Response to Amnesty International’s August 4, 2022, Press Release

Amnesty International Canadian Section (English Speaking) acknowledges and deeply regrets the hurt, anger, and disappointment caused to our Ukrainian colleagues, the Ukrainian community at large, members, and supporters across Canada following the August 4 press release on research conducted on Russian strikes between April and July 2022.

In every conflict situation, Amnesty’s primary focus is the protection of human rights and civilians, particularly those most vulnerable and at risk. Although this was the intention of the research and extended press release, Amnesty International failed on several fronts.

We regret the insufficient context and legal analysis, particularly given the nature of Russia’s aggression. These findings were not communicated with the sensitivity, responsibility, and precision required and expected of Amnesty. We recognize the magnitude and impact of these failings from an institution of our stature, particularly in times of conflict.

The manner in which the International Secretariat conducted this work, engaged with sections internally, and publicly communicated these findings resulted in creating the opposite effect and challenged our core principle of impartiality. We also regret the International Secretariat subsequent communication and response to public and legal critique.

We condemn Russia’s instrumentalization of the press release to justify its illegal aggression. Since the start of the invasion in February, Amnesty International has and continues to categorically condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as an unjustified act of aggression and a grave violation of international law.

Our commitment to investigate the Russian military’s aggression and war crimes against the Ukrainian people is reflected in the extensive research conducted since the beginning of the invasion in February. Amnesty has documented war crimes committed by Russian forces in Ukraine in nearly two dozen outputs—ranging from press releases to a 72-page report.

As a section firmly committed to an equitable and decolonized approach to human rights, we greatly regret the deficiency in the collaboration between our International Secretariat and our AI Ukraine colleagues, which resulted in the resignation of Amnesty Ukraine’s director.

A decolonial approach begins with the principle to do no harm and centering those we are privileged to work with, particularly when they are most impacted and when they tell us that they are in harm’s way. How we work is as important as what we work on—and, in this case, our ways of working from an equity-informed perspective fell unacceptably short.

Several years ago, Amnesty International purposefully decentralized to better listen, respond to, and be led by the voices of human rights defenders on the frontlines. Unfortunately, this press release defaulted to outdated ways of working that centralize knowledge and decision-making while placing local expertise and understanding at the margins. We have done this at considerable risk to our colleagues and rights holders in Ukraine.

Holding ourselves accountable requires a comprehensive and independent review of the internal processes that brought us to this place, resolute steps to act on those learnings, and doing the hard work to rebuild the trust of our colleagues, partners, members, donors, and supporters.

We are actively engaged with our International Secretariat to ensure local knowledge and expertise guide our future work and will continue to advocate for the “nothing for us without us” principle in human rights advocacy.

Important discussions —including plans for a thorough internal review— are currently underway, and Amnesty International Canadian Section (English Speaking) is committed to ensuring they lead to significant and more equitable changes in how Amnesty works globally.

We express our solidarity to our Amnesty Ukraine colleagues, human rights defenders, and civilians who remain at grave risk in Ukraine.