Criticism of Amnesty International
Criticism of Amnesty International (AI) includes claims of selection bias, ideological/foreign policy bias against either non-Western countries, or Western-supported countries and AI's policies relating to organisational continuity. Governments who have criticised AI include those of Israel, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, China, Vietnam, Russia and the United States, who have attacked Amnesty International for what they assert is one-sided reporting or a failure to treat threats to security as a mitigating factor. The actions of these governments — and of other governments critical of Amnesty International — have been the subject of human rights concerns voiced by Amnesty. The Catholic Church has also criticized Amnesty for its stance on abortion.
- 1 Excessive payouts to senior staff
- 2 Selection bias
- 3 Criticism related to Amnesty's criticism of non-Western countries
- 4 Criticism related to Amnesty's criticism of Western-backed countries
- 5 AI's new abortion policies and the Roman Catholic Church
- 6 Organisational continuity
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
Excessive payouts to senior staff
In February 2011, newspaper stories in the UK revealed that Irene Khan had received a payment of UK £533,103 from Amnesty International following her resignation from the organisation on 31 December 2009, a fact discovered in Amnesty's records for the 2009–2010 financial year. The sum paid to her was in excess of four times her annual salary of £132,490. The deputy secretary general, Kate Gilmore – who also resigned in December 2009 – received an ex-gratia payment of £320,000. Peter Pack, the chairman of Amnesty's international executive committee, said on 19 February 2011, "The payments to outgoing secretary general Irene Khan shown in the accounts of AI (Amnesty International) Ltd for the year ending 31 March 2010 include payments made as part of a confidential agreement between AI Ltd and Irene Khan." and that "It is a term of this agreement that no further comment on it will be made by either party." On 21 February Pack issued a further statement, in which he said that the payment was a "unique situation" that was "in the best interest of Amnesty’s work" and that there would be no repetition of it. He stated that "the new secretary general, with the full support of the IEC, has initiated a process to review our employment policies and procedures to ensure that such a situation does not happen again." Pack also stated that Amnesty was "fully committed to applying all the resources that we receive from our millions of supporters to the fight for human rights". In a letter to the "movement" dated 25 February, Pack offered additional details, which in turn had been made public by Amnesty International Netherlands. According to this statement Irene Khan, being reluctant to retire at the end of her second term, the International Executive Committee offered her additional termination benefits, payment of back salary, bonuses and other inducements to leave. UK employment law offering additional protections to fixed-term employees had given Khan leverage to ask for termination benefits. The alternatives, according to Pack, would have been her continuation in office, or an official dismissal which might have led to litigation.
In 2007, AI stated that it reports disproportionately on relatively more democratic and open countries. AI's intention is not to produce a range of reports such that the number of reports on a country correlates precisely with the number and severity of its human rights abuses. Instead, its aim is: (a) to document what it can, to (b) produce pressure for improvement. These two factors skew the number of reports towards more open and democratic countries, because information is more easily obtainable, these countries have usually made strong claims and commitments to uphold human rights, and their governments are more susceptible to public pressure. AI also focuses more heavily on states than to other groups. This is due in part to the responsibility states have to the citizens they claim to represent.
Amnesty International has been accused of ideological bias by many governments of non-Western countries, including those of, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the People's Republic of China, Vietnam, and Russia who have attacked Amnesty International for what they assert is one-sided reporting or a failure to treat threats to security as a mitigating factor. The actions of these governments — and of other governments critical of Amnesty International — have been the subject of human rights concerns voiced by Amnesty.
Claims of alignment with US/UK foreign policy interests and AI funding
University of Illinois professor of international law Francis Boyle, who was a member of the board of Amnesty International USA at the end of the 1980s/early 1990s, claims that Amnesty International USA acted in ways closely related to United States and United Kingdom foreign policy interests. He stated that Amnesty, along with other human rights organisations in the US, failed to criticise sufficiently the Sabra and Shatila Massacre in Lebanon. Boyle stated his suspicion that the International Secretariat of Amnesty International, based geographically in London, UK, was also subject to this bias. He attributes the alleged links between Amnesty International and US and UK foreign policy interests to the relatively large financial contribution of Amnesty International USA to AI's international budget, which he estimated at 20%.
