Human Rights Watch Should Not Stoop to Russia Today’s “Standards”

On 24 July 2014 Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report, the opening paragraph of which read:

Unguided Grad rockets launched apparently by Ukrainian government forces and pro-government militias have killed at least 16 civilians and wounded many more in insurgent-controlled areas of Donetsk and its suburbs in at least four attacks between July 12 and 21, 2014”.

The fact that the later paragraphs of the same report reproof “insurgent forces” for “deploying forces and weapons in densely populated areas” is irrelevant. In the context of all-out information war waged by Kremlin against Ukraine, the damage to global efforts aimed at restoring peace and justice in Ukraine, has already been done.

When HRW timidly says “Ukraine apparently fired rockets”, Russian propaganda machine screams from its global media rooftops “Ukraine’s fascist junta is killing civilians”.

Regardless of their true intentions, HRW’s findings have been immediately used by Russia as a weapon in its aggressive information war against Ukraine. The seemingly neutral title of HRW report – “Ukraine: Unguided Rockets Killing Civilians”, – was conveniently “translated” by Russia’s major editions and TV channels as “HRW Presented Evidence of War Crimes of Ukrainian Army”.

The Western Media have also been quick to make an unequivocal conclusion: The Washington Post, for example, reported HRW’s findings under a headline “Human Rights Watch: Ukrainian forces are rocketing civilians, while German Spiegel announced “Rocket attack in Donetsk: Human Rights Watch accuses Kiev army of war crimes.

HRW is right when saying that “Violations of the laws of war by one side to the conflict do not justify violations by the other side”. Yet for unknown reasons HRW chooses to keep silent about the fact that Russian Federation continues to provide terrorists with heavy artillery and those infamous Grad rocket launchers.

Unlike Human Rights Watch, other international human rights watchdog organizations do not bury their heads in the sand and are more upfront in their analysis of the real causes of the human rights crisis in Eastern Ukraine. The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, for example, stated clearly few days ago in it’s report that in addition to such grave human rights abuses as abductions, detentions, torture and execution, “pro-Russian fighters are using civilians as human shields” – an internationally prohibited tactic and a war crime which dramatically “increases the number of civilian casualties”.

Similarly, Amnesty International stressed in its latest report released earlier in July that armed pro-Russia belligerents commit the bulk of human rights crimes, “with the victims often subjected to stomach-turning beatings and torture”.

There is ample video and documentary evidence proving that Russia provides terrorists with weapons of war. Unbalanced and one-sided field-reports from the east of Ukraine, regardless of how internationally renowned and authoritative their authors might be, provide the same terrorists with weapons of information war. With weapons which also kill, more subtly, yet no less brutally, innocent peaceful civilians.

That’s, in essence, what HRW has inadvertently done by its prejudiced, bordering on manipulative, report.

By Yuriy Sak, PhD in Law (human rights) for Ukraine Crisis Media Center