Friday, April 01, 2011

Amnesty International Needs to Butt Out

Amnesty becoming more interested in ideological politics than in human rights

Full disclosure: I write this post as a member of the University of Alberta chapter of Amnesty International, of which I have been a member since 2008.

Amnesty Internation used to be a wonderful organization, and a crucial voice for human rights. It once was, but is no longer necessarily so.

There has clearly been an ideological drift within Amnesty, as every group that believes they can link their specific agenda to human rights -- regardless of how peripherally -- have moved to colonize and capture the organization.

These ideological twists and turns are inevitably followed by partisan twists and turns, as seems to be the case with Amnesty's foray into the 2011 election campaign.

Denouncing the government's support for Israel, and complaining about funding cuts to various groups, Amnesty only declined to mention Prime Minister Stephen Harper by name. Yet it's clear that Amnesty is denouncing the policies of the current government.

"No longer the champion, more and more Canada is perceived to be a country that is reticent to take a consistently strong stand for human rights. Sometimes Canada now is also seen as part of the problem, not the solution," declared Amnesty Secretary General Salil Shetty. "There has been erosion of Canada's past policies, including a principled and non-partisan reputation in the Middle East."

Of course, principled and non-partisan stands on the Middle East isn't what Amnesty International is known for, either. In fact, Amnesty seems to increasingly be blatantly expressing a preference for terrorist organizations more and more often.

This was most eggregiously the case when Amnesty denounced the arrest of Amir Markhoul, a man who had been arrested for spying for Hezbollah.

Amnesty declared that Israel had arrested Marhoul for his human rights advocacy, but the facts presented at his trial showed differently. In a plea bargain, Marhoul admitted that he met with Hezbollah operatives, installed a coding program on his computer, and sent coded dispatches to Hezbollah during the 2006 Israel/Hezbollah war.

In his defence, Marhoul noted that he was reluctant to help Hezbollah, hesitated before he did, and regretted it after the fact.

Does Amnesty really expect anyone to believe that passing information along to terrorists is "human rights advocacy?" How about if the only people who get hurt by it are Israelis? Don't they have human rights?

"Serious violations committed by the Israeli government have on occasion been described as 'a measured response'," Shetty complained.

"Traditionally Canada approached those debates in a careful and principled manner and garnered a reputation as non-partisan," he continued. "That reputation has, however, been completely eroded in recent years as Canada has now adopted a policy of consistently voting against resolutions at both the UN Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly that criticize Israel's human rights record."

Of course, whether Shetty and Amnesty care to admit or not, the UN Human Rights Council has been a joke with no punchline for a long time. The Council -- which features China, Saudi Arabia and Libya -- has had no problem at all criticizing Israel's human rights record, which is actually the best of any Middle Eastern country.

It also produced a report praising Libyan President Muammar al-Gadhaffi for human rights advancements in Libya. That report was eventually withdrawn when Libyan civilians began to die in fire raining from Libyan fighter jets.

The government of Canada has been entirely right in opposing the UN Human Rights Council being used as a stalking horse for the world's worst human rights abusers.

The report also complains that groups such as KAIROS have had their funding cut, claiming that "Canada's human rights movement feels under siege."

Amnesty and Shetty need to wake up to the fact that the government of Canada is not obligated, under any circumstances, to fund groups that promote an extreme ideological agenda under the guise of "human rights". Canada's government is slowly getting out of the business of funding fringe agendas. Amnesty and Shetty will simply have to get used to that.

In the meantime, Amnesty International needs to go back to its roots, and do what it was intended to do: promoting human rights, not political agendas. More importantly, it needs to live up to the standards it sets of others.

Does Amnesty want Canada to act as an "honest broker" in the Middle East? Maybe it should try a little honest brokerage of its own, rather than simply adding its voice to the shrill cacophony of the anti-Israel movement.

Most importantly, it needs to get its nose out of Canadian electoral politics.

Amnesty International was once a great organization. It can be again. But before it can be, it needs to get its priorities right.

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