Tue, 27 Sep 2022

Per Wastberg quit after 60 years with the organization, citing report that criticized Kiev's military

Per Wastberg, who co-founded the Swedish branch of Amnesty International, resigned from the organization on Wednesday. The Swedish activist said his departure was due to Amnesty's report about the conflict in Ukraine, and that the organization has gone beyond its original mandate to advocate for political prisoners.

"I have been a member for over 60 years. It is with a heavy heart that, due to Amnesty's statements regarding the war in Ukraine, I am ending a long and fruitful engagement," Wastberg told the newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, where he is an occasional columnist. 

"From its inception, Amnesty worked for the freedom of political prisoners everywhere in the world," said Wastberg, who co-founded the Swedish branch in 1964. "It has since gradually, sometimes debatably, expanded its mandate" and become a different kind of organization, he added.

Amnesty has faced a torrent of criticism after publishing a report on August 4 that said Ukraine was deliberately placing troops and military vehicles in residential areas and hospitals. The report was based on research in eastern Ukraine, from April to July.

"We have documented a pattern of Ukrainian forces putting civilians at risk and violating the laws of war when they operate in populated areas," Amnesty International's Secretary General Agnes Callamard said at the time.

Amnesty's Ukraine director Oksana Pokalchuk resigned in the wake of the report. The government in Kiev accused the NGO of engaging in pro-Russian propaganda. President Vladimir Zelensky said anyone who casts doubt on Ukraine's victimhood is an "accomplice of Russia" and "a terrorist themselves."

While the NGO has since apologized for the "distress and anger" caused by their press release on Ukrainian tactics, it has not disavowed the report. Callamard commented on the criticism by saying that "war propaganda, disinformation, [and] misinformation" by online trolls "won't dent our impartiality and won't change the facts."

Secretary General of Amnesty Sweden, Anna Johansson, said in an interview on Wednesday that "about a thousand" members have sought to leave the organization over the Ukraine report. She noted, however, that Amnesty Sweden had faced a bigger crisis when it adopted a new policy "on the rights of people who have sex for money."

While Ukraine has the right to defend itself, Johansson said, that "does not mean that it has the right to violate international humanitarian law. That is why the discussion must also cover Ukraine's actions - otherwise we would be giving Ukraine carte blanche regardless of what it does."

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