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Iraq's Human Rights and My Problems With Amnesty Int.

Discussion in 'Issues Around the World' started by ethics, Dec 3, 2002.

  1. ethics

    ethics Pomp-Dumpster Staff Member

    The British Foreign Office has released a report <a href="http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-files/Guardian/documents/2002/12/02/hrdossierenglish.pdf">detailing the human rights abuses of the Iraqi regime</a>(PDF File Download), which has prompted Amnesty International to denounce the publication as a 'cold and calculated manipulation of the work of human rights activists.

    The report, harrowing reading as it is, contains little that is new, as it draws much of its information from the years of work of human rights organisation such as Amnesty International and Humans Right Watch. It is the timing of the report, rather than the content, that has drawn criticism from Amnesty International, with their Secretary General, Irene Khan, dismissing the report as a cynical piece of opportunism:

    <blockquote>"Let us not forget that these same governments turned a blind eye to Amnesty International's reports of widespread human rights violations in Iraq before the Gulf war..They remained silent when thousands of unarmed Kurdish civilians were killed in Halabja in 1988"</blockquote>

    Human rights abuses are human rights abuses, whoever publicises them.

    Also, the argument that the UK Government was complicit in the genocide of the Kurds has some truth to it, but the current Labour Government were in opposition, and made full and vocal protests about UK policies at the time.

    Is AI, in an apparent attempt to lend support to the anti-war axis, failing in its primary role to stamp out human rights abuses?

    Wouldn't it be better if it adopted Human Rights Watch strictly neutral role when it comes to military action undertaken by countries?

    I also have a piece to share, I think you will find it very telling:

    Fourteen years ago, when I was taking a few college courses, I joined the campus chapter of Amnesty International. I did a fair amount of work, helping distribute petitions, post flyers, man the booth, et al. I like to think that I contributed some small amount to the overall AI effort.

    And then, I made a serious mistake. I didn't sign a petition. It was about a man who had refused to serve in his nation's military (I don't recall which nation, but I think it was a Middle Eastern one) and had been jailed. Well, I've never particularly liked the idea of compulsory military service, but I don't think it's a human rights violation for a nation to require it. And so, I put that petition at the bottom of the pile and signed the rest (the usual complement of people being tortured because they held the wrong ethnicity, sexual orientation or political view).

    The Petition Person (before this, I thought of her as the Perky Petition Person, and much later, I thought of her as the Parker Posey Perky Petition Person, but I digress) pointed out that I had "missed one." I explained that I wouldn't sign that one and told her why.

    And my ass got dumped. I wasn't put on the roster for the booth the next time it went up. I stopped getting called about meetings. When I asked the chapter president what was going on, he told me under no uncertain terms that my efforts would no longer be required, since I wasn't -- and I remember these words exactly -- "voluntarily participating in key Amnesty drives." I started to plead my case, and then realized that I was talking to a wall.

    So I left, and have made a point of not having anything to do with Amnesty International since then. They lost a guy who would later be known to spend more than sixty hours a week at an extracurricular pursuit, thanks to the actions of a few small-minded members. And I'm not talking about the fact that I disagreed with them, either -- I'm talking about the fact that because I decided not to support one facet of the overall AI effort, they decided that I was no longer worthy of being allowed to help them on the many other facets.

    So that's why this story doesn't surprise me in the least -- as far as I'm concerned, AI has long been for people who enjoy complaining about things far more than they enjoy doing anything about it. And heavens forfend that the "wrong" sort of person decide to do something about it.
  2. MisManager

    MisManager Runs With Scissors

    You're right on target here, IMHO.

    I have, in the past, given to Amnesty because I like the work they do with prisoners of conscience overseas. However (and this seems to be increasing of late), they are gravitating toward preachiness and profile-raising rather than fulfilling their mission.

    Amnesty has been among the most guilty here, as ethics' message shows. Are they not an organization who defends human rights? The oft-repeated criticism that many western governments once supported Saddam is hollow, and begs the question "Is it wrong, therefore, to oppose him now?" Rather than praising this change, many groups now just heap scorn upon it. There can be no question that Saddam's policies, actively and passively, have created a human rights crisis in Iraq. There can be no doubt that Saddam is in close competition with Kim Jong-Il for the Human Rights Violator World Championship. Opposition to a war in Iraq can still be articulated without heaping scorn on reports like this one.

