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Amnesty International: A False Beacon?

Given the current escalation of Israeli depredations in Gaza and the daily US bombings of Falluja, it is interesting to examine Amnesty International’s (AI) statements on the situation. AI is widely viewed as an authority on human rights issues, and thus it is of interest to analyze its output on these recent events. Careful scrutiny of AI’s record reveals that, its typical response to the daily obscene deeds by either Israeli or US armies is a few barely audible ruminations with an occasional lame rebuke. The impotence of these responses raises many questions.

Occupation with human rights?

Consider the title of a recent press release: “Israeli army must respect human rights in its operations” [1]. According to AI, the Israeli depredations on occupied land are acceptable as long as they “respect” human rights. This is analogous to recommending that a rapist should practice safe sex [2]. It is also difficult to imagine that a military occupation could ever be imposed while observing “human rights”.

Consider the context. During September 2004 the Israeli army killed on average 3.7 Palestinians per day; it injured an average of 19.3 p/day; it demolished many houses affecting the lives of thousands; it has transformed vast areas of Gaza into a denuded moonscape. It is also clear that these gruesome statistics will be worse in October. The Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz openly states that the Palestinians should be punished, and the measures advocated entail collective punishment. The entire Palestinian population is taken hostage; pressure is exerted on them as a whole. Ethnic Cleansing is on going, and the construction of the grotesque wall stands as proof of the criminality of this policy.

Given the devastation inflicted by the Israeli army and clear violations of international law, one would expect at least a tiny condemnation. However, this is the extent of AI’s reaction:

“[AI] is concerned that the Israeli army’s use of excessive force in this latest incursion in the Gaza Strip will result in further loss of lives and wanton destruction of Palestinian homes and property. Reprisals against protected persons and property are prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention and Israel is obliged to ensure that any measures taken to protect the lives of Israeli civilians are consistent with its obligations to respect human rights and international humanitarian law.

Israel should immediately allow international human rights and humanitarian organizations to enter the Gaza Strip. At present [AI] delegates and staff members of other international organizations are denied access to the Gaza Strip.”

Note that this lame statement was uttered in reaction to the attack on Jabalya, an onslaught which Dr. Mustafa Barghouti described as follows: “Sharon’s tanks are rampaging through Jabalia and Beit Lahia, just as they did in Khan Yunis, Rafah and Beit Hanun. The simple fact is that Sharon is doing to Gaza what he did to the West Bank in 2002.” [3] AI’s hypocrisy in issuing this limp statement is evident when it is compared with the press release analyzed below.

 

Double Standard?

In May 2004 AI issued a press release headed “AI condemns murder of woman and her four daughters by Palestinian gunmen.” The body of the text contains the following condemnation:

“Such deliberate attacks against civilians, which have been widespread, systematic and in furtherance of a stated policy to attack the civilian population, constitute crimes against humanity, as defined by Article 7 (1) and (2)(a) of the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal.”[4]

So, when Palestinians kill some civilians, then it constitutes a “crime against humanity” — one of the most serious crimes under international law, and a precursor to genocide. But, when Israel kills far more civilians “in furtherance of a stated policy” (the phrasing AI used against Palestinians) to “exact a price” (to use the words of Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz [5]), all that AI can do is to wring its hands and worry about “the Israeli army’s use of excessive force”. Thus, we see that AI does not hesitate to use against Palestinians terms, such as “crime against humanity”, which it has never unambiguously leveled against Israel.

Note that the Israeli woman killed by Palestinians in the above episode was a settler. Thus, AI was stretching a point a to call her a civilian — settlers are armed and they consider themselves, when they feel like it, the shock troops of an expansionist zionism whose stated goal is to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians from, at least, all the land west of the River Jordan.

Regarding the Palestinian attack, AI also states: “deliberate attacks against civilians, which have been widespread, systematic and in furtherance of a stated policy to attack the civilian population.” Whoa! It is astonishing that such a description was added to its accusation pertaining a Palestinian attack, but at the same time, it is not willing to classify any Israeli actions as “systematic, deliberate and widespread [etc.]”. AI portrays Palestinian violence as worse than Israeli violence, and this amounts to a clear double standard.

 

Neglecting settler violence?

On Sept. 27, 2004 a settler from the Itamar settlement killed a Palestinian in cold blood, and the Israeli authorities even sought to exempt the settler from house arrest; at most — though not likely — he will be charged with manslaughter [6]. While AI was willing to issue a press release about the settler woman and her kids who were killed, it was not willing to issue any statement about this incident. What makes this neglect curious is that around the same time it issued a press release regarding an abducted CNN stringer — someone who was eventually released unharmed [7].

