Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Amnesty International and the Human Rights Industry


by Daniel Kovalik (reproduced by kind permission of the author)
When I studied law at Columbia in the early 1990s, I had the fortune of studying under Louis Henkin, probably the world’s most famous human rights theoretician. Upon his passing in 2010, Elisa Massimino at Human Rights First stated in Professor Henkin’s New York Times obituary that he “literally and figuratively wrote the book on human rights” and that “[i]t is no exaggeration to say that no American was more instrumental in the development of human rights law than Lou.”
Professor Henkin, rest his soul, while a human rights legend, was not always good on the question of war and peace. I know this from my own experience when I had a vigorous debate with him during and continuing after class about the jailing of anti-war protestors, including Eugene V. Debs, during World War I. In short, Professor Henkin, agreeing with Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, believed that these protestors were properly jailed because their activities, though peaceful, constituted a “clear and present danger” to the security of the nation during war time. I strongly disagreed.
That Professor Henkin would side with the state against these war protestors is indicative of the entire problem with the field of human rights which is at best neutral or indifferent to war, if not supportive of it as an instrument of defending human rights. This, of course, is a huge blind spot. In the case of World War I, for example, had the protestors been successful in stopping the war, untold millions would have been saved from the murderous cruelty of a conflict for which, to this day, few can adequately even explain the reasons. And yet, this does not seem to present a moral dilemma for today’s human rights advocates. (I will note, on the plus side, that Professor Henkin did become increasingly uneasy with the Vietnam War as that conflict unfolded, and specifically with the President’s increasing usurpation of Congress’s war authority).
In the end, it was not from Professor Henkin, but from other, dissident intellectuals who I learned the most about human rights and international law. The list of these intellectuals, none of whom actually practice human rights in their day job, includes Noam Chomsky, Edward S. Herman, Jean Bricmont and Diana Johnstone. And of course, I have read a lot of what they have to say on this subject on these very pages of CounterPunch.
And, what all of these individuals have emphasized time and time again is that international law, as first codified in the aftermath of World War II in such instruments as the UN Charter and the Nuremberg Charter, was created for the primary purpose of preserving and maintaining peace by outlawing aggressive war. And, why is this so? Because the nations which had just gone through the most destructive war in human history, with its attendant crimes of genocide and the holocaust, realized full well that those crimes were made possible by the paramount crime of war itself. As Jean Bricmont, then, in his wonderful book Humanitarian Imperialism, explains, the first crime for which the Nazis “were condemned at Nuremberg was initiating a war of aggression, which, according to the 1945 Nuremberg Charter, ‘is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes is that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.’”
In other words, the logic of the very founders of international law, including international human rights law, was that, to preserve human rights, the primary task of nations is to ensure peace and to prevent war which inevitably leads to the massive violation of human rights. As Noam Chomsky has noted for years, quite notably in his 1971 Yale Law Review article entitled, “The Rule of Force in International Affairs,” 80 Yale L.J. 1456, one of the very first substantive norms established by the UN Charter is prohibition against aggressive war. Such a norm is contained, as Chomsky relates, in Article 2(4) which provides that all UN members “shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force…” And, contrary to the position of the new humanitarian interventionists, Article 2(7) of the Charter specifically states that “[nothing in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state...”
Sadly, as Chomsky noted even back in 1971, these norms, the paramount ones of the entire UN system, have sadly been read out of international law. And, they have been read out by, among others, such chief human rights groups as Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW). As Jean Bricmont, citing international law scholar Michael Mandel, explains in Humanitarian Imperialism, while AI and HRW urged all “beligerents” (without distinguishing between the attackers and the attacked) at the outset of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq to respect the rules of war, neither group said a word about the illegality of the war itself. As Bricmont quite correctly stated, “[t]hese organizations are in the position of those who recommend that rapists use condoms,” ignoring the fact that once the intervention they failed to oppose “takes place on a large scale, human rights and the Geneva Conventions are massively violated.”
This brings us to the present time. Just last week, Amnesty International issued a long statement in opposition to an article I penned for Counterpunch on “Libya and the West’s Human Rights hypocrisy.” AI, in its counter-blog, entitled, “A Critic Gets it Wrong on Amnesty International and Libya” (see here), AI claims that I was wrong in stating that it had supported the NATO intervention in Libya. AI, affirming the critiques of Bricmont and Mandel, claims in this blog, that “Amnesty International generally takes no position on the use of armed force or on military interventions in armed conflict, other than to demand that all parties respect international human rights and humanitarian law.” AI then goes on to try to clarify that, in advance of the NATO intervention in Libya, AI, in a February 23, 2011, release, merely called on the Security Council to take immediate measures against Libya and Gaddafi, including [but not limited to] freezing the assets of Gaddafi and his senior military advisers, and investigating the possibility of a referral to the International Criminal Court.
In its blog contra my article, AI claims that it called for such action based upon Gaddafi’s verbal “threat to ‘cleanse Libya house by house’” to end the resistance. While this is true, this is not the whole truth. Thus, in AI’s February 23, 2011 release, it also based this call upon “persistent reports of mercenaries being brought in from African countries by the Libyan leader to violently suppress the protests against him.” And, as we learned from our own Patrick Cockburn in an Independent article from June 24, 2011, entitled, “Amnesty questions claim that Gaddafi ordered rape as a weapon of war,” Amnesty ended up debunking the reports (though well after NATO’s attack against Libya had begun) that Gaddafi was bringing in foreign mercenaries to fight.
As Cockburn, citing Donatella Rovera, senior crisis response adviser for Amnesty International, explains:
“Rebels have repeatedly charged that mercenary troops from Central and West Africa have been used against them. The Amnesty investigation found there was no evidence for this.
“Those shown to journalists as foreign mercenaries were later quietly released,” says Ms Rovera. “Most were sub-Saharan migrants working in Libya without documents.”
In other words, AI, on Feburary 23, 2011, was calling for Security Council action against Libya based upon reports about foreign mercenaries which it would later conclude were false, and upon verbal threats Gaddafi had made — very weak bases indeed for Security Council action.
And what about the calls for such action themselves? As we all know, the Security Council did act, authorizing a NATO attack upon Libya which began on March 19, 2011. The ordering of such an attack was a possible and indeed likely action which the Security Council would take, especially given that countries like the U.S. and France were aggressively pushing for such action at the time. And, AI full well knew this, and its calls for Security Council action worked in tandem with the efforts of the U.S. and France to obtain authorization for such an intervention.
In other words, AI, based at least in part on false reports, was pushing for Security Council action which it knew could, and most likely would, result in the authorization of force against Libya. And indeed, AI’s other call for possible referral of sitting Libyan officials to the International Criminal Court was tantamount to a call for armed intervention, including regime change, because only such intervention could bring about the hauling of sitting government officials to The Hague. AI’s current professions of neutrality on the issue of intervention notwithstanding, it can truly be stated that AI supported the intervention that took place in March of 2011 as an objective matter.
And sadly, this objective support was based in part on false reports of foreign, black mercenaries being brought into Libya. These false reports of mercenaries, in addition to feeding the calls for intervention, had another terrible effect – they helped lead to the massive reprisals against black Libyans and foreign guest workers during the conflict in Libya and continuing after the time that Gaddafi was toppled. The most notable of such reprisals was the utter destruction of the town of Tawarga, a town largely populated by black Libyans, by anti-Gaddafi rebels. To its great discredit, AI, in its rush to push for Security Council intervention, spread the very false reports which fueled such acts of vengeance.
And, what about AI’s response to crimes committed by NATO’s intervention in and bombing of Libya? AI, in its response to my article, cites its criticism of NATO as evidence of its even-handedness in responding to the conduct of all sides of the Libyan conflict. Specifically, AI cites the following criticism it made as such evidence:
Although NATO appears to have made significant efforts to minimize the risk of causing civilian casualties, scores of Libyan civilians were killed and many more injured. Amnesty International is concerned that no information has been made available to the families of civilians killed and those injured in NATO strikes about any investigations which may have been carried out into the incidents which resulted in death and injury.
Of course, this mere criticism demonstrates AI’s utter lack of even-handedness. First of all, in order to please its NATO patron, AI obviously felt compelled to lead its criticism with a compliment – patting NATO on the back for allegedly trying to “minimize the risk of causing civilian casualties,” as if aerial bombardment of major cities can ever constitute the minimization of such risks.
Then, AI complains that “no information has been made available” to the families of civilians killed or injured “about any investigations which may have been carried out into the incidents which resulted in death and injury.” What “investigations” is AI referring to here? Clearly, AI is complaining that NATO, left to police itself, has not shared the results of its own investigations into its own crimes.
The truth is that AI, which called for Security Council and possible ICC action against Libya as NATO was sharpening its knives to invade, has not called for a body outside NATO (e.g. the ICC) to investigate and possibly prosecute NATO officials for their crimes. What is good for the goose then, is not good for the gander in AI’s view. Of course, the ICC does not exist to prosecute those from the paler, Western countries. No, the ICC (which the U.S. is not even a signatory to and is therefore exempt from) is, in practice, for the darker races of the poorer countries; for those from Africa, Asia, and from time to time, the lesser Slavic nations. And, therein lies the problem inherent in the most famous human rights theos system of which AI is an integral part.
As we learn from Diana Johnstone in a CounterPunch article entitled, “How Amnesty International Became the Servant of U.S. Warmongering Foreign Policy,” AI’s journey to becoming an appendage of the U.S. and NATO recently became complete with its appointment of Suzanne Nossel as the new Director of Amnesty International USA. Diana Johnstone explains that Suzanne Nossel openly advocated, and indeed coined the term, “soft power” projection by the U.S. when she served in her last job as Assistant Secretary for International Organizations at none other than the U.S. State Department. And, as Jean Bricmont notes in Humanitarian Intervention, and as Ms. Nossel herself and AI fully understand, “soft power” only works because it has the very real threat of “hard power” (including economic sanctions and military intervention) behind it. AI has sadly forgotten that the wielding of such power by the rich countries to bully the weak is forbidden by the UN Charter which prohibits both the actual use and threat of force. It is those prohibitions which must be enforced first and foremost to truly protect human rights.
What’s more, as Diana Johnstone further explained in her CounterPunch article, Suzanne Nossel, just before being hired by AI, played a direct role while at the U.S. State Department in ginning up the pretexts for the NATO intervention in Libya. Ms. Johnstone explains that, “As Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations, Ms. Nossel played a role in drafting the United Nations Human Rights Council resolution on Libya. That resolution, based on exaggeratedly alarmist reports, served to justify the UN resolution which led to the NATO bombing campaign that overthrew the Gaddafi regime.“ In other words, Ms. Nossel’s role in pushing the NATO intervention was similar to that of AI’s at the time, with both pushing exaggerated, and indeed false, claims to justify stepped up action against Libya.
AI’s current attempts to distance itself from the very NATO intervention which AI and Ms. Nossel worked together to help bring about simply do not ring true. I would submit that it is time for AI to do some real soul-searching on the issue of whether it wants to serve the interests of human rights or to serve the interests of NATO and Western military intervention, for it truly cannot serve both masters.

