Magazine article Review - Institute of Public Affairs

Amnesty Infomercial

Magazine article Review - Institute of Public Affairs

Amnesty Infomercial

Article excerpt

WHEN Amnesty International was formed in 1961, its charter sought a nobler future for mankind. It called on nations to adopt three desiderata: the end to torture and the death penalty; prompt and fair trials for political prisoners; and the release of all prisoners of conscience who had not condoned violence. In the midst of the Cold War, Amnesty was a beacon to prisoners of conscience languishing in the Gulags of the Soviet empire and the work camps of Communist China. It was an institution whose time had come.

Today, its time has passed. Rather than attack real abuses of human rights, it has lost sight of its original objectives. It has become, like Greenpeace, the Wilderness Society and ACOSS, yet another self-perpetuating bureaucracy. More effort is directed into recruiting new members, whose subscription fees pay for this entrenched class of apparatchiks, than in exposing real violations of human rights.

The decline in standards has become especially apparent over the last five years. The collapse of the Soviet empire has deprived Amnesty of most of its raison d'etre. In its place is an active campaign against free, democratic nations.

At the heart of the problem is Amnesty's faulty methodology. Amnesty does not rank countries according to their human rights record. It contends that even one abuse is worthy of their censure. But this is grossly misleading. A nation that uses systematic imprisonment, torture and murder of dissidents is far more reprehensible than one that simply has uncomfortable prison conditions.

For example, in Amnesty's 1999 Annual Report on the Internet, 165 lines of text were devoted to criticism of Australia's human rights. In contrast, the Communist dictatorship of North Korea had only 83 lines of critical text. Yet there is simply no comparison between the human rights records of Australia and North Korea.

Amnesty counters this by saying that it `relies on access to verifiable information about human rights violations'. If there is more criticism directed against free, democratic nations, then it is because there is more independent information available. Amnesty refuses to condemn North Korea, because most of the human rights violations that we know about have been documented by South Korean intelligence debriefs of defectors. Amnesty contends that this is not an impartial source and, hence, uses none of the information obtained.

Herein lies the second and most serious methodological error. Under Amnesty's guidelines, a nation that is grossly brutal and repressive, which never released dissidents, which never acknowledged their existence and which prohibited any independent domestic assessment of its human rights, would receive almost no criticism from Amnesty. A nation that is free and open, but had minor infractions, would receive much more criticism. …

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