Solomonia posted this today : I’ve written several columns criticizing Amnesty
International. Last week, Hassan Bility, a Liberian ex-dissident who Amnesty
helped free from prison, wrote to contradict me (“Human rights matter in
Africa,” Aug. 10). He’s right to appreciate their help. Pressuring regimes over
jailed dissidents is an Amnesty hallmark. Hundreds are free because of its noble
efforts. But agitation for select political prisoners does not negate Amnesty’s
flawed agenda, which actually damages the cause of human rights.
In the early 1990s, I discovered that slavery still
exists in Sudan and Mauritania. I also discovered that Amnesty (and Human Rights
Watch) had detailed reports on this slave trade yet had launched no substantial
campaign to rescue blacks owned by Arab masters.
Slaves are prisoners too. In 1995, I went to Amnesty’s national convention and launched a drive to add slavery to Amnesty’s mandate. A majority was persuaded and a resolution was forwarded to the international office in London – which in turn asked for more time to “study the issue” and then did nothing for more than a
If Africans were being enslaved in Germany or Norway, we all know Amnesty would launch a massive emancipation campaign. But for blacks in Arab North Africa, the best Amnesty could do was an occasional report.
How could Amnesty abandon hundreds of thousands of black slaves, and why does it focus disproportionately on Western governments?
Three core reasons:
I’ve written several columns criticizing Amnesty
Michael Ignatieff, in his book “Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry” looks at the depreciation of the term “human rights”:
“Global human rights consciousness, moreover, does not
necessarily imply that the groups defending human rights actually believe the
same things. Many of these NGO’s espouse the universalist language of human
rights but actually use it to defend highly particularist causes: the rights of
particular national groups or minorities or classes or persons… The problem is
that particularism conflicts with universalism at the point at which one’s
commitment to a group leads one to countenance human rights violations towards
Ignatieff is claiming here that a noble term which was supposed to uphold an ideal of universal justice, the kind that safeguards the equity and inviolability of all human beings, has been devalued by the likes of Amnesty and HRW to the point where it is nearly worthless. The cynicism of politicizing an ethical principle can only lead to legitimized exceptionalism, which means quite simply discrimination. And the crime of discrimination in the case cited by Charles Jacobs is two-edged: Discriminating against the victims of the neglected causes for whom no redress is available through their own systems of justice, and discriminating against those Amnesty does choose to shame disproportionately in its reports.
I no longer take these organizations to work for human rights, but only for selective groups within the human race deemed worthy of helping. Hassan Bility's successful deliverance from jail can always be flaunted by these organizations by way of deflecting criticism from their profound partisanship. But for each Bility, there are thousands of men and women languishing in jails for crimes they have never committed, for transgressing some social taboo like adultery or homosexuality. There are young girls whose genitals are mutilated, there are "honour" killings sanctioned by governments, etc etc . We all know what the list is.
Amnesty's concentration on the West's human rights abuses objectively promotes human rights abuses in other countries. This is elementary logic. The organization has only a limited amount of resources, which it chooses to invest in scrutinizing the least abusive and most transparent administrations. If they are not working relentlessly to relieve the misery and suffering of the truly oppressed, they are effectively against them.
Why do they choose these priorities? Maybe because it is so much easier, and much more comfortable to work in a Western country with running water, uninterrupted supply of electiricity, law and order, and zero-risk for endangering self?