Researching AI’s public record reveals an odd sense of proportion in selecting which events it chooses to discuss.

It seems that AI regards settlements as mere misplaced suburbs, and its residents as just some Western suburbanites. For some settlements, this may be the case, but several settlements are home to racist zionist fanatics. Jeff Halper, the director of the Israel Committee Against House Demolitions, observes that there is now a second generation of settlers, those born in the settlements; he calls them the “clockwork orange” settlers who are more extreme, racist and violent than their predecessors [8]. The clockwork orange settlers frequently violently harass Palestinians, demolish homes, and occasionally kill with impunity. This context raises questions about AI’s repeated calls to exempt settlers from Palestinian retribution.

During the second intifada, AI has not issued any statement about settler violence.

 

What happened to the supreme crime?

AI is not an anti-war organization, and this stance creates numerous contradictions. With the onset of the US war against Iraq, it issued statements about the means the US would employ in warfare, but curiously, AI didn’t condemn the war! This is particularly curious given that the war was one of aggression and thus constitutes a supreme international crime. This is what Prof. Michael Mandel (Prof. of Law at York Univ., Toronto) had to say about the matter:

When the attack was launched, stern warnings were issued to all the ‘belligerents’ by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International […], reminding them of their duties under the laws and customs of war. But neither said a single word about the illegality of the war itself or the supreme criminal responsibility under international law of the countries that had started it. [9]

And pertaining to the press releases AI issued during this period:

Amnesty also questioned whether the required precautions were being taken to protect civilians, and called for investigations into civilian deaths like those at the Karbala checkpoint, and the shooting of demonstrators in Falluja. But never once did Amnesty International […] mention the fundamental reason why none of the incidents really had to be investigated at all — namely that all of this death and destruction was legally, as well as morally, on the heads of the invaders, whatever precautions they claimed to take, because it was due to an illegal, aggressive war. Every death was a crime for which the leaders of the invading coalition were personally, criminally responsible. [10]

Again, AI ruminations amount to recommending the “rapist to engage in safe sex” — no mention of the crime! Even though AI often refers to international law to issue its statements, when it comes to US depredations, then even supreme crimes are not mentioned.

 

Another double standard?

Consider AI’s statement issued regarding the situation in Darfur:

“The United Nations Security Council should stop the transfer of arms being used to commit mass human rights violations in Darfur [AI] urged today while releasing a report based on satellite images showing large-scale destruction of villages in Darfur over the past year.”[11]

The situation may be awful in Darfur, and the measure suggested may be warranted. However, the curious aspect of this statement is that AI has never called on the UN or any other body to impose an arms embargo on Israel, although there are ample grounds for such a recommendation.

An American academic inquired about this double standard, and she received the following answer from Donatella Rovera, AI’s principal researcher on Israel-Palestine:

“The situations in Sudan and in Israel-Occupied Territories are quite different and different norms of international law apply, which do not make it possible to call for an arms embargos on either the Israeli or the Palestinian side. The West Bank and Gaza Strip are under Israeli military occupation (not the case for the Darfour region in Sudan). Hence, certain provisions of international humanitarian law, known as the laws of war (notably the 1907 Hague Convention and the Fourth Geneva Convention) apply in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (and not in the Darfour region).” (email communication July 5, 2004).

AI is couching its double standards in dubious legalese, but consider what Prof. Francis Boyle (Professor of International Law at Univ. of Illinois Champaign) has to say about Rovera’s statement:

This is total gibberish. When I was on the Board of Directors of Amnesty International USA near the end of my second term in 1990-92, we received the authority to call for an arms embargo against major human rights violators, which Israel clearly qualified for at the time and still does — even under United States domestic law. Of course no one at AI was going to do so because pro-Israel supporters were major funders of Amnesty International USA, which in turn was a major funder of Amnesty International in London. He who pays the piper calls the tune — especially at AIUSA Headquarters in New York and at AI Headquarters in London.

 

What about the prisoners?

The core of AI’s efforts have to do with “prisoners of conscience”, prison conditions, and torture. So, it is of some interest to determine how this issue is dealt with pertaining Palestinian prisoners and the Abu Ghraib torture scandal [12]. The table below provides some context for the Palestinian prisoners.

 

Number of Palestinian Prisoners (July 8, 2004)  Total PAUL de ROOIJ

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PAUL de ROOIJ is a writer living in London. He can be reached at proox@hotmail.com (NB: all emails with attachments will be automatically deleted.)

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