The article above originally appeared on the pages of Counterpunch.
Daniel Kovalik is a labor and human rights lawyer living in Pittsburgh. He currently teaches International Human Rights at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Amnesty for occupation?

Ashley Smith explains what's behind the political twists at Amnesty International.

Amnesty International's pro-occupation ad on a Chicago bus shelter (Amnesty International) 
 Amnesty International's pro-occupation ad on a Chicago bus shelter (Amnesty International)
MOST PEOPLE associate Amnesty International with challenging torture, protesting the death penalty and agitating for the liberation of political prisoners. On top of these important campaigns, Amnesty has over the last decade opposed the Iraq war and demanded the closure of America's concentration camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
So antiwar activists in Chicago were shocked during last May's NATO Summit to find that Amnesty International USA had plastered city bus stops with ads declaring: "Human Rights for Women and Girls in Afghanistan: NATO, Keep the Progress Going!"
Worse still, Amnesty USA put on a "shadow summit" of its own during the NATO meeting, featuring Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton's notorious secretary of state, who will be forever remembered for her chilling response to a question on 60 Minutes about sanctions imposed on Iraq in the 1990s. Correspondent Lesley Stahl asked, "We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?" Albright responded, "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price--we think the price is worth it."
With a veritable war criminal as one of its star speakers, Amnesty USA's shadow summit launched a campaign that, for all intents and purposes, called for the extension of NATO's "good works" in Afghanistan. Its speakers and promotional materials recycled George Bush's "feminist" justification of the invasion and occupation--that NATO would liberate women from Taliban rule.
Amnesty USA claimed in "An open letter to Presidents Obama and Karzai": "Today, three million girls go to school, compared to virtually none under the Taliban. Women make up 20 percent of the university graduates. Maternal mortality and infant mortality have declined. Ten percent of all judges and prosecutors are women, compared to none under the Taliban regime. This is what we mean by progress: the gains women have struggle to achieve over the past decade."
Compare that to NATO's own propaganda: "In the ten years of our partnership, the lives of Afghan men, women and children have improved significantly in terms of security, education, health care, economic opportunity and assurance of rights and freedoms. There is more to be done, but we are resolved to work together to preserve the substantial progress we have made during the past decade."
There is barely any difference at all.
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The Truth about Women Under NATO Occupation
Such claims are laughable. The NATO occupation of Afghanistan has involved a reign of terror against all the people of the country, meting out repression, blowing up wedding parties and propping up puppet President Hamid Karzai and his corrupt warlord regime.
Even the New York Times admits there has been next to no development. A Times editorial reports: "According to the World Bank, an estimated 97 percent of Afghanistan's roughly $15.7 billion gross domestic product comes from international military and development aid and spending in the country by foreign troops."
Any claims from U.S. or NATO officials about improving conditions for Afghans should be met with the deep suspicion. In the most recent exposure of their lies about development, a congressional investigation revealed that the U.S.-funded Dawood Hospital trapped its patients in "Auschwitz-like conditions." As Democracy Now! reported:
Army whistleblowers revealed photographs taken in 2010 which show severely neglected, starving patients at Dawood Hospital, considered the crown jewel of the Afghan medical system, where the country's military personnel are treated. The photos show severely emaciated patients, some suffering from gangrene and maggot-infested wounds.
Conditions for women in Afghanistan are no exception to this general pattern. Neither NATO nor the Karzai regime has advanced women's rights--Karzai signed legislation giving husbands the power to coerce sex and withhold food from their wives. As Sonali Kolhatkar, founder of the Afghan Women's Mission, and Mariam Rawi, of the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan, wrote:
Under the Taliban, women were confined to their homes. They were not allowed to work or attend school. They were poor and without rights. They had no access to clean water or medical care, and they were forced into marriages, often as children. Today, women in the vast majority of Afghanistan live in precisely the same conditions, with one notable difference: they are surrounded by war.
After over a decade of military occupation, the average life expectancy for Afghan women is 51 years of age. The country ranks last in both maternal and infant mortality. UNICEF reports that 68 percent of children under the age of five suffer from malnutrition.
Since Barack Obama's surge, conditions for women have gotten dramatically worse, not better. "The conflict outside their doorsteps," write Kolhatkar and Rawi, "endangers their lives and those of their families. It does not bring them rights in the household or in public, and it confines them even further to the prison of their own homes."
That's why Malalai Joya, a former member of the Afghan parliament, argues that the only good thing the U.S. and NATO can do is get out of her country. In a statement to the demonstration against the NATO summit, she declared:
We have many problems in Afghanistan--fundamentalism, warlords, the Taliban. But we will have a better chance to solve them if we have our self-determination, our freedom, our independence. NATO's bombs will never deliver democracy and justice to Afghanistan or any other country.
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Damage Control
After Amnesty USA's poster and shadow summit were subjected to widespread criticism, the organization issued a clarifying statement on its website entitled "We Get It." It conceded that its poster was confusing, especially when thousands of protesters were preparing to protest NATO's occupation of Afghanistan.
But it's not at all clear that Amnesty USA does get it.
The organization claims, "We're not calling for NATO to remain in the country." But in its supposed retraction, it reiterates all the myths about women's advancement under the NATO occupation, and it demands that NATO implement a peace process and post-war settlement in the interests of advancing women's equality. Expecting NATO to play a feminist role in peace talks is like hoping for a pyromaniac to suddenly become a firefighter.
Amnesty USA's statement was merely a public relations ploy to deflect attention from what its poster revealed in a political Freudian slip--that Amnesty supports NATO's occupation in the hopes that the military alliance of the world's most powerful governments ill play a progressive role in Afghanistan.
The truth is that while Amnesty USA has continued its progressive work in some areas--including issuing an important report critical of the NATO war in Libya and human rights violations in its aftermath--it seems to be tailoring its international human rights campaigns to fit the foreign policy agenda of the Obama administration.
To take one example, Amnesty USA was once unrelenting in its criticism of the U.S. prison camp at Guantánamo, where select prisoners of the "war on terror" are detained. Amnesty's former Secretary General Irene Khan called it the "gulag of our times" and described the U.S. as an "unrivaled political, military and economic hyper-power" that "thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights."
But at a fundraising event in July, Code-Pink co-founder Jodie Evans challenged what she claimed was a retreat from work to close Guantánamo. Backed by a delegation of antiwar activists, Evans declared, "I have stood with Amnesty for 10 years now to demand an end to torture and Guantánamo, and I hear you have let go the staff working on that project, which is tragic."
At its general meeting this March in Denver, Amnesty USA featured U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford. Ford worked previously under former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte during the most brutal period of the American occupation of Iraq.
Negroponte first came to prominence during Washington's dirty wars in Central America in the 1980s, backing the rise of right-wing death squads against left-wing forces in the region. In Iraq, Negroponte and Ford's office served the same purpose, implementing the so-called "Salvador Option" of backing sectarian paramilitaries to repress the Iraqi resistance. Their work helped trigger the civil war in Iraq.
Anyone who cares about justice supports the wholly legitimate struggle against Bashir al-Assad and his brutal regime. But Ford, in his brief term as ambassador before he was recalled, was accused of trying to develop quisling forces to serve as U.S. puppets in a post-Assad Syria--something that seems in keeping with his record in Iraq and with U.S. government aims in Syria. Nevertheless, Amnesty turned over a prime speaking spot at its meeting to this mouthpiece for Washington's imperial policy.
Amnesty USA's campaign for a global arms trade treaty to restrict the sale of small weaponry raises the same questions. As Brendan O'Neill, editor of the Spiked website, wrote:
The demand for a treaty that would prevent Western countries from selling their guns to basket-case nations overseas sounds radical. But in truth, what Amnesty is calling for is the concentration of weaponry in the hands of the powerful, allegedly trustworthy nations, and also for those nations to play the role of global governors of war and peace by granting the flow of weapons to some nations, but not to others. There's nothing remotely radical in begging Washington and its mates in the West to decide who may and may not fight wars.
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A Coup at Amnesty USA
So what happened at Amnesty USA?
The organization has been under fire from the U.S. political establishment, especially for its harsh criticisms of the Guantánamo prison camp. The Wall Street Journal denounced Amnesty reports on Guantánamo as "pro al-Qaeda propaganda." As the Washington Post ranted in an editorial, "Turning a report on prisoner detention into another excuse for Bush-bashing or America-bashing undermines Amnesty's legitimate criticism of U.S. policies and weakens the force of its investigations on closed societies."
But Amnesty and its leaders have also been courted by the Obama administration, which set out to present a human rights façade to cover the U.S. government's foreign policy agenda.
This combination of pressure and seduction had an impact at Amnesty USA directly. In January 2012, the group's board of directors appointed Suzanne Nossel--fresh from serving in Hillary Clinton's State Department--as the organization's new executive director.
