Amnesty International: A False Beacon?
- Double Standards and Curious Silences
Amnesty International: A False Beacon?
By PAUL de ROOIJ
October 13, 2004
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" . 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 . 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."  AI's hypocrisy in issuing this limp statement is
evident when it is compared with the press release analyzed below.
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."
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 ), 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 . 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 .
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 . 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
During the second intifada, AI has not issued any statement about
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. 
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. 
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
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
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 . The table below
provides some context for the Palestinian prisoners.
Number of Palestinian Prisoners (July 8, 2004)
Children (age < 18)
Age > 50
42 Violation of accords 
Pct of prisoners put on trial
Administrative detention 
Notes:  All prisoners held prior to the signing of the Oslo
Accords should have been released.  Administrative detention is
illegal under international law. Administrative detention orders may
last for up to six months, with Palestinians held without charges or
trial during this period. Israel routinely renews the detention
orders thereby holding Palestinians without charge or trial
indefinitely. During this period, detainees are often denied legal
counsel. Source: http://www.nad-plo.org/faq1.php
Down with Human Rights
by Joh Domingo
(A response to the http://www.counterpunch.com/rooij10132004.html )
The article in the latest issue on Counterpunch called `Amnesty
International: A False Beacon?' by PAUL de ROOIJ is well overdue and
provides clear detail on just why Human Rights Organizations pose a
serious danger to humanity, although this is obviously not de
Rooij's intention; he simply wants to expose the double standard
employed by Amnesty International when they are dealing with
`savages' as opposed to `Saints'. Nevertheless, it is a timely eye-
opener for all of us, and not only those that mindlessly parrot
It is a belated follow-up to the interview of Professor Francis
Boyle by Dennis Bernstein In the Summer 2002 Edition of CovertAction
Paul de Rooij continues in his discovery of a pattern he first noted
(to this writers knowledge) in his 2002 article entitled `Amnesty
International & Israel: Say it isn't so!', also in Counterpunch,
about this very issue, on http://www.counterpunch.org/rooij1031.html
He seems to be rapidly evolving towards an inescapable conclusion;
despite the well-intentioned involvement of tens of thousands of
activist at the grassroots level to protect the Human Rights of
ordinary people, the fix is in at the top. I would go further than
de Rooij, I would declare that Human Rights was nothing more than a
propaganda slogan anyway.
The evidence detailed in the article is no more than the first whiff
of the stench that permeates the Human Rights industry, which is not
only compromised at the top, but is an ideology rooted in
Colonialism. In fact, it is the primary vehicle used to justify the
neo-colonial interventionism currently plaguing our planet.
It is unfortunate that despite the plethora of smaller Human Rights
organizations sincerely plugging away at the mass of injustice
facing the world's people, they are minnows compared to the Human
Rights Superpowers; Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
These smaller groups face the same juggernaut confronting smaller
sovereign nations, as they contemplate the prospect of Western
`Civilizing' missions - the doctrine is prescribed by those that
seek to subdue them.
It behoves us to deconstruct the edifice of the Human Rights
Industry and examine what oozes out, because clearly, if innocent
people are being crushed by the apparatus of State it is wrong; we
don't need to read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to know
that it is wrong. Why then is the idea promoted, that Rights that
are codified and ratified, provides protection against abuses? The
codification of these Rights do not protect people who, more often
than not, do not know that they are being killed, to uphold Rights
they did not know they possessed?
At first glance, it appears that the Human Rights Lobby is driven by
the intention to protect the Rights of others. The intention is
`good', but the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and
usually it is the sentiment behind the intention that leads us to
perdition. The case of Universally Declared Rights is particularly
fraught with complex implications.
When a `Right' is declared, it creates an immediate moral
requirement to respect it, and thereafter divides all human actions
into three distinct categories; actions which respect that Right,
actions that violate that Right, and actions which are neutral with
respect to that Right. The declaration of that Right rarely requires
any action from the holders of that Right, and in fact denies the
holder of that Right the right to renounce it. Implicitly, it
promotes and legitimates actions to enforce those rights on behalf
of the holder.
While it appears to create entitlement for the holder of that
`Right' not to have it violated, the political reality is that it
creates entitlement for others to prevent the violation of that
right. The `right not to be tortured' thus becomes `the right to
prevent torture', which is a hop-skip-and-a-jump to `the right to
bomb torturers', including the right to cause collateral damage.
The intent behind the Declaration of Human Rights becomes clearer
when we examine who declares these rights. It obviously is not the
poor oppressed that declare these rights, as is subliminally
suggested by the propaganda, but Governments and powerful non-
Government Agencies. Even then, it is extremely rare that a non-
Western government declares a `claimed' right, but rather it is
declared by powerful Western States, who explicitly declare these
rights to be irrevocable, unable even, to be rejected by the
`claimant'; a blatant violation of the idea of political freedom.
The Declaration of a right is comparable to a decree, such as that
given by a sovereign. If we want to know who rules a place, we
ask: "who makes the laws here?" It stands to reason that he, who
makes the laws, implicitly can also legitimately enforce the law.
Declarations of a Human Right are fundamentally political acts,
designed to promote the political legitimacy of those that enforce
them. It is not surprising that those that police human rights, are
functionaries of the Ruling Elite, rather than champions of the
oppressed. We should not be astonished that the Human Rights Lobby
selects their targets according to the agenda of the Ruling Elite.
Human Rights are invariably promoted as being embodied in Democracy,
but the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is far from a
democratic document. It is not even Universal. Yet, the Human Rights
lobby claims that it is morally binding on the whole world, forever.
Diplomatic representatives of UN Member States, as it was
constituted at the time approved the document in 1948. In many cases
the victorious Allies installed the governments of the represented
States and their colonial overlords represented many of today's
countries. The populations of Germany and Japan were not
represented, and the political status of the inhabitants of entire
continents, meant they were excluded. Far from `claiming' the Rights
contained in the Declaration, most of the World's population never
saw the text, before it was approved. The text is still not
available in most of the languages spoken by the world's population.
It is not available in Mandarin, nor is it available in Swahili.
No provision was made to periodically review the Declaration, nor
does any mechanism exist to revise it. There is no appeal against
the enforcement of its provisions, nor is their any provision to
appeal its content. The Universal Declaration is considered to be
beyond any appeal, nay, beyond any legal procedure.
Human Rights is a universal doctrine that was imposed by political
tradition that is rooted in the broad liberal tradition, which has
now been co-opted by the neo-liberalism adopted by Interventionist
States seeking the implementation of neo-colonialism. It fosters the
notion that no alternative ethical value system exists outside
Western neo-Liberalism. Certainly Shariah fails to pass muster, let
alone Confucianism or Nihonism. The cultivated myth is that Human
Beings demanded their Human Rights, and the UN graciously consented.
The reality is that the Great Powers issued a decree, and proceeded
to enforce it in furtherance of their agenda.
The imposition of Human Rights, is the imposition of a political
ideology. It is no accident that supporters of Human Rights are also
supporters of the Free Market, Democracy and an Open Society. Most
recent military interventions were justified on the grounds of Human
Rights, and also sought to bring Free-Market economies into the
countries that were a victim of the intervention. If you buy the
concept of `Claimed Human Rights', you buy the whole neo-liberal
package whether you want to or not.
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