The Human Rights Watch Cover up of Mariupol Massacre (May 9th, 2014)

The events of May 9th in Mariupol are extremely contentious, but two things that seem beyond doubt are:

  • On that day Ukraine forces in Mariupol killed a number of civilians 
  • It was the single most important event that tipped the country into civil war

Human Rights Watch says the number of killed that day is 7 - Graham Phillips presents evidence to suggest that is an arbitrary figure and the true death toll could have been much higher

Thu, May 21, 2015
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Mariupol central Police Dept after being stormed and shelled
Mariupol central Police Dept after being stormed and shelled

There have been certain key dates in the ‘Ukraine crisis’. May 2nd, of the Odessa Massacre, the Semenovka Shooting of May 5th, yet where the crisis in Donbass really tipped over into civil war, was Mariupol, May 9th, when Ukrainian military entered the city on Victory Day celebrations, and opened fire.

International NGO Human Rights Watch arrived in Mariupol late on May 9th, and that evening, myself also in Mariupol, I got into a Twitter argument with Anna Neistat of Human Rights Watch about how many had been killed. I had earlier been to a hospital where a doctor had told me, off the record, the figure could be in excess of 100, something I tweeted on as exactly that, exactly as I always do. Anna was determined the figure was 7, and she came down in the end, perhaps inevitable, by insulting RT, with whom I was working.

Now I never said the figure of 100 was my own, and before an investigation never would. But it was a figure which came back several times in interaction with locals in Mariupol – one which deserved further examination rather than the immediate dismissal of HRW:

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Anna said the figure was 7, in our Twitter exchange, rebuking any information to the contrary, when her figure was always manifestly inaccurate. The next day, Anna published a report which seemed to be aimed directly at myself, with the title Dispatches: Truth a Casualty in Ukraine Conflict. And she’d started to do a couple of things, revise her figures and bring unknown people into the dialogue. On May 9th, Anna had been determined the figure was 7, now on May the 10th it was “at least seven killed”.

And then this statement of Anna’s – “Today, a reliable source with no affiliation to either side but too frightened to be named informed me that “no more than 10 bodies” were brought to the city morgue. Did other people die whose bodies were not brought to the morgue? Did other people die whose bodies were not brought to the morgue? I have seen no proof of this.”

Now, in fairness to Anna – and I won’t accuse her of dishonesty in this, although that would certainly be an explanation, and HRW has not infrequently been accused of promoting a political position at the expense of truth – the morgue was quite often closed (I went 3 times):

But, when it was open, speaking to people there was not a problem at all – no one was frightened to be named. I showed no credentials to get in, nor was asked for any. The senior mortician told me clearly there, that 11 bodies were brought to him at that morgue, on May 9th, as a result of Ukrainian military actions, however he was more than open to the possibility that bodies had been sent to other morgues, some even not sent to morgues.

Now that interview was secretly filmed, but I feel he had some idea of it, and no problem taking a photo of exactly who that mortician was either – Vladimir Sosnitski:

So, the figure Human Rights Watch reported of 7, then ‘at least 7′ is entirely incorrect. As for the ‘reliable source with no affiliation to either side but too frightened to be named informed me that “no more than 10 bodies” were brought to the city morgue.’ I will try to believe that person exists, if I were being uncharitable I’d say Anna Neistat just invented that person. As for this – ‘Did other people die whose bodies were not brought to the morgue? Did other people die whose bodies were not brought to the morgue? I have seen no proof of this.‘ – Anna gives no indication at all of what steps she took looking for proof.

Arriving, and sticking at ‘at least 7′ (Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov cited 21, but with his reputation for speaking nonsense, the HRW figure was given precedence in media) was very dangerous. 7 (or ‘at least 7′, using covering journalistic terminology) was the figure cited in many news reports (with Human Rights Watch prominently referenced) – such as hereherehere. It’s a low number and that effectively ensured that there never would be a proper investigation carried out into what happened in Mariupol.

Indeed, there never was, and at the start of 2015, with the incident having hugely escalated the situation in Donbass, but never really having gone up in the international consciousness, due to the supposed low numbers, the Bellingcat agency, with a track record of white-washing actions of the Kiev government, were able to issue a report exonerating Ukrainian forces of any wrongdoing. 

Coming in the next instalment, events of that day, May 9th, in Mariupol.

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