Nossel is responsible for accelerating a shift already in motion at Amnesty before her appointment. She has used the cover of a budgetary crisis to implement a new strategic plan that has reoriented the organization in closer alignment with the U.S. empire, closed many of its offices, and laid off some of its best and most critical staff.
Nossel is a product of the business and political establishment. She graduated from Harvard University Law School, where she edited the Harvard Human Rights Journal. Upon graduation, she has served in corporate boardrooms, U.S. State Department and the headquarters of human rights organizations.
In the corporate world, Nossel was an executive at the media conglomerate Bertelsmann, the consulting firm and renowned CEO factory McKinsey & Company and none other than the Wall Street Journal, archenemy of Amnesty's campaign against Guantanamo.
In the Washington bureaucracy, Nossel worked for the Clinton administration as an assistant to UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who manipulated concerns about human rights to justify the U.S. war in Kosovo in 1999. Far from defending human rights, the war led to the largest wave of ethnic cleansing in the history of the conflict.
When the Democrats lost the White House in 2000, Nossel took fellowships at key think-tanks for liberal imperialism, including the Council on Foreign Relations. In their history of the Council, titled Imperial Brain Trust, Laurence Shoup and William Minter describe the organization as playing "a key part in molding United States foreign policy. In the Council, the leading sectors of big business get together with the corporate world's academic experts to work out a general framework for foreign policy."
Nossel has also worked in the NGO world as the Chief Operating Officer at Human Rights Watch (HRW), which set an example for other human rights organization to become apologists for imperialism. For example, HRW legitimized the U.S.-orchestrated coup against Haiti's democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. Peter Hallward documents in his book Damming the Flood how HRW exaggerated human rights abuses under Aristide beyond all recognition. Thus, he argues, the group gave "moral justification for imminent regime change."
Nossel is an unabashed supporter of U.S. hegemony over the world, neoliberal economics and Zionism, all cloaked in the mantle of human rights. In a 2004 article in Foreign Affairs, she coined the term "Smart Power," which has been taken by Hillary Clinton as the watchword of the Obama administration's foreign policy.
Nossel put forward "Smart Power" as an alternative to Bush's neocon hawks, who isolated the U.S. from its historic allies. Instead of relying on the unilateral deployment of the military, Nossel argued that the U.S. must use its whole arsenal of weapons, from diplomacy to trade pressure to the war machine, as "the best long-term guarantee of United States security against terrorism and other threats."
Naturally, she was overjoyed to hear that Obama's new Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had adopted "Smart Power" as a motto. Nossel gushed that Clinton "was fundamentally optimistic. She's saying that by using all the tools of power in concert, the trajectory of American decline can be reversed. She'll make Smart Power cool." Obama appointed Nossel to a State Department post where she joined the cabal of "humanitarian interventionists," including Samantha Power, Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton herself.
So it should shock no one that Nossel sees human rights not as a goal in itself, but as a means to assert American hegemony. In a 2008 article in Dissent, she argued, "The more the United States can join and mobilize others to send similar messages, take common positions, and mount coordinated pressure, the more influence Washington will have."
Nowhere was Nossel's subordination of human rights to U.S. imperial interests more clear than in her work at the United Nations--where she made it her mission to ward off any criticism of Israel and its ongoing dispossession and oppression of Palestinians. In testimony to Congress in 2011, for example, Nossel claimed that the UN Human Rights Council:
remains far from the institution that it needs to be, particularly with regard to its biased treatment of Israel. By joining the Council and becoming its most prominent, most assertive voice, we are beginning to influence the direction and conduct of this body...Palestinians and others seek to use UN forums to put pressure on and isolate Israel. This is simply unacceptable and the Administration has been clear on this point. At every turn, we have rejected efforts to single out Israel and have taken steps to bolster its status in Geneva.
Nossel has even expressed sympathy for Israel's threats to launch a pre-emptive military strike against Iran's alleged nuclear facilities. In a 2006 article, she declared, "[T]he international community will put diplomacy and other forms of peaceful response to the Iranian threat to the test. If those efforts fail, Israel may have to put the question of preemptive war back on the center stage."
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NGOs, Corporate Funding and Imperialism
While Nossel has played a decisive role in Amnesty USA's degeneration, the roots of its collusion with imperialism are part of a broader pattern among mainstream human rights organizations. Many of the most prominent of them have developed closer ties with the powers they are perceived as challenging.
In his book The Thin Blue Line, Conor Foley documents how NGOs like Doctors Without Borders have abandoned their traditional humanitarian stance of neutrality in conflicts and even called for imperial intervention to "save lives." Thus, he argues, organizations "that were established to alleviate human suffering could, on occasion, be given the task of making the case for war."
There are two key reasons for this transformation. First, NGOs rely on donations to function, and much of it comes from corporate-connected bodies such as the Ford Foundation or George Soros' Open Society Foundations. NGOs are thus shackled by golden manacles to the system and its priorities.
As a result, humanitarian organizations are more and more integrated into the liberal establishment. At best, they document abuses and problems, not to empower the exploited and oppressed to transform the system, but to attempt to morally influence the ruling class and its state to adopt better policies.
Thus, the mainstream NGOs have grown intertwined with the imperial rulers and their states. The clearest expression of this cozy relationship is the revolving door between the bureaucracies of corporations, the state and the leadership of NGOs. Nossel's transformation from corporate executive to State Department bureaucrat and executive director of a humanitarian NGO is increasingly the norm, not the exception.
This development coincides with the use of "humanitarianism" as a justification for the projection of U.S. military power in the post-Cold War world. None other than former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Colin Powell himself exposed the incestuous relationship between mainstream NGOs and U.S. militarism when he declared that NGOs were "a force multiplier for us, such an important part of our combat team."
For this reason, Amnesty USA's recent shift into a partisan for American empire didn't come out of the blue.
Francis Boyle, who served on Amnesty USA's board in the 1980s and early 1990s, told Covert Action Quarterly that the organization has long been more enthusiastic about exposing human rights violations among the targets of U.S. imperialism. If, on the other hand, it is:
dealing with violations of human rights by the United States, Britain, Israel, then it's like pulling teeth to get them to really do something on the situation. They might, very reluctantly and after an enormous amount of internal fighting and battles and pressures, you name it. But you know, it's not like the official enemies list.
Boyle also contends that Amnesty USA has played a role in pushing Amnesty International, which receives about 20 percent of its funding from its U.S. chapter, in the direction of imperial partisanship. The worst example of this is Amnesty's collusion with the U.S. in justifying the first Gulf War in 1991.
Amnesty played a key role in promoting the story that Iraqi soldiers were removing Kuwaiti infants from incubators, letting them die and sending the machines back to Baghdad. The Bush Sr. administration trumpeted the allegation to provide cover for a war that was obviously about maintaining U.S. dominion over the Middle East and its strategic oil reserves.
But the incubator story was a hoax--nothing of the sort ever happened. And when the truth came out, Amnesty refused to retract the story. "Absolutely nothing happened," Boyle states. "There was never an investigation, there was total stonewalling coming out of London. They refused ever to admit that they did anything wrong. There has never been an explanation, there has never been an apology."
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A Campaign for Reform at Amnesty
Recognizing the depth of the rot at Amnesty USA, more than 100 long-term volunteers for the organization have launched a campaign to stop Nossel from further undermining the group's mission. In a petition addressed to the executive director, they call for "an immediate moratorium...on the implementation of the Strategic Plan and the staff changes recently announced."
On a Facebook page created to press Nossel to listen to an increasingly disgruntled membership, Marcia Lieberman, a leader of Amnesty in Providence, R.I., wrote:
We asked you, respectfully, to listen, but you closed your ears. We asked you, respectfully, for a short pause to allow real engagement with the membership, but you raced ahead and forced your plan through. You could not have chosen better, had you determined to eliminate the wisest, most experienced, most valuable members of our staff. You destroyed the institutional memory of this organization you have so decisively taken over.
After the debacle of the shadow summit in Chicago and amid growing discontent among Amnesty USA staff and membership, Code Pink launched a petition campaign whose initial signatories include Col. Ann Wright and Medea Benjamin. They encourage Amnesty USA's "board members to call for Suzanne Nossel's resignation; her loyalty to powerful government players can only be a hindrance to the true work and mission of Amnesty."
Opponents of war and injustice should support such efforts. But at the same time, the left must see the compromised nature of the NGO model of organizing. At times, NGOs can play a role in various movements, as Amnesty USA has. But because of their integration with the liberal establishment, they can't challenge the system and its priorities.
The disaster of Amnesty's support for the occupation of Afghanistan provides the perfect evidence for why the new left we need to build must break with the NGO model and organize grassroots democratic organizations that can lead a struggle against the system.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Why I Had to Challenge Amnesty International-USA's Claim That NATO's Presence Benefits Afghan Women


