Analyisis of the Amnesty International report on ‘war crimes’ allegations against Russia in Syria

SWEDHR Research & Reports. Vol 2., N° 39, 26 December 2015

By Professor Marcello Ferrada de Noli Ph.D.

Chairman, Swedish Doctors for Human Rights (SWEDHR)

 

I. Introduction

“Defamation—also calumny, vilification, and traducement—is the communication of a false statement that harms the reputation of an individual, group, government, religion, or nation.”

Alleged episodic collateral damage as a result of alleged three separate airstrikes amidst a three-month air-campaign consisting of quotidian missions with a total so far of 5,240 combat sorties [1a] can hardly sustain a general characterization such as “The Russian bombing in Syria can be war crime”. Preposterously as it sounds, that is the conclusion that the mainstream and State-owned media in Sweden is broadcasting to the public; and all that ‘based’ on a biased report by Amnesty International.

In true fact, even if the existence of the alleged cases could ever be sustained (so far they are based on undisclosed testimonies centred around the US-backed “Syrian National Coalition”) these figures would correspond to statistically significant lower ratio sorties/collateral damage in comparison with e.g. the aerial bombing by the US-backed (and Sweden’s assisted) in Afghanistan, or by the bombing in Yemen by the Saudi-backed coalition. Let us also bear in mind that the Russia’s air force is bombing eight times more than the U.S. in Syria, as it was reminded by the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, Republican congressmen Ed Royce. [1b]

Nevertheless the Amnesty International report uses terms such as “suspected Russian attack”, or single airstrikes (a number of three suspected cases are mentioned) “that can be war crime”, the Swedish section of Amnesty International has publicly and directly accused Russia of war crimes, unambiguously. Further, the charges put forward by Amnesty International – Sweden  were synchronized with the publication – the same day of the report – with main articles and broadcasts in all principal Swedish media.

For instance, Ms Ami Hedenborg, spokesperson of Amnesty International Sweden, declared in main paper Svenska Dagbladet (SvD), “there is also information of (Russian) bombing in the nearby of a campaign hospital, that is also a war crime”. [2] Ms Hedenborg does not say, “If such information would be proven truth, that bombing would be a war crime”. Instead, the representative of Amnesty International is directly accusing Russia of war crimes in Syria. Ms Ami Hedenborg is not presenting any evidence of the kind that it should make her case in court, to sustain her grave accusation against the Russian government.

In fact, the Amnesty report “Syria: Russia’s shameful failure to acknowledge civilian killings” [3] referred by Ms Hedenborg wishes to rest on no-verifiable information, all which is incompatible with ethical standards of any human-rights organization. This is what the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon concluded specifically regarding the verifiability issue in the said Amnesty report on December 23:

The Secretary‑General notes with concern Amnesty International’s report on alleged violations of international humanitarian law resulting from the Russian airstrikes in Syria.  The UN cannot independently confirm the cases presented in the report.“ [4]

Vice versa, by directly and unsustainably accusing the Russian government of “war crimes”, the Amnesty representative is indulging here in serious libel.

In this analysis, we deconstruct the biased pro-NATO stance by Amnesty International Sweden considering also its further spin by the Russophobic media, and against the backdrop of the newly adscription by the Swedish government to the anti-Russia propaganda war administrated in the NATO Strategic disinformation centre STRATCOM. [5]

II. The background

to article SVD amnesty

One striking, or absurd, feature in the media campaign trying to discredit the advances of the Russia offensive against ISIS, is that the image used by this Swedish media to illustrate Amnesty’s accusations of “Russia’s war crimes in Syria” depicts Kobane, situated in the Kurdish region. (See image above, from the SvD article 23/12 2015).

In fact, Kobane is a liberated zone. There, the general commander of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), Sipan Hemo, declared that they not only have welcome the Russian intervention, but also that they are ready to cooperate with them. And in a statement which is central for this analysis, he added, “Russia should fight not only against IS, but also against al-Nusra. There is no difference between Nusra and IS”. [6]

to article – most syria rebels sympathise with Isis

The similitude between the “moderate” jihadist supported by US and Sweden –and now by Amnesty International – has been subject of analysis a leading thinktank cited by The Guardian and others: “More than half of the rebel fighters in Syria who are opposing President Bashar al-Assad are sympathetic to Islamic State views”, reads the conclusion. [7] [8] This “moderate” forces armed by the Western are estimated in the analysis of reaching “At least 15 militias, numbering 65,000 fighters”.

