Monday, May 30, 2011

Why Doesn't Amnesty International Feel Bound By International Law?

To tell you the truth, I was under the impression that Amnesty International was guided in its actions by international law--at times, perhaps, by its interpretation of international law, but by international law nonetheless.

Apparently I was mistaken.

In 2002, Amnesty International wrote about the evolution of their mandate. Among the points they made was:
Other action-related changes allow for inclusion in AI's work of such human rights violations as forcible exile and forcible relocation, the destruction of houses (as an act of political repression or punishment), and administrative detention. Some of these will not find their way into our regular work until appropriate guidelines have been developed, while others may appear fairly quickly. AI's opposition to administrative detention moves the organization ahead of international law (which makes provision for its application during states of emergency) and will allow us to condemn any lack of fair or prompt trial in such circumstances. [emphasis added]

So Amnesty International does not strictly work withing the accepted standards of international law?

Apparently not.

In the 2002 version of the Amnesty International Handbook, we find this description of their mandate:
The mandate of AI sets out what work AI may undertake as a matter of principle, and the permissible boundaries of that work. Decisions on what areas of work are taken up within those boundaries are set out in the Integrated Strategic Plan.

AI's mandate is democratically decided by AI's members. It is guided by, but not limited to, international human rights standards.

AI's mandate, as laid out in its Statute, is as follows:
''Amnesty International's mission is to undertake research and action focused on preventing and ending grave abuses of the rights to physical and mental integrity, freedom of conscience and expression, and freedom from discrimination, within the context of its work to promote all human rights.''
AI's mandate has expanded almost continuously for nearly 40 years, in the face of new human rights challenges. The formulation above, adopted in 2001, represents an expansion of the previous mandate, which stated that AI worked to promote all human rights, and took action against some of the gravest violations of people's civil and political rights. These were often listed as: the imprisonment of prisoners of conscience; detention without trial or unfair trials of political prisoners; the death penalty, torture and other ill-treatment; political killings and ''disappearances''; and abuses by armed political groups such as the detention of prisoners of conscience, hostage-taking, torture and unlawful killings.

The new mandate affirms the universality and indivisibility of all human rights by making no distinction between civil and political rights and economic, social, and cultural rights, and allows AI to intensify its work on economic, social, and cultural rights.

The new mandate also recognizes the need for AI to effectively combat human rights abuses by a diverse range of non-state actors and for AI to be flexible, relevant, effective and responsive to changing circumstances. As AI's mandate has grown and evolved, the question has arisen: should the movement take action to oppose grave abuses of all human rights? This question will be examined in detail over the coming few years, before AI's members take a decision on the issue.
Again, Amnesty International makes clear that it "is guided byk, but not limited to, international human rights standards."

As a matter of fact, Amnesty International no longer operates according to a mandate:
The work that AI does will now be defined not by its mandate but by the ISP [Integrated Strategic Plan]. The ISP will be determined at meetings of the International Council and will cover a period of six years, setting out the priorities for AI's research, action and promotion in that period. 
The next ISP will cover the period 2004-2010 and will be discussed and approved by the movement at the ICM in 2003.
Maybe that explains how Amnesty International lost its way, as Christopher Hitchens wrote last year: Suspension of Conscience: Amnesty International has lost sight of its original purpose. Hitchens describes the original purpose of Amnesty International:
In common with all great ideas, the Amnesty concept was marvelously simple. Each local branch was asked to sponsor a minimum of three prisoners of conscience: one from a NATO country, one from a Warsaw Pact country, and one from the Third—or neutralist—World. In time, the organization also evolved policies that opposed the use of capital punishment or torture in all cases, but the definition of "prisoner of conscience" remained central. And it included a requirement that the prisoner in question be exactly that: a person jailed for the expression of an opinion. Amnesty did not adopt people who either used or advocated violence.
But Hitchens writes that is no longer the case:
Amnesty International has just suspended one of its senior officers, a woman named Gita Sahgal who until recently headed the organization's "gender unit." It's fairly easy to summarize her concern in her own words. "To be appearing on platforms with Britain's most famous supporter of the Taliban, whom we treat as a human rights defender," she wrote, "is a gross error of judgment." One might think that to be an uncontroversial statement, but it led to her immediate suspension.
And Amnesty International's odd new standards do not stop there:

Elder of Ziyon writes about Amnesty International's Hateful Bedfellows--co-sponsoring an event with Coalition for a Free Palestine in January, which includes among its members, Palestine Solidarity Group--which declares as its goal the destruction of Israel.

This month, Michael Weiss of Just Journalism wrote about Amnesty International's decision "to give over its Human Rights Action Centre in London to a discussion of Zionist control of the media co-hosted by Middle East Monitor Online (MEMO), a Hamas-friendly publisher of anti-Semites."

Clearly, something has gone terribly wrong with Amnesty International.

The only question is whether there it is too late to do anything to restore the organization to a credible defender of human rights.

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1 comment:

Garnel Ironheart said...

If the International Criminal Court can play fast and loose with international law, why can't AI?