Amnesty International Once Again Refuses to Oppose War

In an online discussion I asked Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International, a fairly straightforward question:

“Will Amnesty International recognize the UN Charter and the Kellogg Briand Pact and oppose war and militarism and military spending? Admirable as it is to go after many of the symptoms of militarism, your avoidance of addressing the central problem seems bizarre. The idea that you can more credibly offer opinions on the legality of constituent elements of a crime if you avoid acknowledging the criminality of the whole seems wrong. Your acceptance of drone murders as possibly legal if they are part of wars immorally and, again, bizarrely avoids the blatant illegality of the wars themselves.”

Shetty replied without so much as hinting at whether or not Amnesty International would recognize the UN Charter or the Kellogg Briand Pact. In fairness, probably eight people on earth recognize the Kellogg Briand Pact, but the UN Charter is almost universally considered worthy of at least pretended respect and manipulation. And Shetty’s last job before this one was for the United Nations. He did not address in any way my suggestion that many human rights abuses are symptoms of militarism. He did not explain how Amnesty can have more credibility speaking on the illegality of war’s constituent parts by avoiding speaking to the illegality of war itself (a common contention of his colleagues when I’ve questioned them). I pointed fairly directly, in the limited number of characters permitted for the above question, to Amnesty’s recent report on drones, but rather than answering my question about it, Shetty just pointed out the report’s existence. Here is his full “response” to the question above:

“As a human rights organization, Amnesty International’s main goal will always be to take that course of action which practically does the most to ensure protection for human rights and respect for international law. We strongly condemn opportunities which have been missed to take effective measures to protect human rights and civilians. We treat the fundamental human right to life with utmost importance — hence the importance and status we give to our global death penalty campaign. We also believe that governments must not be allowed to use ‘security’ as an excuse to carry out human rights violations against their citizens. We know, for example, that the humanitarian and human rights catastrophe in Syria did not develop overnight. For the last few years, the states involved and the international community as a whole have manifestly failed to take effective action to stem the crisis, protect civilians, and hold perpetrators of crimes against humanity and war crimes to account. For several years now, Amnesty International’s calls for targeted sanctions, an arms embargo and a referral of the situation in Syria to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court have gone largely unheeded despite the mounting toll on civilians. On drones: we find the use of drone aircraft deeply troubling, and we have published reports on the terrible suffering they have caused, for example in Pakistan, where the title speaks for itself ‘Pakistan: Will I be next? US drone strikes in Pakistan’.…13/en/  The current status quo is absolutely unacceptable, as is the handwashing of the US administration on this theme.”

Needless to say, Amnesty’s proposal to refer “the situation in Syria” to the ICC is not actually anything of the sort. You can’t refer a situation to the ICC. You refer an individual to the ICC. In this case, the individual whom Amnesty wants prosecuted is the individual whom the United States wants overthrown: Bashar al Assad. In other words, in replying to a demand to start opposing war, Shetty offers an example of one of the ways in which his and other human rights groups commonly facilitate wars in places like Syria and Libya, namely by giving war the aura of law enforcement by demanding international accountability for the crimes of one party, the party targeted by the West.

This doesn’t mean Amnesty International is pro-war. This doesn’t mean Amnesty International does more harm than good. An arms embargo is exactly what’s needed. It does mean that Amnesty International falls far short of the role of good global citizen and maintains a radically different relationship to war than many of its supporters imagine.

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  • Carl_Herman

    AI’s close is revealing to whine about “hand washing” when they do the same thing rather than assert “Emperor’s New Clothes” facts: armed attacks are illegal, the US is guilty of Wars of Aggression, and all US “leaders” are subject to arrest for these crimes. The drones are one aspect of the entire illegal war.

    Amnesty International is complicit in these ongoing wars when it fails to discern what MUST come first: lawful or unlawful war.

  • Bev

    Interesting article about the rightward road traveled by so-called progressive groups like Amnesty Intl., ACLU, and Human Rights Groups:
    June 24, 2012

    Mark Ames: The Left’s Big Sellout – How the ACLU and Human Rights Groups Quietly Exterminated Labor Rights

    By Mark Ames, the author of Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion from Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine. Cross posted from The Daily Banter.

    Progressive intellectuals have been acting very bipolar towards labor lately, characterized by wild mood swings ranging from the “We’re sorry we abandoned labor, how could we!” sentiment during last year’s
    Wisconsin uprising against Koch waterboy Scott Walker, to the recent “labor is dead/it’s all labor’s fault” snarling after the recall vote against Gov. Walker failed.

    Puzzled, I called Alex Edwards, Amnesty’s Media Relations guy in Washington DC, to ask him why labor unions didn’t rate important enough as a “topic” on Amnesty’s “list of topics.” Edwards was confused,
    claimed that he was totally unaware that there was a “list of topics” on Amnesty’s home page, and promised to get back to me. I haven’t heard back from him.

    On the advice of an old friend, Jan Frel, I read an excellent book on the human rights industry, James Peck’s Ideal Illusions, which helps answer why labor rights have been airbrushed out of the language of
    human rights. It wasn’t always this way: Economic rights and workplace rights were for decades at the very heart of the human rights movement. This was officially enshrined in 1948, when the United Nations adopted a 30-point “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” putting labor rights and economic equality rights alongside those we’re more familiar with today, like freedom of expression, due process, religion and so on. But somehow, labor rights and economic justice have been effectively amputated from the human rights agenda and forgotten about, in tandem with the American left’s abandonment of labor.

    In Peck’s history, Human Rights Watch stands out as a force for rank neoliberalism, a major player in the extermination-by-omission of labor rights and economic equality rights from the language of human rights. How this happened sheds at least a bit more light on how the left abandoned labor.

    Neier goes further, explicitly rejecting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights because nine of its 30 articles focus on economic rights as human rights. Neier objects to that, singling out for censure “such
    economic issues as a right to work; to social security; and to an adequate standard of living.” The human rights article on “a right to work” that Neier dismisses as “authoritarian” is Article 23, and it reads:

    “Article 23 (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment. (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work. (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection. (4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”

    It’s interesting that Neier rejects Article 23, the article on labor, which he mislabels as “a right to work”, because back in the 1970s, when Neier was executive director of the ACLU, he supported big business’s “Right To Work” anti-labor laws, against the rest of the left and the ACLU, which at the time still supported labor rights as civil rights. The so-called “Right To Work” laws are grossly misnamed—they’re really laws designed to bust unions by making it even more difficult for them to organize worker power against the overwhelming power of the corporation. It was corporate PR flaks hired to deceive and conceal the real purpose of those laws who came up with the false name “Right To Work” laws. Fred Koch, father of Charles and David Koch and one of the founders of the John Birch Society, got his start in rightwing politics as a leader of the “Right To Work” movement in Kansas in the mid-1950s.

    Less than twenty years after Fred Koch fought to destroy labor rights through “Right To Work” laws, the executive director of the ACLU, Aryeh Neier—the same Aryeh Neier who later led Human Rights Watch— colluded with William Buckley to push the ACLU rightward against labor by getting the ACLU to represent big business and “Right To Work” laws, under the guise of “protecting free speech”—the same bullshit pretense always used by lawyers and advocates to help big business crush labor and democracy. This “free speech” pretense is the basis on which the ACLU currently supports the Citizens United decision, which effectively legalized the transformation of America into an oligarchy.