UPI on US-weapons drop in Syria

US delivers weapons to Syria rebelsImages above from the UPI article, “U.S. military airdrops 50 tons of ammo to aid Syrian rebels”, [9]

and from CNN [10]

These “moderate” jihadist forces are financed and armed by the Western powers, principally the US [See images above], [9] [10] and in the main constitutes a political and militarily part of these Western powers’ strategy in fighting any Russian influence in the region. In this context, it is not surprising that the first “reports” (neither documented) with allegations of ‘Russian airstrikes killing civilians’, it came from the US-backed “Syrian National Coalition”. Already after the first Russian missions they reported that the Russian airstrike in Homs had caused only civilian fatalities (“All of the casualties were civilians”). The report, dispatched from New York through an interview with Mr Khaled Khoja, head of the National Coalition, said that the organization “had received the names of all 36 victims”, [11] which however never were published, not even in the ‘detailed’ Amnesty International Report.

Remarkably, in the same interview, Mr Khaled Khoja added, “The Russians struck northern Homs today and killed 36 innocent people … who fought against extremism.” [11]

Any governmental or so called non-governmental pro-NATO organization such as Amnesty, that decides using such exaggerated, contradictory, and in fact implausible reports to built up their anti-Russia campaigns, is deemed to be considered by the public not only utterly unprofessional, but also stupid.

III. The report “Syria: Russia’s shameful failure to acknowledge civilian killings”

This report of Amnesty International of 23 December 2015, in the main purportedly ascribes 200 civilian fatalities to the airstrike operations extended all along the three months of the Russian air operations in Syria. The first striking aspect to observe in examining this text is that the term “collateral sequelae” or “collateral damage” is not ever mentioned – not in one single occasion.

The perfidious contention, repeated and subject to further spin by the Swedish TV on that Russia purposely is targeting civilians to kill them just for the sake of killing them (Russia is bombing populated areas which are not clearly military targets, mention the news) is of an ethical level beyond the possibilities for SWEDHR to comment.

So, the main serious allegation by Amnesty in its report “Syria: Russia’s shameful failure to acknowledge civilian killings” [2] can be summarized in their contention of Russia using of cluster bombs.

However, no evidence, no pictures of bombs fragments, no pictures of wounded people with characteristic cluster-bomb injuries is seen in the above mentioned document. Fragments of a cluster bombing can’t be missed in an area which, in that eventuality, would be receiving multiple as the result of the chain explosions, objects in its turn splitting in numerous others.

For purposes of illustration we display here an image of real cluster bombs used by the Ukraine forces against the population in Donbass in 2014. The images are from the Washington Post report, “Ukrainian military accused of repeatedly using cluster bomb rockets against separatists”. [12] This evidence material was profusely distributed in the Internet, known by international observers, etc.

cluster bomb

cluster bomb fragments ukraine hrw p

Further, the above-mentioned document says that Amnesty “interviewed eyewitnesses and survivors of attacks as well as examining video evidence and images showing the aftermath of attacks, aided by analysis by weapons experts.”

We at Swedish Doctors for Human Rights have a collective professional experience in analysing such episodes. We demand that Amnesty International publish the evidence they say having on the cases. If it is a matter of medical or professional confidentiality, they could send the material to us directly. So far, no evidence has been published with details subtle to be verified or scrutinized.

IV. Sweden in the propaganda-war against Russia

In my analysis, the Swedish government – currently of social democratic leadership – has not a homogeneous stance on Sweden participation in NATO, current or prospective. There might be at least two factions with distinct approaches. Most visibly are the divergent stances between the Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist and the Foreign Minister Ms Margot Wallström. The Foreign Minister is a reputed defender of human rights and she has this item paramount in her agenda. We have for instance the recognition of Palestine, and the diplomatic efforts currently on behalf of Western Sahara. Swedish Doctors for Human Rights has elsewhere acknowledged Margot Wallström’s endeavour for the human rights. On the other hand, we have debated in the press with Defence Minister Hultqvist. [13]

propasganda war swedsen nato

Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist has announced that Sweden will seek entrance in the NATO communications centre STRATCOM based in Latvia. The main aim of this NATO strategic disinformation centre is to wage propaganda war against Russia. [14]

Minister Peter Hultqvist seems sincerely believe that the national interests of Sweden are better safeguard by a closer Swedish collaboration with NATO. We deem his stance as absolutely wrong. For the best way of protecting Sweden’s interest is by deepening a neutrality stance in the geopolitical conflict. But his adherents, and the opposition consisting of right wing parties share his opinion wish to go even further in the relationships with NATO. We have to except the Sweden Democrats, also in the opposition, and which are clearly opposed to the entrance of Sweden in the NATO alliance.

In the constellation above, both the media pro government and the wright wing media are totally concerted in the anti Russia propaganda war. Some might think that they are serving the interest s of the country. But some are just ordinary instruments, and so they were already time ago, of the US interest in Sweden.