    Many, many groups these days are suffering "mission-creep." My favorite, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), is treading dangerously close to this problem of late - they have teamed up with the global warming crowd. That's not to make any judgement about the global-warming folks, but TNC is a land-conservation group.

    Similarly, with Amnesty, they seem to have evolved from a prisoner-of-conscience group to (take your pick): American death penalty opposition; globalization opposition; and, in this case, anti-war protester.

    While these "tactical" moves might raise these groups' profile in the short term, I think it compromises their mission in the long term.

  3. mikeky

    mikeky Member

    This type of attitude has always been hard for me to understand, that the mistakes of the past should paralyze any future action. And ethics, many of the regimes that AI opposes would be proud of the tactic that AI used, conform or else. (Ok, I slightly exaggerate, but probably not by much.)
  4. MisManager

    MisManager Runs With Scissors

    Agreed - I think it's childish, to be honest. Rather than allowing for the possibility of coming to one's senses and changing a policy, that change is punished in an "I told you so" fashion.

    The United States is pursuing Iraq not for financial gain (the best gain would come from embracing the current regime, pushing to lift sanctions, and competing for oil contracts - hmm, see France) but on principle. Yes, it's late to the party, in the sense that Saddam was not a good guy back when the US was backing him in the 80s. However, it's better to oppose him now than to continue supporting him, yes? Listening to Amnesty, I get the feeling they do not agree.

    One thing that I have come to realize is that, for those pushing a cause, the worst thing that can happen to them is victory. Notice how there are no Abolitionists around lobbying the government? Well, of course not.

    They had to get real jobs. ;)

  5. Sierra Mike

    Sierra Mike The Dude Abides Staff Member

    Surprise, Surprise...

    I hate NGOs like AI with a passion.

    Their stated mission is indeed a noble one, but they way they go about it is not only counter-productive in same cases, but hardly even-handed. They are as two-faced and slimey as just about any Third World dictatorship. They just happen to kill less people.

    AI was openly against the Somalia, Bosnia, and Kosovo operations, and had great misgivings about the Haiti operation, too. And oh yes, let us not forget the unending criticism of ENDURING FREEDOM as well. They squawked loud and long about that, over the US initiating combat activities against a known enemy to deriding the food drops which were entirely necessary, but not a US military mission. That is was made up on the fly was something they overlooked, especially so since it was motivated more out of compassion than anything else. (By the way, they also said the same thing about the Bosnia food drops.)

    Personally speaking, I think they would learn a great lesson if we could roll back the clock and put their family members in those United and American Airlines jets. Then turn to them when it was all over and say, "Well gosh, we'd love to go take out the guys who did this to you, but that would mean killing people...and we know you wouldn't want THAT."

    So I guess here's their true agenda:

    Initiating combat operations against a known enemy is BAD.

    Initiating combat operations in order to feed people is BAD.

    Initiating combat operations to save a people from genocide is BAD.

    Making a lot of noise and resorting to distortion of the truth is GOOD, because it gets us in the newspapers.

    Bloodsuckers. They should take a step into the real world.
  6. limeygit

    limeygit Assume Sarcasm...

    I almost posted this story, but got distracted by the real world.
    The obvious political nature of the quotes from Amnesty International really worry me. I know many Americans hate AI because it will occasionally shine its torch at the US, which they take as an affront to their dignity. I have no problems with this, any country can benefit from an external watch-dog, as long as said watch-dog has no actual power. Sometimes another perspective can be helpful.
    That said one can often feel the smug glow of contentment as some Swiss or Belgian person appears on American cable TV to point out America = bad. Whatever minor flaws there are in the major western countries, surely they shouldn't be taking priority over the systematic torture and murder of any who try to express basic freedoms... But I digress.
    The response by AI in this case seems very childish. Surely their major function is to document, and bring to the attention of the world, Human Rights abuses. The document by the British government has, I can safely say, been seen in a few days by more people around the world than AI could hope to ever get in a year. There is nothing present in the document that Amnesty disagrees with. So where is their problem? It is a matter of politics.
    It is like a situation where an employee gets a 50% pay rise. He has been pushing hard for exactly such a thing. When he gets it he complains because it was motivated by the company being scared to lose him to a competitor, rather than as a reward for his hard work. In the end though shouldn't the important thing be he got what he wanted? According to the AI philosophy, the answer would be no...
    I also find the 'damned if you do, damned if you don't' thing AI plays very interesting. They complain because they believe the British government did not step in to prevent previous atrocities. They complain because they believe the British government is going to step in to stop future atrocities, now. How exactly do you stop a foreign government from torturing its own people without force? Sanctions? Why no, they are ineffective according to AI and lead to innocent people starving and going without medical supplies. So what exactly does AI want the major Western governments to do in these cases. Send bribes, appeal to tinpot dictators touchy-feely side? Step off an airplane waving a piece of paper claiming it means 'peace in our time'?
    Sorry this has rambled on but AI needs to either become what it should be, an organization committed to bringing to the attention of the world information on Human Rights abuses. Or it needs to stop hiding behind shadows and become an openly political organization. It can not attempt to have its cake and eat it all the time...
  7. Jedi Writer

