Amnesty Travesty

Amnesty International’s 2004 report attracted an unusual amount of attention this week because of the stress that its Secretary General, Irene Kahn, laid on the United States’ failings. Her comparison of the Guantanamo detention facility to the Soviet-era gulag system was denounced by the US president, vice president, and defense secretary. There is little reason to discuss this comparison any further, except to note that it makes a change when the left compares Bush to Stalin instead of to Hitler.

However, the Secretary General’s remarks were just the preamble to a lengthy report on the state of human rights throughout the world. Surely an organization concerned with the relief of suffering and injustice would be most concerned with the worst cases, and in fact, the dismal situation in is Darfur the first case discussed and is dealt with at some length. It is a fair inference that the Secretary General wishes to call the world’s attention to the abuses AI regards as most egregious and urgent. While ceding pride of place to Sudan, the United States also receives lengthy attention. Without descending into utilitarianism, it must also be a fair inference that abuses not mentioned in the Secretary General’s statement are regarded as less offensive, capricious, or cruel than the ones mentioned, and less deserving of the world’s attention.

Here are ten other countries whose endeavors in the fields of human rights and jurisprudence were not thought worth mentioning in the Secretary General’s summary. Because of the special scrutiny of the United States by Amnesty, where there is some mention of the US in the context of the report on another country, AI’s remarks are noted.

Countries not mentioned in Irene Kahn’s message:

North Korea
AI omits credible reports that the families of those suspected of political crimes are also imprisoned. The policy is to imprison the generations before and after the offender. Reports from the few escapees indicate that the survival of these political prisoners and their families is not a top priority of the regime. A first-person account, presumably unknown to AI, may be found here.

The numbers of those actually executed, and for what reasons, are not supplied by official North Korean sources, but according to AI, there is good news: “Reports of public executions continued to be received, although fewer in number than in previous years.”

Refugees indicate that those returned to North Korea from China are usually killed at once. Per Amnesty: “The acute food shortages forced thousands to cross “illegally” to China’s north-eastern provinces. Those repatriated faced detention, interrogation and imprisonment in poor conditions.” I’ll bet.

The kidnapping of Japanese citizens, and the threadbare explanations of their whereabouts and fates, was not discussed.

US connection:

North Korea warned in October that it would use “war deterrent force” if the USA brought the nuclear dispute before the UN Security Council.

In October, the US President signed into law the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004, which provided humanitarian assistance and for North Koreans to be granted asylum in the USA.

The report quotes an official estimate of over 10,000 executions per year, including those for non-violent offenses such as tax evasion. The report also notes that torture is widespread. Example from AI’s country report: “[Wang Xia] appeared emaciated and her body bore several scars. She had reportedly been tied to a bed, hung up, beaten, injected with unknown substances and shocked with electric batons after going on hunger strikes to protest against her detention.” Ms. Wang had been imprisoned for activities related to Falun Gong, a prohibited religious group. No mention was made of underwear placed on her head or abuse of Falun Gong religious writings as methods of torture.

The laogai system, which was modeled on the original gulag with Soviet assistance and advice, is not mentioned, but its existence may be inferred from the report. It is apparently not a gulag for our times.

One notorious case was described by AI as follows:
“On 15 August, Atefeh Rajabi, reportedly aged 16, was hanged. She was sentenced after a grossly unfair trial during which she was publicly insulted and doubts regarding her mental state appeared to be ignored.”

A more complete account may be found at this site. Another account indicates that this felon had refused the advances of the mullah who served as her judge and who also fitted the noose around her neck.

Saudi Arabia
US involvement: “Ahmed Abu ‘Ali, a 24-year-old US national, was arrested in June 2003 at the University of Madinah where he was studying. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reportedly interrogated him or attended his interrogation in relation to a US case – US v Royer* – involving 11 people charged with “terrorism”-related offences. Ahmed Abu ‘Ali had connections with one of the defendants, but that defendant was acquitted. Ahmed Abu ‘Ali remained held in Saudi Arabia without charge, trial or access to lawyers.”

The AI country report omitted mention of

  • the preaching by imams on the government payroll, exhorting the faithful to join the jihad against the Jews and Crusaders (that would be us, including the occupants of the World Trade Center)
  • the actual transit of Saudi nationals to Iraq to carry out these religious duties by means of suicide bombings of Shi’a mosques, public markets, and other legitimate military targets
  • the continued funding of this jihad by members of the ruling family
  • the death penalty for apostasy from Islam
  • the prohibition of the practice of any religion but Islam, and any variety of Islam but Wahhabism (Bibles, by the way, are confiscated at customs and destroyed. It is not certain whether they are flushed down toilets, but Saudi sanitary facilities and practices make this operation unlikely to succeed.)

“Mauritania strengthened its military cooperation with the USA in the context of the ‘war on terror’.”
Mauritania is one of the last places on earth where slavery is widely practiced.

Congo/Zaire/Democratic Republic of the Congo/Whatever
Ah, here it is. If you were looking for AI’s discussion of the widespread sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers, this is it in its entirety: “Some MONUC civilian, police and military personnel were responsible for rape and sexual exploitation of women and girls.” I was unable to locate any other mention of this on AI’s website. More complete accounts may be read here, here, and here. For weasling, see here (especially item 3).

Since Congo fell into anarchy with the collapse of the Mobutu regime, invasions by neighboring countries, and the rise of various non-state armed groups, approximately 2 million people have died of violence, disease, and starvation attributable to the lack of a functioning government or to the actions of what government there is.

