Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Going after the real enemy

[Health warning: this post is not going to be about immigration. Some readers might, therefore, decide to skip it.]

Careful readers of this blog would have noticed that we oppose all unaccountable transnational organizations (hereinafter referred to as tranzis). This includes erstwhile charities that became NGOs some time ago and whose political activism – always on the anti-Western, anti-capitalist, above all, anti-American side – far outweigh any good they may achieve on the ground.

Of these one of the most obnoxious ones is Amnesty International. I find that particularly difficult as I have worked with sections of Amnesty in the past and know that it has a hard-working and underpaid staff (not the people at the top, of course) who do try to achieve the impossible – help individual people in the many countries where they are imprisoned for expressing their opinions. All those people who get so worked up about the unproven horrors of Guantànamo might like to know that this is the case in the rest of Cuba. (Oh you didn’t know Gitmo was in Cuba? Well, well, well.)

Amnesty also, theoretically, tries to fight maltreatment of prisoners (of conscience and others) in the many countries where this happens a great deal.

The trouble is that Amnesty International as an organization always had a political agenda. Its research department, based in London, may produce very valuable information and may undertake useful campaigns. The people at the top prefer to strut around in tranzi politics, claiming all sorts of rights that unaccountable organization should not have and attacking democratic governments considerably more ferociously than others. In part, of course, the reason is that it is so much easier to find out what is happening in the democracies.

The other part of Amnesty is the national organizations, which consist mostly of volunteers. The idea is that each national organization follows developments in other countries not its own.

For various reasons, too complicated to evaluate here, these national organizations have tended to attract activists who, though undoubtedly well-meaning, tend to come from the left of the political spectrum.

It is not hard to see that all this can cause problems of credibility. For example, last year we were treated to the extraordinary spectacle of the Secretary-General of Amnesty International announcing that Guantànamo (yes, it’s them again) was the modern Gulag. When challenged, she blithely explained that while, of course, nobody has been killed in Guantànamo while many thousands perished in the Gulag; and while, of course, the shocking maltreatment of prisoners in the latter has been well documented and appear to be somewhat worse than not getting the right amount of peanut butter; nevertheless, in essence the two were the same.

I was told by a very good friend who works extremely hard in this benighted organization that the staff were horrified not least because they realized that much of their careful research will now be dismissed. In fact, I understand that even some of the national organizations were shocked and the Swedish one put up a robust rebuttal on its website. Eventually, under pressure from on high, this was taken down.

So that is the background or some of it to the present row about Amnesty International. It has now produced its annual report on the state of human rights in the world. That in itself is a blatant misreading of their remit. They are supposed to be working on behalf of prisoners of conscience.

The Secretary General’s press statement sums up the problem. It is devoted almost entirely to Guantànamo and the possible but still non-proven detention centres that are allegedly being set up as part of the war against terror. SecGen Irene Khan seems seriously uninterested in the many prisoners of conscience in countries such as China, Egypt, Iran, various African states, Saudi Arabia, and so on, and so on.

In fact, SecGen Khan decided to use another hyperbole:

“Not since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948 has there been such a sustained attack on [its] values and principles.”
Unexpectedly, she even managed to mention Katrina and its aftermath, the need to fight poverty by giving aid and the French riots (the first lot not the second).

“2005 saw the biggest ever mobilization of civil society and public support to eradicate poverty. But in response, the UN Summit showed governments miserably failing to match promise to performance on the Millennium Development Goals. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and riots in France, 2005 was also a year which showed the glaring disparity, discrimination and alienation in the heart of richest countries of the world.”

What any of that has to do with prisoners of conscience is anybody's guess.

As a study produced by Capital Research Centre says, Amnesty International has concentrated most of its ire and condemnation on the United States and Israel. The obsession with Guantànamo is paralleled by the fact that more reports were produced about Israel in the last 16 months than any other country or organization. It seems that when Palestinians are attacked, imprisoned and tortured by the PA or other militias their fate no longer matters. And, of course, everyone imprisoned in Israel is a prisoner of conscience!
“Soft on tyrants and terrorists, hard on the free nations that confront them, Amnesty International has squandered its reputation as an impartial advocate for human rights," and has become "just another voice of the transnational Left.”
How true. But Amnesty International must be a little surprised at the moment. For the American government has decided to hit back.

Once again, through the invaluable Little Green Footballs, we have news of a statement:
“State Department spokesman Sean McCormack dismissed allegations by the Nobel Prize-winning rights group, which cited reports that US prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and elsewhere were subject to "torture and ill-treatment."”
Mr McCormack then went on the offensive:
“He went on to point out Amnesty's role in documenting rights abuses during the 24 years of Saddam's rule before he was deposed by the Americans in 2003 and later captured and charged with crimes against humanity.

"But when it came time to put Saddam Hussein on trial, which is happening right now, they (Amnesty) are absent. They've done zero, zip, nothing, to assist in those efforts," McCormack said.

"So in terms of where they might focus some of their efforts, I would just offer the humble suggestion that they might follow through in actually assisting with or providing some support to this trial for what they acknowledge is one of the great human rights abusers of recent times."”
I particularly like that “humble suggestion”. Who says the State Department has no sense of humour?


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