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Should war crimes be ignored?

John Y. Jones
John Y. Jones
Cand. Philol, freelance journalist affiliated with MODERN TIMES
CIVIL / The two researchers justify a mixture of civilian and military installations, against Amnesty's Ukraine report (2022) which criticizes the use of civilians as shields in Ukraine.


In the book Operation Z takes the Swiss officer jacques baud up the use of civil as shield i Ukraine. He relies on one of the least controversial, but alas so often violated laws on war crimes: "These tactics violate international humanitarian law and endanger civilian lives since they turn civilian installations into military targets."

In his Ukraine report 2022 writes Amnesty International initially that "[u]krainian military tactics put civilian lives at risk." The report reports 19 flagrant violations of international law when offensive military installations are located near civilian institutions such as schools and hospitals. Amnesty believes that there were safe alternative locations that the military could have used, and that the placements were therefore deliberate: Civilians were used as shields. The report is not a collection of opinions or claims. The organization has carried out extensive on-site research in the war zones and has had the ambition to put an end to these war crimes. Should Amnesty refrain from reporting on this?

Baud's findings agree with Amnesty's. He quotes the Washington Post, which as early as March 28, 2022 – in connection with the battle for Mariupol – writes that "Kyiv's defensive tactics increased the danger [of civilian casualties]", and continues (Baud p. 190) that "the Ukrainian forces compensate for its tactical inferiority in placing troops near or in the center of civilian targets […]. In Mariupol, the Ukrainians were known to prevent civilians from leaving the city via the humane corridors established by the Russians. But the cries for help from the population of Donbass were totally ignored by our media".

But not completely ignored. In Norway we find an exception. The undersigned finds notes from then the final, bloody battle of Mariupol stood. In the NRK news at 13 on 29 April, Morten reported Jentoft, a fluent journalist with 30 years of experience in the area, that the Ukrainian Azov soldiers actively prevented civilians from leaving the besieged city. "[T]he civilians are part of a cynical game" since the soldiers would "stand in a weaker position if the civilians are gone", Jentoft said. However, an hour later, in the 14-news, a new voice, Erlend Kinn, was able to say that Prime Minister Zelinsky's office "hoped the civilians could be evacuated" soon. The feature about cynical war crimes was disappointingly not followed up by NRK – only replaced by an optimistic official message from the government.

Researchers Camilla Guldahl Cooper and Cecilie Hellestveit criticize the Amnesty report.

Instead of putting the spotlight on this war crime, NRK chooses to ignore it in silence. I guess we'll never know if the 14 broadcast on March 28 was one damage control of Jentoft's story about the use of civilians as shields. But Jentoft had actually reported his discovery to the listeners, he should have.

What do Norwegian researchers think of Amnesty's – and Baud's – serious accusations? In Vårt Land on 12 August, the researchers criticize Camilla Guldahl Cooper and Cecilia Hellestveit The Amnesty report. Cooper is responsible for the international law of war at the Norwegian Defense Academy and believes the report does not adequately document the Ukrainian violations. Hellestveit is a lawyer with a doctorate in the international law of war from the University of Oslo and a researcher at the Institute of Folk Law. She disagrees with the way Amnesty presents international law itself.

In other words, there are two heavy names that carry serious criticism of Amnesty. But when Vårt Land sums up, the case appears to be really poignant: "They [the two researchers] both draw parallels to Norway and say that we too have chosen to put military facilities in the cities – such as Akershus fortress in Oslo – and thus put civilians at risk attack. It may be absolutely necessary to defend the cities, and not in violation of international law, they believe." Two centrally located researchers therefore believe that placing, for example, a huge rocket-launching battery at a kindergarten in Ukraine, is to be compared to the Norwegian Armed Forces' cultural office and four horses in a stable in a 700-year-old fortress "in the middle of the city". Is this medieval fortress an offensive military installation comparable to a rocket battery that targets nearby civilians for dramatic and deadly enemy shelling? So there is no reason to criticize Ukraine!

Even more surprising is the scientists' justification of this mix of civilian and military installations, because, as they say, this "may be absolutely necessary to defend the cities". Office staff, Oslo City Hall, shopkeepers and students at Ruseløkka School in inner Oslo can therefore be used as "absolutely necessary" shields to protect our military? When did it become the duty of the civilians to defend the military? What will be left of the laws of war and the intention to protect civilian life, protection precisely from being misused as a shield? Vårt Land never makes any attempt to challenge the validity of this claim.

Baud (p. 62) gives us a key to this occurrence. After the fall of Mariupol, the world gets to see for real what kind of soldiers used the civilians as shields. CNN reports on 30 March that "a far right battalion has a key role in Ukraine's resistance. Its neo-Nazi history has been exploited by Putin". The challenge for CNN was thus that Putin "exploited" these inhuman forces, not the Nazi forces themselves. De-Nazifying Ukraine's threat to the population of Donbass has been ridiculed in the Western press and debate since Putin pointed to this as one of the goals of the military operation in February. After this, Western sources, Baud continues, "tried to downplay the significance of the neo-Nazis. The result was an extensive campaign to whitewash the militant western [Ukrainian] far right. It reached its climax towards the end of May 2022, after the Azov warriors in Mariupol had capitulated and their tattoos revealed the true nature of these forces on which Kyiv builds its power”.

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