Executive director Suzanne Nossel appears to be taking a major human rights organization in an inhumane direction.
 A controversy has been brewing about Amnesty International-USA's ad campaign and shadow summit during the NATO summit last May in Chicago. The headline, "NATO: KEEP THE PROGRESS GOING" superimposed over Afghan women in burqas has since been termed by Amnesty as an unfortunate choice of words, but is actually consistent with both the tone of the shadow summit featuring Madeleine Albright, and a letter she and others sent to presidents Karzai and Obama. 
The messaging appears to support NATO's absurd claim, signed by heads of state at the summit: “In the ten years of our partnership the lives of Afghan men, women and children, have improved significantly in terms of security, education, health care, economic opportunity and the assurance of rights and freedoms. There is more to be done, but we are resolved to work together to preserve the substantial progress we have made during the past decade.”  Suggesting living in war zones is good for women.
Moderate progress in the areas of women's representation in Parliament and local government, in primary education for girls, and in the training of healthcare providers -- particularly midwives – can be demonstrated. But life expectancy for women is still only 51 years. And, according to UNICEF, 68% of children under five suffer from malnutrition. Also, much vaunted rights for women guaranteed in the Afghan constitution are far from being effectively or consistently implemented, and security for all sectors of society is deplorable. 
And in fact the presence of foreign troops is the leading cause of ever-rising insurgency in Afghanistan.  Even U.S. military experts from Gen. David Petraeus to Prof. Andrew Bacevich have consistently explained that there is no military solution to be had in Afghanistan.
On Tuesday, July 10 in Beverly Hills, Amnesty-USA introduced a new executive director to its donor community. Suzanne Nossel came on board in January after a career that included several years at the U.S. State Department. According to her bio on the Amnesty Web site , Nossel also served as "vice-president of U.S. Business Development at Bertelsmann Media Worldwide, vice-president of strategy and operations for the Wall Street Journal and a media and entertainment consultant at McKinsey & Company."
CodePink organizers had been creating a campaign to ask the Amnesty board for Nossel's resignation , spurred by an article by Ann Wright and Colleen Rawley  after we protested NATO in Chicago and the two of them attended the shadow summit. "Amnesty Shilling for Nato's Wars" ran in Consortium News , with a response from Amnesty-USA posted in the comments.
After Nossel spoke, during question-and-answer I said, “I have stood with Amnesty for ten years now to demand an end to torture and Guantanamo, and I hear you have let go the staff working on that project, which is tragic. But the most horrific experience of your leadership at Amnesty was in the streets of Chicago a few weeks ago as thousands of us were protesting. The billboards from Amnesty said “NATO, keep the progress going.” It was heart-wrenching. What has happened to Amnesty that both things have occurred since recently?”
Nossel said the signs were a mistake but the intent was to talk about how the women were better off and to tell NATO they needed to keep the women safe. I replied that her messaging was still off, and that telling the audience of supporters of Amnesty that war is good for women was a horrible lie. As Wright and Rawley wrote in their article, "When NGOs, even good ones, become entwined with the U.S./NATO war machine, don’t they risk losing their independent credibility?"
I had the sense, as did my companion, that Nossel appeared to believe that NATO is good for women. This is the sort of propaganda we hear out of feminist war hawks like Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush . So it's not surprising that members of Amnesty-USA are wondering what has become of an organization that had stood for principled opposition to the might-makes-right doctrine.
One man said, “Maybe I need to take them out of my will." I asked him to tell that to the board of Amnesty-USA.  Maybe it's not too late to hope for a turnaround.   
Note: 100 long-time Amnesty volunteers have signed on to a letter protesting Suzanne Nossel's firing much of the organization's most-talented staff.  

