KYIV, UKRAINE - MAY 06: Senior Crisis Advisor of Amnesty International, Donatella Rovera speaks during the Amnesty International press conference titled War Crimes in the Northwest Territories of Kyiv Oblast in Kyiv, Ukraine on May 06, 2022. Amnesty International hold a press conference documenting the war crimes committed by Russian military forces in Ukraine. (Photo by Dogukan Keskinkilic/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

For military expert Thomas Reisner, it was clear what the Russian side would do with the highly controversial Amnesty International report. The report on the alleged abuse of civilian facilities by Ukraine was a gift for the Kremlin’s propaganda machine “and will of course be exploited in the struggle for information sovereignty in this war,” he said in an interview with the Tagesspiegel.

Last Friday, the Russian delegation to the United Nations promptly tweeted that when you see pictures of destroyed hospitals and schools, you should always first ask “who was in them?”

Experts agree that the report paints an inaccurate picture of Ukrainian war tactics and the role of civilians in international humanitarian law. International law expert Wolff Heintschel von Heinegg also described Amnesty’s work to the Tagesspiegel as “very undifferentiated”.

Basically, the organization accuses Ukraine in several cases of not having done enough or nothing at all to protect civilians and to have used civilian facilities for military purposes.

The military consequences – the Ukrainian troops would have simply been overrun in an open field battle – were ignored, as was the relevant passage under international law. Because when protecting the population in the event of a defense, “military considerations” are taken into account there in equal measure.

In addition to the weaknesses in the report’s content, questions are increasingly being asked about the authors and their approach. Above all to the Amnesty chief crisis adviser Donatella Rovera.

In a recent article in the British newspaper “Byline Times”, journalist Tom Mutsch describes his experiences with Rovera on the front line in a hotel in Kramatorsk prior to its publication.

A discussion with her was about the role of civilians in the Ukrainian warfare. Even then, Misch pointed out the problems in Rovera’s argument, but as in the current report, the answer was one-sided.

“Well, they (Ukraine) must avoid taking positions in populated areas as much as possible,” Misch quotes the researcher as saying. “International humanitarian law is very clear on this,” Rovera is said to have continued.

According to Misch, the research team had already formed its own opinion at this point – to interpret the sheer defense of the cities as a threat to the population that violated international law. In addition, the journalist accuses the Amnesty research team of not being too precise with the truth, at least in one case.

Amnesty International is “not aware of the Ukrainian military in civilian areas, instructing or assisting the civilian population to evacuate surrounding buildings,” the report said at one point.

However, Misch reports that he himself witnessed how the Ukrainian troops offered to take the residents around a Lysychansk school out of the danger zone by bus.

This is said to have been the same place cited in the report as a negative example of the practices of Ukrainian soldiers. And other war reporters express their displeasure with the approach and the results of the organization.

Italian war reporter Cristiano Tinazzi confirmed to the Tagesspiegel that Rovera contacted him on June 7 to talk about his experiences at the front – but then did not respond to his multiple replies. To this day he doesn’t know why. Tinazzi was then in June near the southern town of Mykolaiv.

His experiences do not match Amnesty’s observations. Although Ukrainian soldiers were forced to stay in civilian accommodation, he did not observe artillery shells in densely populated areas. Instead, according to his statements, evacuation attempts took place in the cities he visited.

Tinazzi’s example reveals another major weakness of Amnesty’s analysis: Four individual cases are used to generally impute that the Ukrainian war effort endangers civilians. At a time when Russian troops are turning Ukrainian cities into war zones.

For the English war journalist Neil Hauer, Rovera’s new derailment is anything but a surprise. He refers to a similarly controversial work by the researcher on the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020. As in the current case, the researcher attracted attention with her unbalanced description of the situation. Hauer even describes her work from back then as “bullshit”.

While reporters and pundits are still fuming about Rovera’s current work, it is itself part of the next controversy. The American broadcaster CBS recently published a documentary according to which only 30 percent of Western weapons are said to reach the front in Ukraine.

As it turns out, the relevant source in the documentation, a supplier of non-lethal military supplies, was misinterpreted. The station backtracked and announced a new version of the documentary. The explosive quote was ultimately cut from the post.

Rovera also has an appearance in the film. “There’s no way for us to track where these guns are going,” she says, quite dramatically. In view of the military explosiveness of the arms deliveries, that’s a rush. Hardly a secret could be better kept in this conflict.