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December 08, 1989 - Image 44

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-12-08

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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44

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 8, 1989

Foreign Correspondent

C

riticizing Amnesty
International is a bit
like knocking
Motherhood and Apple Pie.
The question of human
rights has, rightly and com-
mendably, become a major
issue in international poli-
tics.
And if human rights has
become a growth industry,
Amnesty International, the
1977 Nobel Peace Prize
laureate, is unquestionably
the market leader.
The 28-year-old London-
based organization, which
monitors human rights
abuses and offers a fragile
shield to prisoners of cons-
cience, is undoubtedly per-
forming a necessary task in
a hard, brutish world. For
some, Amnesty is the only
hope.
At its headquarters in
London, Amnesty's files of
letters bear testimony to the
effectiveness of the
organization's work —
whether through publicizing
a prisoner's plight in the
media, appealing to
offending governments or
mobilizing its army of sup-
porters around the world to
write letters of support and
solidarity.
"When the first 200 letters
came, the guards gave me
back my clothes," wrote one
former prisoner in the
Dominican Republic. "Then
the next 200 letters came
and the prison director came
to see me."
Membership in Amnesty
worldwide doubled from
250,000 in 1981 to 500,000 in
1986, and today it numbers
some 700,000, organized in

. -...mosisqpresepowarosientear.,

3,985 groups (almost equal
to the 4,640 political
prisoners which Amnesty
has "adopted").
The impact on the United
States in particular, accor-
ding to Amnesty officials,
has been so impressive that
the flood of new, young
recruits posed a formidable
organizational challenge.
So what's the catch? How
can one possibly fault an
organization that is so ob-
viously on the side of the
angels?
One catch, quite simply, is
that all too often the focus of
Amnesty's attention
becomes hopelessly skewed.
Liberal democracies,
which allow a free, in-
quisitive, critical press and
permit relatively easy access
to their societies, also pro-
vide the softest targets for
Amnesty — and a wealth of
material to swell its reports.
In the Middle East, Israel's
highly publicized battle to
contain rioting Palestinians
has no doubt led to trangres-
sions of Israel's high human
rights standards.
Nothing that Israel has
done, however, could begin
to match the atrocities com-
mitted by its neighbors.
In Iran, over 1,200 polit-
ical prisoners were executed
last year and torture was
commonplace. In Iraq, the
regime ordered ballistic mis-
siles, tipped with chemical
warheads, to be fired into
villages inhabited by its own
Kurdish minority. Some
5,000 men, women and
children were killed on a
single day and hundreds of
thousands more fled into ex-
ile.
Yet, in Amnesty's latest
annual report, Israel, Iran
and Iraq are accorded equal

space. Moreover, in the year
under review, Amnesty in-
vestigators visited Israel on
no less than three occasions
— more than any other Mid-
dle East country — while
they made not even one visit
to Iran or Iraq.
Sensitive, perhaps, to this
inherent inequity, the
organization implicitly ac-
knowledged the imbalance
by hedging its report with a
carefully worded disclaimer:
"Amnesty International
stresses that the length of a
country's entry in its report
depends on the information
available and does not pro-
vide any basis for comparing
the extent and depth of the
organization's concern in
that country..."
While Amnesty's reports,
particularly its sections. on
Israel, receive wide media
attention, there is not a sin-
gle reported case of this
small-print being noted by
editors, for many of whom
Israel is the flavor of the
month.
There is yet another, more
insidious, catch to those
Amnesty reports: "Amnesty
represents a pro-Arab view,"
says Juliet Keen, a long-
time Amnesty member in
Britain who has vigorously
criticized Amnesty's one-
sided approach to the Middle
East. "But that's not sur-
prising because the view in
Britain is generally pro-
Arab."
Jane Moonman, head of
the British Israel Public Af-
fairs Committee (BIPAC) is
more specific. She believes
that Amnesty's bias, while
unintentional, is cemented
into the very fabric of the
organization.
Amnesty International,
she points out, was founded

'lett

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