Jodie Evans is a co-founder of Codepink: Women For Peace .

Monday, 9 January 2012

Amnesty International admits seeking to "strengthen U.S. influence on the promotion of human rights globally"

In a recent announcement Amnesty International USA admits that the organization seeks to "strengthen U.S. influence on the promotion of human rights globally".

"U.S. influence on the promotion of human rights globally"?????
Like the US promotion of human rights in former Yougoslavia?
Like the US promotion of human rights in Afghanistan?
Like the US promotion of human rights in Iraq?
Like the US promotion of human rights in Libya?

Do they mean that US should "export" its human rights culture globally?
Like exporting the idea of Guantanamo for example?
Like exporting the idea of CIA flights?
Like exporting the idea of death penalty? (remember Troy Davis?)

Why on earth an "impartial" human rights organization wants to strengthen a particular country's influence globally?
Isn't this an example of one country's supremacy?
And how come that this country is, all by coincidence, the most powerful country in the world, in terms of political, economical and military power?

Isn't this an example of how Amnesty International functions as a tool of US foreign policy?

Amnesty International, Withdraw Your Endorsement of Arch Enemy


On the 24th of January, the Swedish Metal band, Arch Enemy, is scheduled to perform in Israel. This performance is part of an international tour, endorsed by Amnesty International as part of their “End Repression-Protect Freedom of Expression” campaign. After many private and public correspondences with the band and petitions to Amnesty International, we’ve come to see that public pressure must be applied on the organization. 
There are several ways you can help!
1. Write a letter to Amnesty International. You can use the suggestion letter below. Letters are to be emailed to:,,,,,,,,
2. Let everybody know you’re taking action and invite them to join you on Facebook and Twitter. You can use these suggestion posts:

Facebook: I’m writing to Amnesty International, to demand they pull their endorsement from the Arch Enemy concert in apartheid Israel!
(you can tag: @Amnesty International @Amnesty International USA @Amnesty International Sverige @Amnesty International Danmark @Amnesty @International Nederland @Íslandsdeild Amnesty International @Amnesty)
Twitter: @AmnestyOnline @Art4Amnesty don’t endorse Arch Enemy’s concert in apartheid Israel!
(Other tagging options: @Amnesty_IN @Amnesty_Israel @NewsFromAmnesty @amnestypress @AIUKMEG @SalilShetty @jpmlynch @robwinder @neilsai @demanddignity @Amnesty_Int_Dbn)
Dear Amnesty International,
I hold Amnesty International’s worldwide work for human rights and international law in high esteem. For this reason, I was very troubled to learn that Amnesty International has agreed to endorse Arch Enemy’s world wide tour, as part of its “End Repression-Protect Freedom of Expression” campaign, which includes a performance in Israel.  It is doubly troubling, as Amnesty International has been faced with this choice before. I applauded you then, when you chose to heed the call of your members and the international community in general, to disassociate yourself from Leonard Cohen’s tour, because of his performance in Israel. And it is for that reason exactly that I can’t understand why you would endorse a similar tour and choose to ignore all public or private petitions for you not to do so. 
I call on you to be true to Amnesty International’s values, distance yourself from efforts to normalize Israel’s occupation and apartheid, and immediately withdraw support for Arch Enemy’s ill-conceived concert in Israel.
By supporting Arch Enemy’s concert, Amnesty International will be subverting the worldwide movement to boycott Israel, a non-violent, effective effort by Palestinian and international civil society to end Israel’s violations of international law and human rights principles. By this endorsement, Amnesty International consciously goes beyond “staying neutral”,  aiding and abetting Israel in keeping a semblance of a democratic state, in which expressing one’s opinion is allowed, when in fact Amnesty International itself has documented and expressed its concern, many times over, about the violation of the basic rights of freedom of expression and assembly, of both the Palestinian population under Israel’s military regime in the occupied territories, and the citizens of Israel who express their disapproval of the state’s policies.
I quote the  letter-writing campaign that was addressed to you, regarding Leonard Cohen, and stress that this is in fact the same situation:
Ninety-three artists, writers and other cultural workers have signed onto the Palestinian cultural boycott call. Many dignitaries signed the “No Reason to Celebrate” pledge and refused to participate in any artistic or literary event during Israel’s year-long 60th anniversary celebrations.
In his protest resignation from Amnesty International over this issue, Irish author and composer Raymond Deane wrote:
“By assisting Cohen in his ruse to bypass this boycott, Amnesty International is in fact taking a political stance, in violation of the premise of political neutrality with which it so regularly justifies its failure to side unambiguously with the oppressed. Amnesty is telling us: resistance is futile, the voice of the oppressed is irrelevant, international humanitarian law is a luxury.”
Thank you for your attention to this vital human rights issue. I look forward to learning of Amnesty International’s withdrawal of its endorsement of the Arch Enemy concert in Israel.

[Your Name]

*Click to read BOYCOTT!'s letter to Amnesty.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Document: when Amnesty decided to be able to support military interventions

This is one of the most important and controversial decisions taken by Amnesty International throughout its history. In 2005 the International Council Meeting of AI took a decision that gives the right to the organization to support military interventions in order to "prevent or end imminent or on-going widespread and grave abuses of international human rights or humanitarian law". Considering the international bodies deciding and executing military interventions (UN Security Council, NATO, etc.) this AI decision seems to be in favor of the great political and military powers of the world. It´s hard to imagine an international military intervention without grave human rights violations (think of Yougoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya etc.). After all it´s not the job of a human rights organization to support military interventions but to monitor and condemn human rights violations.

You can read the whole internal document of AI guidelines on this issue here.

Here is the first part of the introduction, with the main position of AI on military interventions:

"The 2005 International Council Meeting (ICM) adopted a wide-ranging resolution on the
protection of human rights through conflict prevention, intervention and condemnation of
the use of force. In the resolution, AI recognises that peaceful resolution of conflicts is a
prerequisite for the realization of human rights, and that armed conflicts inevitably produce
human rights violations. The resolution outlines a wide range of steps that AI can take to
strengthen its work on conflict-prevention and conflict-resolution. The resolution then states
a new AI policy on the use of military force as follows[1]:

General position

Amnesty International is an independent and impartial human rights organization that
generally takes no position on the desirability or otherwise of particular military
interventions or other forms of armed conflict, other than to demand that all participants
must respect international human rights and humanitarian law;

Exceptional position

In exceptional circumstances, taking full account of its country strategies, commitment to
women’s human rights, and other relevant considerations, Amnesty International may:
• oppose the use or threat of use of military intervention that is particularly likely to
lead to an increase in human rights abuses;
• call for or endorse ceasefires or urge the parties to a conflict to negotiate;
• call for the use of armed force (including military or law-enforcement forces) to
alleviate, prevent or end imminent or on-going widespread and grave abuses of
international human rights or humanitarian law (such as genocide, crimes against
humanity, and war crimes), or the actual threat of such a situation, provided that:
(a) the force is in conformity with international law;
(b) the force is given a mandate to use proportionate force, as necessary, to protect
human rights;
(c) such calls will be limited to the deployment or strengthening of UN peacekeeping
or similar operations.

