Human Rights

Call it Sham-nesty International, an apologist for terror and then a retort by Paul Knox
By MARGARET WENTE
Thursday, May 9, 2002  Print Edition, Page A21

When I was young and idealistic, I used to write enthusiastic essays in favour of the United Nations. When I grew up, I enthusiastically wrote cheques to Amnesty International and lots of other human-rights groups. It was a good thing to do. I knew I was helping to fight injustice in the darker corners of the world.

Now Amnesty International has declared that Canada's reputation as a champion of human rights is on the line. In a new report this week, it said ominously: "In a number of key areas, there has been a failure to walk the talk and match bold words with clear actions."

Where has our nation gone wrong? Our main problem, according to the report, is that we are playing into the hands of that notorious human-rights violator, the United States. We're turning over Afghan prisoners and condemning them to the hellhole of Guantanamo. Another problem is that our police violate the rights of summit protesters by squirting them with tear gas. Another problem is that we have refused to set up an independent body to investigate claims of prison torture.

Prison torture in Canada? I racked my mind for recent hints of it. But all I could recall was a CBC report last week about how prisoners can't get free Nicorettes.

Amnesty International has been in the news a lot these days. It was among the very first to protest Israeli atrocities in Jenin. "The evidence compiled indicates that serious breaches of international human rights and humanitarian law were committed, including war crimes," it declared. It demanded an immediate inquiry, like the investigations for ethnic cleansing in Bosnia.

Its charges made headlines around the world. "In Jenin, there certainly has been mass killing -- both of combatants and civilians," said one Amnesty International observer. The local hospital had treated very few casualties. But that only proved how bad things were. "Where are the severely injured?" the observer said angrily. "They must have died of their wounds. . . . We know, because we can smell the corpses as we walk across the top of the rubble."

He was smelling something else, because as we all know now there was no mass killing. So Amnesty International downgraded its massacre to war crimes -- but not before it left a lasting impression with its hysterical rush to judgment.

The UN's deeply rooted bias against Israel is well known. What's not well known is the bias of human-rights agencies with high-profile names. People think they're objective because they're independent, and so their pronouncements have considerable authority. In fact, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, to name just two, are infected with UN disease: The watchdogs are blind in one eye.

"The abuses we documented in Jenin are extremely serious, and in some cases appear to be war crimes," said Human Rights Watch last week in another headline-making pronouncement. At least it didn't allege a massacre. CBC news and current-affairs shows gave a free ride to the story and to Human Rights Watch spokespersons, who neglected to mention that they hadn't talked to the Israeli side.

Neither of these groups 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.

They have accused Israel of using child soldiers because some boys can enlist in the army when they're only 17. But they've never mentioned the children who lob grenades for Islamic Jihad. One 15-year-old told a Boston Globe reporter how he threw homemade pipe bombs, helped with ambushes, and acted as a lookout. He said the militants had recruited 50 boys like him and divided them into teams of 10.

In its report, Amnesty International criticizes Canada for sometimes being on the wrong side. One example it gives is that we voted against a special UN mission to examine human rights in Israel.

It's worth noting that the UN Human Rights Commission includes such beacons of democracy as Zimbabwe, China, Sudan and Syria. At its annual meeting last month, its members voted down an inquiry into the rigged elections in Zimbabwe. They failed to mention persecutions in China or suffering in Chechnya. Instead, they spent most of their time resolving to support Palestinians in their "armed struggle" and condemning Israel for "acts of mass killings."

Once upon a time, I used to admire the UN. I looked up to Amnesty International, too. But they've become apologists for terror. They aren't part of the solution. They're part of the problem. And I've written them my last cheque.
mwente@globeandmail.ca

Amnesty for the global good guys
By PAUL KNOX
Friday, May 10, 2002  Print Edition, Page A15

The war in the Middle East is fought on two battlefields. One is the small acreage where the fighting and bombing takes place. The other is the vast realm of global public opinion, where words are bullets and toxic clouds of moral superiority swirl about.

The verbal cluster bombs are inflicting serious collateral damage on institutions that save lives, clean up the mess after humanity's atrocities and generally make the world a better and safer place. When the United Nations and Amnesty International are slagged as "apologists for terror," it's time to call for a halt.

For more than 40 years, Amnesty has shone its light into dark corners of abuse and atrocity. There's little doubt that brave people -- lots of them -- are alive today because Amnesty came to their defence. Now it has had the temerity to suggest that someone look into what happened during Israel's assault on the Jenin refugee camp last month. You'd think it had called for the nuking of Tel Aviv.

Despite the claim that Amnesty is "blind in one eye," it has criticized the Palestinian Authority harshly. Its annual report covering the year 2000 states that "torture and ill-treatment by various Palestinian security forces were widespread." It recounts Palestinian attacks on Israelis and says the PA "failed to bring those responsible for human-rights abuses to justice." On March 28, Amnesty condemned the Passover hotel bombing that killed 28 and wounded dozens. "Nothing can justify the deliberate killing of civilians," it said.

Here's what Amnesty said after its delegates were allowed to tour Jenin: "The evidence compiled indicates that serious breaches of international human rights and humanitarian law were committed, including war crimes. But only an independent international commission of inquiry can establish the full facts and the scale of these violations." As for claims of a massacre, Amnesty secretary-general Irene Khan was quoted as saying in an April 29 press release: "There is no legal definition in international law of the word 'massacre' . . . its use in the current circumstances is not helpful."

Now for the UN. I know complexity is tiresome. But its essentially toothless Geneva-based Human Rights Commission is one thing. The core secretariat, humanitarian work and peace-building are far more important, and significantly improved under Kofi Annan.

Sure, criticize the commission's recent session. Like this: "The commission failed in its principal duty to protect victims of appalling human-rights violations in countries like China, Indonesia, Iran, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Togo and Zimbabwe."

Guess who wrote that? Amnesty International. Good for them.

The world isn't perfect; why should the UN be? But there's no way the attacks of Sept. 11 or the latest Middle East conflict justify junking the idea of international organizations, or the tenets of global justice. If there were no UN, who would rebuild disaster areas such as Sierra Leone and East Timor? Where would the poorest nations have an equal voice?

Never mind. Yesterday on these pages my colleague Margaret Wente consigned the UN to the trash heap, and said Amnesty wouldn't get another nickel from her. The Mugabes and Husseins and Milosevics of the world will be glad to hear it. Somewhere, some prisoner of conscience is bound to rot a bit longer in a squalid jail.

So I sent Amnesty a cheque yesterday to double my donation. Call it the Collateral Damage Fund.
pknox@globeandmail.ca

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