Friday, May 10, 2002

Amnesty International is weakening its punches by criticizing Canada (and the US) for human rights abuses, as suggested by Margaret Wente in the Globe and Mail. In contrast to the recent thick report on Canada's "problems", "neither of these groups [Amnesty and Human Rights Watch] has called for an independent inquiry into the cult of suicide bombing, or asked how Jenin became a nest for terrorists -- the place Fatah itself called the capital of the suicide bombers. They have not asked how these things could happen in a camp that has been administered since the start by a UN relief agency. They have deplored the interception of Red Crescent ambulances by Israeli troops, but do not mention that those ambulances are used to smuggle weapons and even fighters."

The organization certainly seems to be losing sight of the bigger picture. The official report asks Canada to deal with Afghanistan a certain way, and to cease to hand [terrorist] detainees over to the US. It criticizes a few proposed Canadian anti-terrorism laws. The report criticizes the Canadian justice system, not for direct abuses, but about how abuses committed elsewhere are treated in Canadian courts. There's an entire section in about Dudley George. Major sections concern membership in international treaties, and corporate investments. The last part is about how many refugees should enter Canada and how easily.

This certainly indicates a problem with focus and credibility. Is the organization now so large and well-funded that it has groups investigating most facets of every country, good or bad? Perhaps 20 years ago the only way to get attention from a Western reader concerning some African massacre was to make the news "local" by criticizing some Western company for association with the massacre. This reasoning would have initiated the groups responsible for watching Canada's record. However, in the long run, the organization can't issue press reports about Sudanese massacres and also about Dudley George and maintain the same kind of attention for each.

Wente's criticism seems to be even harsher: that these organizations have become "blind in one eye". Some groups get a free pass for human rights abuses. Is it their skin colour? Wente doesn't propose what the criteria is to get a free pass, but others have speculated. It could be different standards for different racial groups, anti-Semitism, anti-Americanism, or in part that any group subject to repression or humiliation can't possibly be responsible for its own actions, even suicide bombing. Whatever the case, AI needs to work on its balance.

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