[1] See Decision 2 of the 2005 ICM."

Amnesty International, One Struggle for Freedom Must Not Undermine Another


To Amnesty International,

We are a group of citizens of Israel who support the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law and universal principles of human rights. Some of us are members of Amnesty International and we're deeply troubled by your endorsement of the Swedish Metal band, Arch Enemy, which is scheduled to give a gig in Israel, despite its record of violating international law and human rights.

We applaud your tireless documentation of abuses of human rights world-wide and the actions you take to bring them to an end. As you very well know, freedom of expression has never been granted to Palestinians by the Israeli military regime. This is evident from the most recent example of the brutal repression of demonstrations against the apartheid wall and settlements in the West Bank, where Mustafa Tamimi was shot to death in the head with a high velocity gas projectile from zero range (
So many Palestinian activists, many of whom are still in Israeli prisons, are held under "administrative" arrest for weeks and months, in violation of international law and their human rights. We would like to remind you in particular of two arrests that occurred in late 2009:

1. Abdallah Abu Rahma, whom the army tried to convict for “possession of arms”, when in fact an art exhibition was held in his home: A peace-sign constructed from used gas canisters that the army uses every week against the villagers of Bil’in

2. Mohammad Othman, who was arrested for the crime of talking. At the time, this is what Amnesty International had to say:
“Amnesty International said it is concerned that Abdallah Abu Rahma and Mohammed Othman have been detained solely on account of legitimately exercising their right to freedom of expression in opposing the Israeli fence/wall.”

Amnesty international has also been very supportive of our own group, as we are gradually being targeted by the policies of the Israeli government as well. There is no need to explain to you that we knowingly commit a civil offense in writing this letter. Philip Luther, Amnesty International's Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa stated this very clearly:
“Despite proponents’ claims to the contrary, [the boycott] law is a blatant attempt to stifle peaceful dissent and campaigning by attacking the right to freedom of expression, which all governments must uphold.”

We have absolutely no doubt that the Palestinian people were also on your mind, when you launched your  “End Repression-Protect Freedom of Expression” campaign. We have absolutely no doubt of the importance of raising awareness about the political prisoners of Yodok in North Korea or the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó. However, we must stress that one struggle for freedom must not undermine another.

Your sponsorship of Arch Enemy, who are scheduled to perform in Israel in March, will directly violate the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS). Hundreds of Palestinian unions, associations, NGOs, institutes, political parties, and groups are asking international artists not to perform in Israel (certainly not in commercial venues), until Israel ends its violations of human rights. Therefore, your sponsorship undermines the Palestinian civil society struggle for equality. liberation and self determination.

In view of this, we ask that you either
1. Withdraw your endorsement of Arch Enemy's concert in Israel (as you have done before with Leonard Cohen - and publicly distance Amnesty International from Arch Enemy’s decision to perform in Israel and express serious reservation about their undermining of Palestinian struggle.


2. Assist the band to convey their important message in a way that will not violate the Palestinian civil society BDS call, and will not serve to whitewash Israel's  violations of human rights through a false image of “cultural diversity” and “freedom of expression”.

We would be interested in your comments.

BOYCOTT! Supporting the Palestinian BDS Call from Within

Document: when Amnesty International refused to support Nelson Mandela

There is already a post about Amnesty's hypocrisy to award Nelson Mandela in 2006 as an "ambassador of conscience", while AI never recognised him as "prisoner of conscience" and never asked for his release.
Here is an important document from the archives of Amnesty International, back in 1965, explaining why the NGO refused to support him.


The core of AMNESTY workers are developing a common and united approach to the many problems of great delicacy which face the movement. 1961 brought to a head the issue of whether or not support should be given to men like Nelson Mandela who, through pressure of events, found themselves constrained to recommend a degree of force in opposition to the South African Nationalist Government. This case was a particularly poignant one since Mandela, like his chief, Albert Luthuli, had previously been committed to the principles of non-violence. The opinion of the entire movement was canvassed on this issue during the summer of 1964; a synthesis of all the written views received was presented to the International Assembly at Canterbury in September. The degree of unanimity both of the letters and of the speeches was remarkable. While the greatest sympathy was expressed for those who find themselves deprived of every form of public protest, the movement recorded that it could not give the name of 'Prisoner of Conscience' to anyone associated with violence, even though as in 'convential warfare' a degree of restraint may be exercised. This was not to preclude espousing the cause of those who felt obliged to indulge in symbolic physical acts such as pulling down flags or even defacing posters, nor to exclude those who had tried to protect themselves when threatened by the indiscriminate use of firearms.

Amnesty International "whitewashes" Israeli Navy's crimes


Finally, after 3 years of efforts from international activists (ISM, Free Gaza Movement, CPSGaza), Amnesty International decided to pay some attention on the issue of Gaza fishermen. In the episode 7 of Amnesty TV, by Amnesty UK, there is a 3:51 part concering Gaza fishermen. (Go to 1:47).

But all we see on this video is an Israeli gunboat aproaching and just... calling 2 fishermen in a small boat, accompanied by foreign hebrew speaking journalists, to go closer to the beach.

Is it just this what is really happening to the Gaza fishermen?

Where are the images of Gaza fishermen killed by the Israeli Navy?

Mohammed Nadi Saleh al-'Attar (picture from In Gaza blog)

Where do we hear the voice of the families of killed fishermen?

Where do we see in Amnesty´s video, the injured fishermen?

Where do we see in Amnesty's video the Gaza fishermen mutilated by Israeli gunfire?

Where do we see in Amnesty's video the fishing boats with dozens of bullet holes?

Where do we see in Amnesty's video, the fishing boats incinerated after Israeli shelling?

Where do we see in Amnesty's video, the fishing boats rammed by Israeli gunboats?

Where do we see in Amnesty's video, the Israeli gunboats shooting at the nets of the fishing boats? And bullets found inside the fishing boat...

Where do we see in Amnesty's video, the Israli gunboats throwing explosives near the fishing boats and spraying the fishermen and the catch of fishes with unknown biological or chemical liquid?

Where do we see in Amnesty's video, the Israeli gunboats firing shells, machinegun fire, tracer bullets and water from watercannon?

Where do we see in Amnesty's video, international activists injured by shattered glass during watercannon attacks?

Where do we see in Amnesty's video, the international accompaniment boat Oliva, attacked with watercannon by Israeli gunboats?

Where do we see in Amnesty's video, the Gaza fishermen who have been abducted, detained and abused, in order to become spies?

If small organizations with few activists like ISM, Free Gaza Movement or CPSGaza and a few Palestinian or foreign journalists, have managed to show the real life of Gaza fishermen, why can't the biggest human rights organization in the world, with 3 million members and a huge budget, do the same? And why Amnesty International didn't use some of this footage for the report on Gaza fishermen?
After seeing all these images, you can understand why Amnesty's report (of Israeli Navy just... shouting to the Palestinian fishermen), can be considered rather a "whitewash" of Israeli Navy's crimes, than a decent human rights report...


