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Amnesty International's silence


These are some thoughts on Amnesty International and their silence.

At the Amnesty International UK AGM this last weekend April 9th - 12th. 
There were four motions on sanction, which were composited to one, the 
substance of which was

"The AGM ......DECIDES that the present mandate review process will 
include, in its second phase, a consideration of whether Amnesty 
International should alter its position on sanctions against states that 
violate or are alleged to violate human rights and report to the 2001 ICM".

The reason for this motion of support for motions that have already been 
proposed (Tunisia and Ireland), was because the deadline had passed for 
submission of new motions to the International Council Meeting, ICM, in 
August at Morocco. The AIUK Board opposed the motion because they had 
already proposed a sanctions motion to the ICM, the substance of which is

"The International Council ...... DECIDES to oppose embargoes when their 
effect is to threaten the physical and mental integrity of populations or 
to threaten lives of innocent citizens."

Their argument was that the issue of sanctions were not covered by the 
present mandate, and as such needed to be in the mandated review process. 
Our contention was that we thought it was and so do the Tunisian and Irish 
Sections, and that our inaction on the matter has led to AI's credibility 
as a Human Rights organisation.

My interpretation of the argument put forward by the AI UK board was they 
intended to separate economic and social rights from the rights of civil 
and political, which AI traditionally campaigns for. There was also mention 
during the debate on the successes of sanctions as a tool to coerce 
governments, with the South Africa and Rhodesia given as examples.

The mandate as is states "To promote awareness of and adherence to the 
Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other internationally recognised 
human rights instruments, the values enshrined in them and the 
indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights and freedoms."

The example of Iraq clearly shows the interdependence of all the rights. As 
an example, the degradation, cruel and inhumane treatment (civil) of 
someone forced to undergo an operation without anaesthetics due to an 
embargo on medicines (social), or the denial of the most fundamental of 
rights, life, (civil), through starvation (economic) and lack of access to 
medicines (social).

On the issue of successes of sanctions, I would distinguish between 
sanctions that are requested for by the majority of the population, as in 
South Africa (a claim made by one of the delegates who was a South African) 
and those imposed as in Iraq and Cuba. This in my opinion is similar to the 
difference between a masochist torturing her or his self for their 
pleasure, and a torturer that tortures someone against their will. This 
does not however detract from the role of a human rights organisation, like 
Amnesty International, who should be observers of abuses. To this effect 
they should report on the self-inflicted abuses carried out by the 
masochist as well as those carried out by the torturer.

The effects of sanctions, taking the Iraqi example, have been the 
deprivation of LIFE. AI's important campaigns have been those that have 
threatened the denial of this most important right, by intent either 
legally through capital punishment or illegally through extrajudicial 
executions. There is currently an AI campaign, "Death Penalty" for the 
former and most country campaigns cover the latter. The focus of campaigns 
on the abuse of this right is normally on the effect and not the cause, 
particularly in the illegal cases. It could easily be argued here that in 
the case of sanctions on Iraq, there is intent following Madeline 
Albright's  "It is worth it" quote. This then raises the issue for AI, of 
credibility, which the dearth of AI reporting of the current holocaust, 
effected by sanctions, in Iraq highlight. The question is how can the 
government and more importantly the people of Iraq as well as observers, 
take AI seriously when the latest country report on Iraq, in the 1998 
annual report, devotes fifteen paragraphs to the deaths of a few hundreds 
brought about by capital punishment and extrajudicial executions but 
mentions in passing, using less than a sentence, (from another 
organisations UN Human Rights Committee report) the killings of over 
100,000 people in the same year by sanctions.

These were some of the arguments, which I hope will be of assistance to 
those members of Amnesty International.

Good Luck
Paul Abbey

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