As long as we are dealing with Stalin analogies, please note that this is a country which seems to be re-enacting the Ukraine famines of the 1930’s by driving farmers off their land and turning it over to Party functionaries. Food supplies, including foreign donations, are diverted away from disloyal regions.

On the plus side, Zimbabwe has signed on to the International Criminal Court.

[Update: My bad. Zimbabwe did get a mention in the Secretary General’s address. Here it is, in context: “The UN Commission on Human Rights has become a forum for horse-trading on human rights. Last year, the Commission dropped Iraq from scrutiny, could not agree on action on Chechnya, Nepal or Zimbabwe, and was silent on Guantánamo Bay.”]

AI reports that there are over 1300 political prisoners in Burma. This unfortunate country has been under continuous military dictatorship since 1962, a fact which Amnesty apparently did not feel worth mentioning.

The continuing genocide against the Hmong is described in Amnesty’s report thusly: “The ongoing internal armed conflict with predominantly ethnic Hmong minorities continued unabated.” This issue is treated more fully here.

Amnesty reports “at least” 70 political prisoners in Cuba. Considering that Cuba arrested and jailed 75 peaceful advocates of reform in 2003 (14 were subsequently released for health reasons), this seems to be a conservative estimate.

The population of Cuba is about 11 million. Illinois has about 12 million people and zero political prisoners.

Update: Val at Babalu Blog has more, much of it in not very nice language.

The US State Department issued this report on the state of human rights in Cuba, which is a little more substantial than AI’s.

US involvement: “In November, for the 13th consecutive year, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution calling on the USA to end its embargo on Cuba.” For the 228th consecutive year, the United States is entitled to trade any other willing country, or not trade with any other country, as we see fit.

Amnesty’s US executive director recently called for the arrest and trial of top US officials by whatever foreign government may have them on their soil. There is no record of a similar suggestion regarding the leaders of these ten regimes.

Statistics from Amnesty International’s website:
USA country report: 3305 words; other articles: 200 (maximum search results)
North Korea country report: 1351 words; other articles: 200
China country report: 2715 words; other articles: 200
Iran country report: 2192 words; other articles: 200
Saudi Arabia country report: 2232 words; other articles: 135
Mauritania country report: 814 words; other articles: 44
Congo country report: 2026 words; other articles: 200
Zimbabwe country report: 2565 words; other articles: 126
Myanmar (Burma) country report: 1537 words; other articles: 142
Laos country report: 1153; other articles: 35
Cuba country report: 992 words; other articles: 99

Scare quotes around “terrorism,” “global war on terrorism,” etc.: all but one reference that I could find. Perhaps the editors missed that one. Nobody’s perfect.

* US v. Royer appears to be a completely unrelated case. In any event, are “interrogations” now prohibited?

5 thoughts on “Amnesty Travesty”

  1. That is a frightening list of despotic regimes. Just out of curiosity, have the leaders of any of these regimes been charged with crimes in the ICC?

    I’m gonna go out on a limb and say they haven’t. Maybe someone with some spare time can Google this and prove me wrong.

  2. Who pays for the A. I. expenses? Soros, French government,…? Who paid Greenpeace to attack Shell at the same time as Chanceller Kohl?
    Follow the cash.

  3. I fear that Amnesty International is falling prey to institutional hijack. Politically motivated individuals are using the organizations prestige to advance their own narrow political agendas.

    On the matter of Gitmo, I am forced to ask: Where would I rather be imprisoned, Gitmo or a Mexican civil prison? For that matter, I would probably prefer Gitmo to any civil prison in the developed world. At least in Gitmo, your chances of being murdered are vanishingly small. People released from Gitmo certainly seem in good health and spirits.

    The fact that AI spends so much time on what are at worse minor abuses in the American system when would could toss a dart at a world map and find much more extreme conditions really serves to reveal what a hypocritical enterprise AI has become.

  4. I think Amnesty International is an important NGO, and one that at makes us remember each year, if nothing else, the names of the despotic regimes globally. However, I think that they’ve fallen prey, as have most Democrats/world liberals post-9/11, to a pattern of blasting something without offering anything constructive as a solution or an alternative.
    As someone who looked for a Bush alternative but found Kerry to be merely a man without new ideas who could only complain, I find AI to be doing the same here. Certainly, the U.S. government can do better. But there’s a lack of perspective and lack of focus on any possible fixes or solutions in AI’s report. Even the suggestion that governments arrest U.S. officals is merely bitching and moaning, because it’s something that would never, never, ever happen.

    Were AI to suggest some real changes, or couch their warnings in a language meant to convey, Hey, U.S., just be careful, rather than hyperbolic “gulag” hilarity, they might have been listened to seriously. At the least, they’d be able to legitimately say they were ignored. Now, at least for the moment, they are but another overreacting Bush-hater living in another world.

  5. Mitch,

    Thank you for contructing this piece. It is as excellently pointed as it is frightening.

    Re: AI being “institutionally hijacked”, well, it has happened to bigger and, perhaps, better organizations than AI. For all NGOs and other organizations devoted to securing World Peace and wiping out World Hunger the gravy train eventually becomes the main point of their continued existence. Once that happens intellectual corruption is not far behind and outright financial corruption is soon on its way (see Nations, United). NGOs do not have the Savage Marketplace to keep them honest.

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