The illustrations of above are multiple, and I have referred to the compact nationalistic stance that characterizes Swedish media in the chapter “The Swedish Media Paradox And The Case Against Assangen, in my book “Sweden VS. Assange – Human Rights Issues” [15]. Nevertheless, a quite recent example is given by the newspaper Svenska Dagbladet: the same day that the UN was voting favourably the proposition from Russia for a peace-plan in Syria – a news all over the world – the Swedish newspaper run an editorial depicting Russia as the worst enemy of peace!

In conclusion, is not at all surprising that  this other anti-Russia campaigns, now from Amnesty International, found immediately echo, and a magnified one, in the Swedish media.

V. The further manipulation of the Amnesty ‘news’ by Swedish state-owned media

Dagens Nyheter (DN), the main Swedish newspaper, had the following headline in its article based on the Amnesty report 23 December 2015:

dn on amnesty report“Amnesty: Russian bombing in Syria can be war crime” [16]

  1. By using the general and unqualified phrasing “Russian bombing in Syria” (instead, for instance, “some of the Russian airstrikes in Syria”), DN disqualified the whole campaign of Russia in Syria as a war crime. This, because the Russian intervention in Syria have consisted in such air-operations.
  1. Further, DN says that “the Russian bombing in Syria during the last here months have killed so many civilians, that it can be a case of war crime. So, what would be the war crime according to DN? The three months bombing; or in other words, the whole Russian military operation in Syria.
  1. Just how many are the ‘so many civilians’ that Amnesty – and repeated by DN – is alleging that Russian airstrikes have killed in Syria? The number given in the report is 200.

For its part, The Swedish TV in Sweden’s main news program Rapport run the news also the same day, and early (already in the first evening broadcasting), in which only the version given by Amnesty was broadcasted; with no information or source or interview that would have a different version or explanation. The program made n incisive implication on that the Russian attacks were purposelessly targeting civilians whereas no military target corresponded to the bombing. [17]

rapport on amnesty, Russia in SyriaThe Swedish TV in Sweden’s main news program [18]

VI. Amnesty International in Sweden – an issue of credibility

Finally, we have to mention in the context of this analysis that there is a serious issue of credibility with Amnesty International Sweden. In the first place, although they declare that in principle they are totally independent from the Swedish state, they do receive money from the government and for projects such as nothing less than “training on Human Rights”. [19] [20] [21]

This is a quite contrary stance than the one we have in Swedish Doctors for Human Rights (SWEDHR). [22] We believe that a sine qua non factor in a human-rights organization’s credibility is the total independence from government and corporate funding.

Further, Amnesty International Sweden has rejected human-right actions on the cases Assange and Snowden – [23] clear dennouncers of war crimes and civil rights infringements committed by the U.S. government. The credibility of the Swedish Section of Amnesty suffered further when it engaged in a public conflict with Amnesty International (the mother organization) over the political case that Sweden maintains against the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The Swedish Section of Amnesty took unambiguously stance for the Swedish government’s in blunt breaching of human-right principles regarding asylum and protection against political extraditions. For instance, referring to the issue of the guarantees negated by Sweden to Julian Assange on that he would not be extradited from to the U.S., I wrote the following about Amnesty International – Sweden:

“It is worth noting that the international human rights organization Amnesty has advocated – on behalf of Mr Assange’s human rights – for the granting of such guarantees of no extradition from the part of the Swedish government. [24] However, the Swedish Section of Amnesty has opposed to such petition, [25] and thus taken instead a staunch stance on behalf of the positions expressed by the Swedish Foreign Ministry – at that time headed by Carl Bildt – and of the prosecutor authority. Swedish Doctors for Human Rights has denounced this stance by the Swedish Section of Amnesty.” [26]

And while SWEDHR and every decent human rights organization in the world was condemning the torture of Palestinian children by Israeli forces, Amnesty International Sweden was rejecting initiatives to take the responsible of such ignominious crimes to the International Court of Justice. [23]

Another item that has put the credibility of Amnesty International in jeopardy, was to bring legitimacy to the unjustified US-led occupation of Iraq by ‘denouncing’, without citing any source whatsoever, “Mass graves containing thousands of bodies of victims of human rights violations committed under the government of President Saddam Hussein were unearthed.” (In the subheading of the document, “Amnesty International Report 2004 – Iraq”). Only long down in the document it is read that “The victims were believed to have been executed by Iraqi security forces in the 1980s.” [27] These flawed methods shall be banned from the reporting of human rights breaches, particularly when this biased endeavour is done to bring help to those in power, the aggressors, against the oppressed people and the poor.