1991 Gulf War press release
Critics have also pointed out that AI had a role propagating disinformation in a press release before the 1991 Gulf War, in which it claimed that Iraqi soldiers were responsible for the deaths of "scores of civilians, including newborn babies, who died as a direct result of their forced removal from life-support machines." It later transpired that this claim was a propaganda hoax, and AI's press release was used in the opening salvo of this propaganda campaign – U.S. President George H. W. Bush showed AI's press release on a prime time interview. Prof. Francis Boyle, an AI USA director at the time, gives a detailed insider account of the way the AI press release was handled. The normal process of double-checking and consultation was short-circuited in a rush to issue the press release. In an April 1991 statement, AI said that although its team was shown alleged mass graves of babies, it was not established how they had died and the team found no reliable evidence that Iraqi forces had caused the deaths of babies by removing them or ordering their removal from incubators.
Cricket ball campaign against Sri Lanka at the Cricket World Cup 2007
AI launched its "Sri Lanka, Play by the Rules" campaign, timed to coincide with the Cricket World Cup 2007 held in the Caribbean islands, to focus on Sri Lanka's alleged human rights violations. The Sri Lankan government protested to the International Cricket Council (ICC) and AI, saying the timing might undermine the morale of the Sri Lanka cricket team, which was playing in round Super 8 of the tournament. The Sri Lankan government also accused AI of indirectly supporting the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The Foreign Ministry of Sri Lanka said they got an assurance from the ICC that all steps would be taken to prevent AI from carrying out any campaign within the grounds targeting Sri Lanka or its players; however, the ICC later said it was determined to focus on the World Cup and nothing else.
AI stressed that the campaign was not aimed at the Sri Lanka cricket team. According to an AI spokesman, "The campaign called on both parties as well as other militant groups in Sri Lanka to take steps to prevent civilians caught between as violence intensifies." "The signed balls will be delivered to the government of Sri Lanka as well as the LTTE", AI said in a statement. The Sunday Island, a prominent national newspaper in Sri Lanka, criticised AI's response: "...when the campaign is directed at ‘Sri Lanka’, the focus is clearly on the country and its legitimate government rather than on the terrorists. When such a campaign is conducted during a sporting event in which the targeted country is also participating, it constitutes a form of punishment, whereby the spectators are told that the participant country is doing something bad. When that happens, they may adopt a wholly different attitude towards the Sri Lankan cricket team even though its not the cricket team that is [accused of] carrying out abductions and causing disappearances or waging war."
The Sri Lankan government criticized AI for selectively targeting Sri Lanka while not targeting other nations accused of human rights violations in the same sporting event, or in similar major sporting events. "One would like to ask Amnesty International whether it plans to take up the issue of human rights violations by the US government in Iraq or in Guantanamo Bay at the Super Bowl match or the National Basketball League championship," the director of the Sri Lankan president's Media Division said.
In September 2011, Amnesty International reported that anti-Assad protestor Zainab al-Hosni's body, mutilated by pro-Assad forces, was "discovered by chance by her family in a morgue in Homs while there to identify her brother's corpse." In October 2011, Hosni allegedly appeared on Syrian TV stating that the accusations of her killing were false and fabricated by anti-Assad protestors to "serve foreign interests" and that she was "alive in contrast to what the lying satellite television stations had said." According to a report in Reuters, anti-Assad activists say she is a look-alike.
Elliott Abrams, writing about the November 2012 Israeli military response in Gaza, says that AI treats "Hamas and other terrorist groups" "with an 'evenhandedness' that bespeaks deep biases," citing NGO Monitor's detailed research.
The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs criticised the May 2012 report on administrative detention saying it was "one sided,” and “not particularly serious,” and "that it seemed little more than a public relations gimmick.” Gerald Steinberg, of NGO Monitor, said that the report was tied to the recent Palestinian hunger strikes and that AI “jumped on the bandwagon to help their Palestinian allies.” Steinberg also pointed out that one of the researchers, Deborah Hyams was not a neutral party, saying that “Hyams has volunteered as a ‘human shield’ in Beit Jala (near Bethlehem) to deter Israeli military responses to gunfire and mortars targeting Jewish civilians in Jerusalem,” and that “in 2008 she signed a letter claiming Israel is 'a state founded on terrorism, massacres and the dispossession of another people from their land.' The Israeli embassy in London called AI “ridiculous”. AI admitted that this report “is not intended to address violations of detainees’ rights by the Palestinian Authority, or the Hamas de facto administration. These violations have been and will continue to be addressed separately by the organisation”.
In May 2012, NGO Monitor criticized AI's 2012 World Report in a few areas:
- AI criticized Israel's blockade on Gaza without mentioning that the blockade was in place "to stop the smuggling of weapons and rockets used to target Israeli citizens." NGO Monitor continued and said that "UN Secretary General’s Palmer Committee declared in September 2011 that the blockade is legal under international law."
- AI "failed to mention the thousands of tons of goods provided by Israel to Gaza each week."
