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Amnesty International 2005 Human Rights report and hypocrisy

Amnesty International has released its 2005 report on the state of the world's human rights. Most of the headlines (though not all) have focussed on AI's condemnation of the United States' own abuses, in particular on the comparison by Amnesty secretary general Irene Khan of Guantanamo Bay to a Soviet gulag.

The Washington Post editorial sees this as an example of "Bush-bashing or America-bashing" and states that in her introduction to the report Khan "mentioned only two countries at length: Sudan and the United States".

The editorial's ultimate point is right, that such hyperbole "undermines Amnesty's legitimate criticisms of U.S. policies and weakens the force of its investigations" and "also gives the administration another excuse to dismiss valid objections to its policies as 'hysterical'."

However it's worth making a few counterpoints:

  • Khan's foreword does indeed only name two countries, the Sudan and The US, however the bulk of her criticism is directed at world leaders and their countries' "agonizingly slow" progress in realising the 2000 Millennium Development Goals, the United Nations Security Council for its failure to muster will and the UN Commission on Human Rights for becoming "a forum for horse-trading on human rights."
  • Khan praises the Guantanamo Bay related judgement of the United States Supreme Court (and the UK Law Lords) as a positive development in that same foreword.
  • The press release accompanying the report doesn't explicitly mention the US until the tenth paragraph and then only after condemning Sudan, Haiti, Congo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Russia, Zimbabwe, and terrorism in Spain, Iraq and Russia (as well as governments' failure to confront their lack of success in combatting such terrorism).

It's true that human rights abuses worse than those committed by the United States exist. However no other country lays such strident claim to global moral leadership (and much more so under the current administration). When you set yourself up as the bulwark of freedom, liberty and democracy you owe the world a higher standard of behaviour.

And so outrage such as this - where criticisms of the US and Australia are labelled "absurd" because these "countries [...] are the bastion of law and order, human freedoms and subsequently human rights" ring hollow. Or responses like this - "But keep in mind, all of this is comparable to Gitmo, because some U.S. guards may have kicked a Koran" - are needlessly glib. And statements like this - "Amnesty International's Report claim[s] the US is the world's worst human rights violator" are just plain wrong, but good for rabble rousing I suppose.

It's like those supporters of the Iraq invasion who defend the civilian death toll (certainly over ten thousand, maybe over a hundred thousand) on the basis that "Saddam was worse". Yeah, sure, but does that make it right? Does that mean that such wrongs - when committed by us, the ostensible good guys - shouldn't be reported or condemned? It's scary, but some people would answer yes to those questions.

It's also worth noting that the United States itself produces human rights reports every year. The State Department publishes country reports on every region in the world... except one: the United States itself. The United States can put allies like the United Kingdom or Australia under the microscope but refuses to look for the plank of wood - or even speck of sawdust - in its own eye. Instead, a self-congratulatory Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record has been produced for the last three years.

I imagine many people who accuse Amnesty International of hyperbole, hypocrisy and political self-interest fail to see these traits on a much more profound, damaging scale emanating out of Washington.

Comments (3)

It is not hypocrisy to be being angered by Amnesty Internationalís publicity seeking, manipulative critique of the US and Australia.
Hypocrisy is Amnesty International staking a claim to the high ground whilst engaging in low down political games to a: score points against ideological foes and b: turning their back on genuine and indisputable human rights abuses in the world.
Its Amnesty International that is hypocritical, not to mention un-accountable and ultimately irresponsible.

No organisation, or country, should be above criticism in this matter (though significantly it's not Amnesty International who is committing these abuses), so what exactly are the "genuine and indisputable human rights abuses in the world" that Amnesty has turned its back on? I haven't read the report in detail but browsing through it it seemed pretty comprehensive to me. (And - unlike the US State Department's version - didn't have pointed omissions.)

Jean, Hello, I'm glad to know your name.
What I am specifically referring to when I talk of genuine and indisputable human rights abuses is the abuses by the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe.
Of course there are other places in the world where human rights are not respected to the extent that they should be, but my problem with AI is that by criticizing the US and Australia, a move to generate publicity and engage in self promotion, they effectively let off Mugabe and others like him whose continual atrocious behavior goes unchecked.
My ideology may be opposite to those atop AI but it does not mean that I am not outraged by what I see as the international community, AI included, letting off people like Mugabe and his regime.
Fortunately to my mind AI does not hold exclusivity when it comes to monitoring human rights abuses, goodness knows the BBC does a better job!

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