So, imagine you’re a government that Human Rights Watch just wrote a report about. We ask you to investigate possible violations of international humanitarian law.
What do you do?
You could, like some governments do, deny everything, reject our findings, attack our meticulous research, invent conspiracy theories, lob insults at our staff… anything to try to deflect attention from the issue.
Or you could respond to the new report sensibly with something along the lines of: we’ve seen your report, and we’ll look into it.
Russia’s war on Ukraine has given us examples of both approaches.
We have documented numerous atrocities by Russian forces in Ukraine. It’s a long list that includes indiscriminate shelling of civilians, spreading terror through the bombing of infrastructure, and horrible crimes, like torture and summary executions, which they committed when they occupied areas such as Izium, Bucha, Chernihiv, Kharkiv, Kyiv, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.
We have also reported many times on Russia’s abuses in occupied Crimea.
We have presented extensive evidence of these serious abuses to the Russian government. But the Kremlin has never responded with anything that suggests even for an instant that they care about civilians and Russia’s obligations under international humanitarian law – “the laws of war.”
No, it’s been just denial, denial, and more denial. Oh, and they kicked us out of Russia, too, and blocked our website.
Contrast this with the response of the Ukrainian government to our report yesterday. Daily Brief readers will recall how we asked Kyiv to investigate their apparent use of banned antipersonnel landmines in and around the eastern city of Izium that pose a serious risk to civilians.
On the same day, the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded with a statement that both acknowledged our new report and committed the government to thoroughly analyzing it. Importantly, Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense posted the foreign ministry’s statement on its Facebook page, too, further showing the government’s attention to the matter.
Of course, stating your good intentions is just the first step. Now the authorities have to follow through with a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation into our findings. Remember too, along with 163 other countries, Ukraine has signed an international treaty banning the possession and use of antipersonnel landmines.
Still, Ukraine’s constructive reply to our report within hours is an encouraging initial move. We welcomed it and look forward to engaging with Kyiv further on this to help protect civilians in this conflict.
If only Russia reacted like this even once to the extensive reporting of its countless atrocities in Ukraine…