- NGO Monitor also pointed out that AI's report "mentions Israel 137 times, while making only 74 mentions of the Syrian regime," during a year in which thousands of people have been killed by the Syrian government.
AI allowed a speaking event to take place in London in May 2011, organized by the magazine Middle East Monitor Online (MEMO) and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Much controversy surrounded this event since one of the speakers included Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the London-based al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper. In the past, Atwan has said that "he would “dance with delight” in Trafalgar Square if Iran attacked Israel, "and that the terrorist attack on the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva, in which eight students were killed, “was justified” as it was responsible for “hatching Israeli extremists and fundamentalists.” Amnesty responded by saying that "while we did have concerns about the way the event had originally been organized, these have been resolved."
AI also allowed a speaking event to take place in January 2012, which included a speaker who is viewed as anti-Israel. UK’s Zionist Federation said that the speaker "goes beyond the bounds of acceptable behavior" and asked that the event either not take place or that a pro-Israel speaker be allowed to attend as well. In addition, NGO Monitor's Gerald Steinberg said that the speaker's "intense hatred directed at Israel, which is the embodiment of Jewish sovereign equality in the world, is entirely inconsistent with the universal values that Amnesty claims to promote. If Amnesty seeks to restore its tarnished moral credentials, it must end this cooperation, and join in denouncing White’s anti-Israel campaigns."
Some people have criticized AI of promoting an unbalanced and excessive focus on Israel. The American Jewish Congress asserts that AI's criticism of Israel distorts the law of war by "read[ing] the law of war as if it was a law banning war", and misinterprets the Geneva Conventions with regard to the issue of proportionality in war. Yael Beck and Merav Fima of NGO Monitor, a Pro-Israel NGO, claim the AI has an "obsession with Israel" and "persistently condemns Israel while ignoring suffering elsewhere".
Alan Dershowitz, professor of law at Harvard University, in his book The Case for Israel, is very critical of AI and their comparison of Israel to nations such as Sudan and other offenders of human rights. Amnesty International has consistently called on Israel to bring any officer suspected of human rights violations to justice and to remove its settlements in the West Bank. It has also opposed "discrimination" against Arab citizens of Israel, and claims that the Law of Return and Entry into Israel Law are discriminatory, as they grant automatic citizenship to Jews worldwide, while denying Palestinian refugees the right of return. It has also opposed the blockade of the Gaza Strip, calling it "collective punishment".
In 2010 Frank Johansson, the chairman of Amnesty International-Finland called Israel a "nilkkimaa," a derogatory term variously translated as "scum state", "creep state" or "punk state." Johansson stood by his statement, saying that they were based on Israel's "repeated flouting of international law", and his own personal experiences with Israelis. When asked by a journalist if any other country on earth that could be described in these terms, he said that he could not think of any, although some individual “Russian officials” could be so described. According to Israeli professor Gerald M. Steinberg of NGO Monitor “Amnesty International has promoted an intense anti-Israel ideology, resulting in statements like these."
In November 2012, Amnesty UK began a disciplinary process against staffer Kristyan Benedict, Amnesty UK campaigns manager, because of a posting on his Twitter account, said to be anti-semitic, regarding three Jewish members of parliament and the Israeli military operation in Gaza where he wrote “Louise Ellman, Robert Halfon and Luciana Berger walk into a bar…each orders a round of B52s … #Gaza”. Amnesty International UK said “the matter has been referred to our internal and confidential processes.” Amnesty’s campaigns director Tim Hancock said, “We do not believe that humour is appropriate in the current circumstances, particularly from our own members of staff.” An Amnesty International UK spokesperson later said the charity had decided that “the tweet in question was ill-advised and had the potential to be offensive and inflammatory but was not racist or antisemitic". 
Guantánamo Bay comments
In the foreword to AI’s Report 2005, the Secretary General, Irene Khan, referred to the Guantánamo Bay prison as "the gulag of our times, entrenching the practice of arbitrary and indefinite detention in violation of international law. Trials by military commissions have made a mockery of justice and due process." In the subsequent press conference, she added, "If Guantanamo evokes images of Soviet repression, "ghost detainees" – or the incommunicado detention of unregistered detainees — bring back the practice of "disappearances" so popular with Latin American dictators in the past. According to US official sources there could be over 100 ghost detainees held by the US. In 2004, thousands of people were held by the US in Iraq, hundreds in Afghanistan and undisclosed numbers in undisclosed locations. AI is calling on the US Administration to "close Guantanamo and disclose the rest".
Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld believed the comments were "reprehensible", Vice President Dick Cheney said he was "offended", and President Bush said he believed the report was "absurd". The Washington Post editorialized that "lately the organization has tended to save its most vitriolic condemnations not for the world’s dictators but for the United States." The human rights organization Human Rights Watch also criticized the Bush administration over the camp in its 2003 world report, stating: "Washington has ignored human rights standards in its own treatment of terrorism suspects."
Edmund McWilliams, a retired senior US Foreign Service Officer who monitored Soviet and Vietnamese abuse of prisoners in their "gulags", defended Amnesty International’s comparison. "I note that abuses that I reported on in those inhumane systems parallel abuses reported in Guantanamo, at the Bagram air base in Afghanistan and at the Abu Ghraib prison: prisoners suspended from the ceiling and beaten to death; widespread "waterboarding"; prisoners "disappeared" to preclude monitoring by the International Committee of the Red Cross — and all with almost no senior-level accountability."
Pavel Litvinov, human rights activist and former Soviet-era "gulag" prisoner, criticized the analogy saying, "By any standard, Guantanamo and similar American-run prisons elsewhere do not resemble, in their conditions of detention or their scale, the concentration camp system that was at the core of a totalitarian communist system."
John Podhoretz writing in the New York Post on the difference between Guantanamo and a Soviet gulag said, "Maybe the people who work at Amnesty International really do think that the imprisonment of 600 certain or suspected terrorists is tantamount to the imprisonment of 25 million slaves. The case of Amnesty International proves that well-meaning people can make morality their life's work and still be little more than moral idiots."
William F. Schulz, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, defended the statement, saying, "What is 'absurd' is President Bush's attempt to deny the deliberate policies of his administration." and "What is 'absurd' and indeed outrageous is the Bush administration's failure to undertake a full independent investigation". Secretary General Irene Khan also responded saying, "The administration's response has been that our report is absurd, that our allegations have no basis, and our answer is very simple: if that is so, open up these detention centres, allow us and others to visit them."
Since the U.S. administration originally claimed that these prisoners were not entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against this interpretation (on 29 June 2006). Following this, on 7 July 2006, the Department of Defense issued an internal memo stating that prisoners will in the future be entitled to protection under the Geneva Conventions.
In 2010, Gita Sahgal, an Amnesty senior official, publicly condemned the organization for its collaboration with former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg of Cageprisoners. In a letter to Amnesty's leadership, she wrote: "To be appearing on platforms with Britain's most famous supporter of the Taliban, whom we treat as a human rights defender, is a gross error of judgment." She warned that it "constitutes a threat to human rights." Begg has toured Europe with Amnesty officials. In 2010, Claudio Cordone asserted that Begg's views on holding talks with the Taliban or the role of jihad in self-defence were not antithetical to human rights, even though he may disagree with them. Cordone's assertion was criticized Amrita Chhachhi, Sara Hossain and Sunila Abeysekera who said that "defensive jihad" or "defence of religion" is often used as an excuse to violate human rights by Muslim, Christian and Hindu extremists.
AI's new abortion policies and the Roman Catholic Church
In April 2007, Amnesty International changed its neutral stance on abortion to supporting access to abortion in cases of rape and incest, and when the life or the health of the mother might be threatened. Amnesty's official policy is that they "do not promote abortion as a universal right" but "support the decriminalisation of abortion". According to deputy secretary general Kate Gilmore, the debate over the change was difficult, but eventually the overwhelming majority of national Amnesty chapters supported the change. The change was opposed by several organizations, notably by senior figures in the Catholic Church, traditionally a strong supporter of Amnesty International, and a group of US legislators. She admitted a small number of members had quit over the issue.
The Roman Catholic Church's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in June 2007 issued a statement urging Catholics not to donate to Amnesty because of their abortion stance. Cardinal Renato Martino said that abortion was murder and "to justify it selectively, in the event of rape, that is to define an innocent child in the belly of its mother as an enemy, as 'something one can destroy'". In an interview to the National Catholic Register, the Cardinal outlined that it was his belief that "if in fact Amnesty International persists in this course of action, individuals and Catholic organizations must withdraw their support, because, in deciding to promote abortion rights, AI has betrayed its mission". The church withdrew funding globally for Amnesty, and churches in various locations took other steps to sever their ties with the group.
University of Illinois professor of international law Francis Boyle, who spent several years as an Amnesty International USA Board member, claimed that aspects of organisational continuity and survival came ahead of human rights aims. He stated "Amnesty International is primarily motivated not by human rights but by publicity. Second comes money. Third comes getting more members. Fourth, internal turf battles. And then finally, human rights, genuine human rights concerns."
||This article has an unclear citation style. (September 2009)|
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