    Jedi Writer Guest

    I agree completely. The situation you describe is not unique. You could be describing the ACLU or a significant number of other organizations that have as their charter the noblest of goals but in practice do a lot more than what their charter or mission statement states.

    Amnesty International is the most distressing example to me because theyve had remarkable success in freeing political prisoners, saving people from torture, and obtaining justice for those who have been victims of both. Its impossible to praise them too much for those genuine successes.

    But over the years they have become more and more political in their goals and in my opinion more irresponsible in their tactics and claims to achieve those goals.

    A good example happened in Los Angeles about five years ago. AI was investigating whether or not the LAPD was guilty or abusive in its use of excessive force and by doing so were abusing human rights. Their investigation caused them to issue a very public statement that the LAPD was guilty as charged. How did they arrive at their conclusion? They reviewed all the abuse related lawsuits filed against the LAPD over a period of time. Mind you, these are suits that were filed and in most cases were pending adjudication. In other words they were unsubstantiated allegations. Some cases had been settled out of court in favor of the plaintiffs. As anyone knows such settlements are overall more representative of a business decision than an omission of wrong doing.

    AI also opposes the death penalty. They say that even in democratic countries such as the U.S. it is wrong, and they add it is wrong even if the person received a fair trial and did it. However, in their arguments against executing individual people who fit such a description they will say things that they know are at best a stretch and at worst a lie in order to try and stop the execution or to abolish the death penalty. It is not their opposition against the death penalty that I oppose; rather it is their tactics and lies in opposing it.

    When they pull stunts such as the LAPD investigation and lie in order to accomplish their goals they begin to lose credibility and in my opinion compromise their ability to fight the legitimate battles.

    Why do they do this? Ah, herein lies the really sad part. They do it for the reason most people do things of questionable value. They do it for the money. In doing so they become no different than any other political special interest group. The money is in the form of contributions from people who share and support their goals. To sum up, in some areas they take a political stance solely as a fund raising tactic. In doing so they lower themselves to the lowest level.

    I hope they will return to their roots before it is too late.
  8. Sierra Mike

    Sierra Mike The Dude Abides Staff Member

    Never happen, Jedi. The almighty $ is just too powerful.

  9. ethics

    ethics Pomp-Dumpster Staff Member

    Great thread, folks, I can definitely start counting on great responses and you people are beginning to get me spoiled! ;)

    Limy, I would like for you to meet our European contingent here, on this forum, and have them read your post at least twice.

    If you were a European leader, that came to the US and presented this case this way, not only would you get AI off their high horse buy you would actually get Americans to listen to your criticism OF America.

    Know why? Because you stuck to the issue at hand and came out swinging at everyone but especially at an organization that was founded to mean protecting the minority.

    Kudos to everyone but I'd like to nominate Limy's post for December's PoM. It's been a while since I heard constructive criticism from a European.
  10. Sierra Mike

    Sierra Mike The Dude Abides Staff Member

    I'd also like to add that those human rights abuses reported in 1988 were pretty much nixed in 1991.

    Of course...

    ...it took armed intervention to do it. ;)

  11. vkr

    vkr New Member

    Often with groups of this nature, the people, who gravitate towards them, have an existing agenda, which breeds a cultural premise, much like a cancer.

    The only place I have ever discovered the ability to think freely and clearly is by not joining.

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