 

References & Notes

[1a] The Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces informed on the results of the operations held by Russian Aerospace Forces in Syria. He referred that “Since September 30, the Russian air group in Syria has performed 5240 combat sorties including 145 ones of the strategic missile-carrying and long-range bomber aviation. Every day the Russian Aerospace Forces make missile and bomb strikes on main infrastructural facilities, strong points, concentrations of terrorists’ military hardware and manpower.” Published on-line by the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation. Retrieved 26 Dec 2015.

[1b] John Hudson, GOP Chairman: Russia Bombing 8 Times More Than U.S. in Syria. Foreign Policy, 4 Nov 2015.

[2] “Det finns också uppgifter om bombningar i närheten av ett fältsjukhus, vilket också är krigsbrott,” säger Ami Hedenborg. In: “Amnesty: Ryska bomber i Syrien kan vara krigsbrott”, SvD, 25 Dec 2015

http://www.svd.se/amnesty-ryska-bomber-i-syrien-kan-vara-krigsbrott

[ ] Amnesty International Report 2004 – Iraq, http://www.refworld.org/docid/40b5a1f710.html

[3] “Syria: Russia’s shameful failure to acknowledge civilian killings”. Amnesty International, 23 Dec 2015.

[4] Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General. UN, 23 Dec 2015.

[5] Swedish Radio, “Sweden wants to learn propaganda war from NATO” [article original in Swedish], 26 Oct 2015.

[6] Midde East Eye, Syrian Kurdish fighters welcome Russian strikes, demand weapons for anti-IS fight. Middle East Eye, 1 Oct 2015.

[7] Think-tank inglese: la maggior parte dei ribelli anti-Assad in Siria hanno stessi obiettivi dell’Isis. L’Anti Diplomatico, 21 Dec 2015.

[8] Most Syrian rebels sympathise with Isis, says thinktank. The Guardian, 20 December 2015.

[9] Andrew Pestano, U.S. military airdrops 50 tons of ammo to aid Syrian rebels. UPI, 12 Oct 2015.

[10] Barbara Starr, U.S. delivers 50 tons of ammunition to Syria rebel groups. CNN, 12 Oct 2015.

[11] Russia airstrike on Homs kills 36 civilians: Syria opposition. Middle East Eye, 30 Sept 2015.

[12] Dan Lamothe, “Ukrainian military accused of repeatedly using cluster bomb rockets against separatists”. Washington Post, 21 Oct 2014.

[13] Leif Elinder, Marcello Ferrada de Noli, and Anders Romelsjö, ”Sverige riskerar bli förstahandsmål”, DN, 2/9, 2015. In English: Sweden risks being a primary target – In a military conflict of NATO VS. Russia. SWEDHR Research & Reports. Vol 2., N° 27, 2 September 2015

[14] Gerard O’Dwyer, Sweden Seeks To Join NATO Info War Agency, 1 Nov 2015.

[15] M Ferrada de Noli, Sweden VS. Assange – Human Rights Issues. Libertarian Books, Sweden, 2014. The referred chapter is found in pages 83-87.

[16] Dagens Nyheter (DN),

[17] Alexandra Ivanov, Russia is not a friend of peace and freedom. Svenska Dagbladet SvD, 29 Sept 2015.

[18] Swedish Television (SVT), News program Rapport, 18.00 hrs broadcasting, 23 Dec 2015.

[19] Ett ljus som har brunnit i 50 år. Amnesty Press, 1 June 2011

[20] Anna Widestam. Amnestyfonden. Amnesty Historia – fondens historia.

[21] Ulf B Andersson, Amnesty i Sverige : Är krisen i Amnesty över? Amnesty Press, 2 March 2013.

[22] Foundation Manifest of Swedish Doctors for Human Rights.

[23] M Ferrada de Noli, Swedish Section of Amnesty International voted to reject human-right actions on cases Assange, Snowden and tortured Palestinian children. The Professors’ Blogg, 11 May 2014.

[24] Amnesty International, “Sweden should issue assurance it won’t extradite Assange to USA”. 27 September 2012.

[25] Oliver Gee, “Assange ‘guarantees’ spark Amnesty spat“. The Local, 28 September 2012.

[26] M Ferrada de Noli, According to the UN International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights, Assange’s detention should be ended. NewsVoice, 30 Apr 2015.

[27] Amnesty International Report 2004 – Iraq.

______

The author

19 dec no glasses redcProfessor Dr med Marcello Ferrada de Noli is the chairman of Swedish Doctors for Human Rights and Editor-in-Chief of The Indicter. Also publisher of The Professors’ Blog, and CEO of Libertarian Books – Sweden. He is the author of Sweden VS. Assange – Human Rights Issues, My Road to Malatesta, and Rebeldes con Causa.

Reachable via email at editors@theindicter.com, fdenoli@gmail.com

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