiscriminate rocket fire by Palestinian armed groups” and “firing rockets which cannot be accurately aimed into populated areas can amount to a war crime and endangers civilian lives on both sides of the Israel/ Gaza border.”10
No less disappointing but sadly predictable is the evident need felt by Amnesty to balance its minimal criticism of Palestinian humanitarian violations with the inevitable accusation of Israel for having “a deplorable record of carrying out unlawful attacks in Gaza killing and injuring civilians including war crimes and crimes against humanity,” and for “disproportionate and reckless strikes by Israeli forces” and “unlawful targeted strikes on medical facilities and personnel.”
Amnesty’s Own Violations
Amnesty’s evident bias and disproportion in its relationship with and treatment of Israel point to a fixation against Israel that violates Amnesty’s own stated mission and core principles of “impartiality, independence of any government, political ideology, economic interest or religion.” Moreover, such bias runs counter to its principled aim “to take no position on issues of sovereignty, territorial disputes or international political or legal arrangements that might be adopted to implement the right to self-determination.”11
Such bias and political positioning are all the more evident in a recent statement by Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Saleh Higazi, in which he presented Amnesty’s extremely partisan, anti-Israel political stance, far from any core principle of impartiality and political neutrality:
UN Security Council members must take a strong and public stand and immediately impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Israel, Hamas, and other Palestinian armed groups with the aim of preventing further serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights by the parties to the conflict. The international community must also press Israel to address root causes of the latest flare-up in violence which include longstanding impunity for war crimes and other serious violations of international law, as well as Israel’s ongoing illegal settlement expansion, the blockade of Gaza, and the forcible eviction and dispossession of Palestinians such as those in Sheikh Jarrah.12
True to its stated mission and core principles, Amnesty International is justified in criticizing instances of human rights violations and in calling out those governments and organizations that violate human rights.
However, this must be done fairly and impartially, without distinction, discrimination, and bias, and without displaying double standards.
It is inconceivable that, on the one hand, Amnesty International chooses to criticize Ukraine for endangering its civilians “by establishing bases and operating weapons systems in populated residential areas, including in schools and hospitals,” while, on the other hand, virtually ignoring no less serious humanitarian violations by Palestinian terror groups.
To maintain credibility and dignity as a bona fide human rights watchdog, Amnesty International must carry out its duty impartially and without the slightest indication of political partisanship. It cannot permit itself to be intimidated by terror groups or political pressures into minimizing and prejudicing its humanitarian calling and stated impartiality.
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4 https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/applic/ihl/ihl.nsf/Article.xsp?action=openDocument&documentId=4BEBD9920AE0AEAEC12563CD0051DC9E See especially Article 51 on “Protection of the civilian population”
5 https://www.npr.org/2022/08/06/1116179764/experts-widely-condemn-amnesty-international-report-alleging-ukrainian-war-crime See also https://www.euronews.com/2022/08/08/amnesty-regrets-pain-caused-by-ukraine-report-as-criticism-continues and https://www.voanews.com/a/amnesty-international-ukraine-report-sparks-furor-resignation-/6690211.html and https://lieber.westpoint.edu/amnesty-allegations-ukrainian-ihl-violations/
6 See Gerald Steinberg “False Accusations and Ideological Bias: Amnesty International, Ukraine, and the Illusion of NGO Fact-Finding Expertise.” https://quillette.com/2022/08/11/false-accusations-and-ideological-bias/
7 See, for instance, the following Amnesty press statements between June-August 2022:
“The stifling of Palestinian civil society organizations must end,” https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/08/israel-opt-the-stifling-of-palestinian-civil-society-organizations-must-end/ August 18, 2022, “End solitary confinement of Palestinian prisoner jailed as a child,” https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/08/israel-opt-end-solitary-confinement-of-palestinian-prisoner-jailed-as-a-child/ August 3, 2022; “Immediately halt forced eviction of more than 1,000 West Bank residents and stop demolitions of Bedouin homes in the Negev/Naqab” https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/07/israel-opt-immediately-halt-forced-eviction-of-more-than-1000-west-bank-residents-and-stop-demolitions-of-bedouin-homes-in-the-negev-naqab/, July 19, 2022; “Palestinian lawyer’s detention extended,” https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/mde15/5689/2022/en/,
June 14, 2022; “Call to support ICC investigation into ‘situation in Palestine’” and safeguard ICC independence,” https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/mde15/1986/2020/en/
9 Israel/OPT: “Cycle of impunity leaves civilians once again paying the price amid escalation of hostilities,” https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/05/israel-opt-cycle-of-impunity-leaves-civilians-once-again-paying-the-price-amid-escalation-of-hostilities-2/, May 12, 2021.
10Media statement by Saleh Higazi, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International https://www.amnesty.org/en/location/middle-east-and-north-africa/israel-and-occupied-palestinian-territories/report-israel-and-occupied-palestinian-territories/, May 12, 2021.
12 Media statement by Saleh Higazi, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, https://www.amnesty.org/en/location/middle-east-and-north-africa/israel-and-occupied-palestinian-territories/report-israel-and-occupied-palestinian-territories/, May 12, 2021.