(The opinions expressed in this post are of  kaxlan2009, the administrator of Fishing Under Fire, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of other international activists who have worked or still working with Gaza fishermen)

Reply to Malcolm Smart about AI's double standards

This is Paul de Rooij´s reply to Amnesty International Malcolm Smart´s explanations on the accusations of double standards in Prisoners of Conscience list


Malcolm Smart
Amnesty International – International Secretariat
Peter Benenson House
1 Easton Street
London WC1X ODW

[Address deleted]
11 August 2010
Dear Mr. Malcolm Smart;
Many thanks for your kind and detailed explanation about Prisoner of Conscience lists and the double standard that you claim isn't one. Instead of "putting my mind at rest" your letter actually raises several questions. Allow me to follow-up.
  1. You write:
    Some of those held under such orders are prisoners of conscience and we can be sure of that, but it is uncertain in many other cases whether individual detainees are to be considered prisoners of conscience, according to the common criteria used by Amnesty International, or not. By its nature, the Israeli administrative detention system is a secretive process, in that the grounds for detention are not specified in detail to the detainee or his/her legal representative; inevitably, this makes it especially difficult for the detainee to challenge the order for, by example, contesting the grounds on which the detention was made. In the same way, it makes it difficult or impossible for Amnesty International to make a conclusive determination in many cases whether a particular administrative detainees can be considered a prisoner of conscience or not.
    This is laughable. So, Israel throws people in jail with (1) no charges; (2) for an indeterminate time span; (3) under an illegitimate legal framework; and (4) often without adequate legal representation or opportunity to appeal. The targets of the so-called "administrative detention" are activists and other people who seek to organize their communities. Now you state, given that Israel doesn't spell out the charges against a prisoner, AI is thus unable to issue its famous POC designation. In other words, there will be no letter writing campaign for many such individuals. All Israel has to do is to keep its "evidence secret" and not to make any charges, and presto, AI will keep quiet about such persons.
  2. You also don't make the list available because the list may be "incomplete"... Well, at present we don't know if there are any Palestinian POCs, and Palestinian prisoners know that Amnesty isn't doing anything for them. A few months ago Amir Makhoul was imprisoned and all Philip Luther could state was that "...If this is the case, we would regard him as a prisoner of conscience". It is not the case that he is now being considered POC, but AI could consider him so – maybe at a future date. Isn't this rather pathetic?
  3. Many Palestinians are protesting the construction of the wall on their land and they have used non-violence as a key aspect of their campaign. Even so, the Israelis brutally repress the demonstrations and conduct regular night-time harassment. Could you please explain why aren't some of the imprisoned leaders of this movement even mentioned by AI? One of the leaders of the Bil'in demonstrations is in jail at present; what are you doing for him?
  4. You write that other Palestinian prisoners "serving sentences for politically-related crime." Under international law an occupied or colonized population has a right to resist. Most Palestinian prisoners are in prison for acts of resistance or for membership in groups which advocate resistance. It is only in the eyes of their oppressor that this constitutes "a crime". I would hope that AI would refrain from such labelling. And what does AI do for the other prisoners, those who have resisted?
  5. And why make the Cuban list public? Couldn't you apply the same argument about incomplete lists to withhold the Cuban list? And why consider some of the Cuban prisoners as POC at all? A large number of them received funding from the United States – a hostile state – and Cubans would rightly view recipients of tainted funds as traitors.
  6. Could you kindly clarify this: if a Palestinian were ever to throw a stone at soldiers, would this disqualify him from ever obtaining a "POC" designation when he is imprisoned? Where can one read about the conditions necessary to be considered a POC?
I am sorry, but your letter simply confirmed that Amnesty International pursues a double standard when covering Palestinian human rights. The paucity of reportage, the unwillingness to utter condemnations against Israel, impotence of some of its actions, an unwillingness to publish lists of POCs, and the rare designation of the POC status indicate that Palestinians can't expect much from Amnesty International. The brutal treatment and dispossession of Palestinians has been going on for decades; the situation is chronic and it has been systematic. But check for yourself in Amnesty's reports or press releases: when was the last time that AI unambiguously indicated that Israeli actions amounted to crimes against humanity? Hint: you can count such instances with less than half the fingers on your hand.
Paul de Rooij

Letter Malcolm Smart (AI) to Paul de Rooij re: double standards on POC lists


To: Paul de Rooij
[address deleted]
09 August 2010
Peter Benenson House. 1 Easton Street,
London WC1X OOW, United Kingdom
T: +44 (0)20 7413 5500 F: +44 (0)20 7956 1157
E: W:
Dear Paul
Thank you for your letter dated 11 July addressed to Salil Shetty, who took up office as Secretary General of Amnesty International at the beginning of July.
Salil has asked me to respond on his behalf and to thank you for your kind expression of congratulations to him. You ask whether Amnesty International is applying a double standard because we regularly list the cases of prisoners of conscience in Cuba on our website but do not simultaneously publish a list of Palestinian prisoners of conscience held by the Israeli authorities.
We are not applying a double standard and nor, as your assertion of that seems to imply, are we giving relatively less priority or attention to the cases of Palestinians detained by Israel. The two country situations - Cuba and Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories - are very different and with regard to each we pursue strategies that are developed with a view to ensuring that our work for prisoners of conscience and other victims of human rights violations is as effective as possible. In other words, with regard to Cuba, we consider it strategically useful and effective to maintain and make public an up to date list of prisoners of conscience.
The same is not true for Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, There, as you rightly say, many Palestinians opposed to the Israeli occupation are imprisoned under administrative detention orders (with an even greater number, of course, serving sentences for politically-related crimes). These orders are of fixed duration but may be reimposed to permit continuous detention, in some cases for a year or more. Some of those held under such orders are prisoners of conscience and we can be sure of that, but it is uncertain in many other cases whether individual detainees are to be considered prisoners of conscience, according to the common criteria used by Amnesty International, or not. By its nature, the Israeli administrative detention system is a secretive process, in that the grounds for detention are not specified in detail to the detainee or his/her legal representative; inevitably, this makes it especially difficult for the detainee to challenge the order for, by example, contesting the grounds on which the detention was made. In the same way, it makes it difficult or impossible for Amnesty International to make a conclusive determination in many cases whether a particular administrative detainees can be considered a prisoner of conscience or not.
Clearly, if we were to publish a list of prisoners of conscience held in administrative detention in Israel it would almost certainly be inaccurate or incomplete. It would not be in the best interests of administrative detainees held by Israel if we were to do this - some who are or believe themselves to be prisoners of conscience might be missed off because we had obtained insufficient information about their cases and this could understandably cause unnecessary distress to them, their families and others.
In other words, the situation as regards Cuba is different and we do not consider bound to follow the same practice as regards detainees and prisoners held by Israel simply because of the Cuba example, particularly when we consider that this would not be in the best interests of the Palestinian prisoners of concern to Amnesty International who are being held by Israel.
That said, I can assure you that we take up a number of cases of administrative detainees and our membership campaigns on those both in their own right and as exemplars, and against the very abusive system of administrative detention that Israel maintains.
However, you may see from our website that we also undertake many other initiatives on behalf of victims of human rights violations and breaches if international humanitarian law in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, where general conditions, I would suggest to you, are quite different than those in Cuba and marked by a much greater degree of both political volatility and violence. The work that we have done on the conflict in Gaza and southern Israel last year, in particular in support of the Goldstone Report and its call for full accountability and justice, and in opposition to the Israeli blockade of Gaza, which we have roundly condemned as a form of collective punishment, are two of the major themes to which I would draw your attention. These, of course, have no parallel in Cuba, fortunately, but they serve to illustrate that the country situations are quite different, posing very different human rights challenges and, therefore, I strongly contend, different strategies for addressing those challenges.
I hope this clarifies and goes at least some way towards putting your mind at rest. Thanks again for raising this.
Malcolm Smart
Director Middle East and North Africa Programme

And here you can read Paul de Rooij´s reply

Phooey on Amnesty Intl and Its Mandela Hypocrisy

Another piece from Francis Boyle, former Board member of AI USA, about Amnesty's hypocrisy in the case of Nelson Mandela


Phooey on Amnesty Intl and Its Mandela Hypocrisy

Amnesty International press release, 19 September 2006 9:58 AM; prefaced by a comment by Francis A. Boyle

This is a pathetic joke and a fraud by Amnesty International. They never adopted Mandela as a Prisoner of Conscience and never worked for his release while he was imprisoned that I am aware of. Indeed, while he was imprisoned I am not aware that AI did diddlysquat for Mandela or any imprisoned ANC guerillas, except perhaps token efforts when they were about to be executed and it was already too late.
To the contrary, Amnesty International obstinately refused to condemn apartheid in South Africa. And this despite the fact that when Winston Nagan and I were on the Board of AIUSA, we strove mightily against enormous opposition to get AI to condemn apartheid—and failed.
To the best of my knowledge, Amnesty International was the only human rights organization in the entire world that refused and failed to condemn apartheid in South Africa, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and Southwest Africa (now Namibia). AI is simply trying to rehabilitate itself and its lack of credibility in Black southern Africa. just a bunch of middle class white people now trying to trade off of Mandela's good name. Where were AI when Mandela and the ANC needed them? Nowhere to be found!
Francis A. Boyle
Board of Directors, Amnesty International USA (1988-92)


Nelson Mandela to become Amnesty International “Ambassador of Conscience”

(Dublin)—Amnesty International today announced that Nelson Mandela will be awarded its most prestigious honour—the “Ambassador of Conscience” Award for 2006.
Nobel Literature Laureate Seamus Heaney, whose poem From the Republic of Conscience first inspired the “Ambassador of Conscience” Award, was the first to congratulate Mr. Mandela.
“To have written a line about ‘hope and history’ rhyming for Mr. Mandela in 1990 is one thing,” said Seamus Heaney. “To have the man who made them rhyme accept the Award inspired by my poem is something else again.”
Vaclav Havel, who received the inaugural Award in 2003, joined in the congratulations.
“I am convinced that the wise decision of the Amnesty International jury will enhance the attention dedicated to its human-rights activities all over the world.”
The Award will be presented to Mr. Mandela by the distinguished South African writer and Nobel Literature Laureate Ms. Nadine Gordimer in Nelson Mandela House in Johannesburg, South Africa on 1 November 2006.
“More than any living person, Nelson Mandela has come to symbolise all that is hopeful and idealistic in public life,” said Bill Shipsey, founder of Art for Amnesty, the organization's global artist support network that organises the annual Award.
“His poignant example and personal and political leadership since emerging from prison in February 1990 have been a source of inspiration for millions around the world. He has become the symbol of what it means to be a truly good global citizen.”
Recently, Nelson Mandela's outspoken advocacy on behalf of millions of HIV/AIDS sufferers—particularly in sub-Saharan Africa—and his insistence that HIV/AIDS is a human rights issue has ensured that the plight of those with HIV/AIDS remains an urgent global concern.
“Today, we honour and pay tribute to the life and work of Nelson Mandela in the cause of freedom and justice in South Africa and around the world,” said Irene Khan, Amnesty International's Secretary General. “But we fully recognize that it is he in fact who has bestowed a great honour on Amnesty International by accepting this Award.”


Amnesty International's “Ambassador of Conscience” Award recognises exceptional individual leadership and witness in the fight to protect and promote human rights.
The Award—inspired by a poem written for Amnesty International by Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney—aims to promote the work of the organization by association with the life, work and example of its ‘Ambassadors', who have done much to inspire the world through their work and personal example.
Nelson Mandela joins past winners of the distinguished human rights award — including U2, Vaclav Havel and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson—as global “Ambassadors of Conscience””

Amnesty International Withdraws from Leonard Cohen’s Israel Concert Fund


New York, NY, August 18 – Amnesty International has announced today that it will abstain from any involvement in the Leonard Cohen concert in Tel Aviv and will not be party to any fund that benefits from the concert‘s proceeds. A number of media accounts had reported that Amnesty International was to manage or otherwise partner in a fund created from the proceeds of Cohen’s concert in Israel that would be used to benefit Israeli and Palestinian groups. Amnesty International’s announcement today followed an international outcry over the human rights organization’s reported involvement in the Leonard Cohen concert fund, and an earlier international call for Cohen to boycott apartheid Israel.
Omar Barghouti from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) commented, “We welcome Amnesty International’s withdrawal from this ill-conceived project which is clearly intended to whitewash Israel’s violations of international law and human rights. By abandoning the Leonard Cohen project in Tel Aviv, Amnesty International has dealt Cohen and his public relations team a severe blow, denying them the cover of the organization’s prestige and respectability.”
A statement confirming Amnesty‘s withdrawal has now been posted on the Amnesty International website. 
After reports in late July that Amnesty International would manage a fund from the proceeds of Leonard Cohen’s concert in Israel, groups in occupied Palestine and around the world mobilized to pressure Amnesty International not to participate in such a fund. The Palestinian Non-governmental Organizations’ Network (PNGO) called in an August 11th letter on Amnesty International to reject management of a fund that is to be created from the proceeds of Leonard  Cohen’s planned September concert in Israel.  The West Bank village of Bil’in had made a similar appeal to Amnesty International. An international campaign of about one thousand letters to Amnesty International called for Amnesty’s withdrawal from the Cohen concert initiative. The only Palestinian organization that was claimed to be a recipient of the fund had previously announced that it was not involved in the project. Additionally, a representative of the joint Palestinian Israeli group Combatants for Peace, another previously announced beneficiary of the Cohen concert fund, had informed the New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel in writing that the group had decided not to participate in the Leonard Cohen concert in Tel Aviv and not to accept any funds from its proceeds. 
PNGO explained in their letter to Amnesty International that Israel Discount Bank, a major sponsor of Cohen’s concert in Israel, “is involved in the construction and the continuation of the Israeli settlement project in the oPT [occupied Palestinian Territories]… These settlements built on Palestinian lands are illegal under international law and are considered as war crimes in the Fourth Geneva Convention.” PNGO added that Cohen’s “concert in Israel contributes in normalizing Israeli occupation and colonization policies.” In an August 9th letter to Amnesty International, the West Bank village of Bil’in, a leader in the Palestinian nonviolent resistance movement, said that, “Israel Discount Bank’s trading room and other computer services are run by an Israeli company called Matrix IT. Matrix IT’s trading room is located on our villages land stolen by the illegal settlement of Modiin Illit.”
Additionally, nineteen groups and organizations worldwide explained in an open  letter to Amnesty International that, “Being one of the world’s strongest proponents of human rights and international law, you shall thus be subverting a non-violent, effective effort by Palestinian and international civil society to end Israel‘s violations of international law and human rights principles.” The groups asserted that, “Accepting funds from the proceeds of Cohen’s concert in Israel is the equivalent of Amnesty accepting funds from a concert in Sun City in apartheid South Africa.” They also commented that the Peres Center for Peace, Amnesty International’s announced partner in managing the concert fund, “has been denounced by leading Palestinian civil society organizations for promoting joint Palestinian-Israeli projects that enhance ‘Israeli institutional reputation and legitimacy, without restoring justice to Palestinians.’”
On August 5th, eleven groups launched a letter writing campaign to Amnesty International which has resulted in hundreds of emails sent. Among those urging Amnesty International to reject involvement with the Cohen concert are former Amnesty International USA board member Prof. Naseer Aruri, Amnesty International USA’s former Midwest Regional Director Doris Strieter, peace activist Kathy Kelly, and a number of Amnesty International members.   
The announcement of Cohen’s planned concert in Israel was swiftly met by letters from British, Israeli and Palestinian organizations and protests at his concerts in New YorkBoston, Ottawa and Belfast, among other cities, calling on Cohen to respect the international call for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel. In response to the protests, Cohen had tried to schedule a small concert in Ramallah to “balance” his concert in Israel. However, Palestinians rejected the Ramallah concert, insisting that Cohen should first cancel his Tel Aviv gig to be welcomed in Ramallah.
With the international community failing to take action to stop Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people, and inspired by the international boycott movement that helped bring an end to apartheid in South Africa, Palestinian civil society has launched calls for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, including an institutional academic and cultural boycott. Ninety-three artists, writers and other cultural workers have signed onto the Palestinian cultural boycott call. Palestinian boycott calls have inspired a growing international boycott movement which gained added momentum following Israel’s assault on Gaza last winter.

Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI)
New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel (NYCBI)
Posted on 18-08-2009