Given the current
escalation of Israeli depredations in Gaza and the
daily US bombings of Falluja, it is interesting
to examine Amnesty International's (AI) statements
on the situation. AI is widely viewed as an authority
on human rights issues, and thus it is of interest
to analyze its output on these recent events. Careful
scrutiny of AI's record reveals that, its typical
response to the daily obscene deeds by either Israeli
or US armies is a few barely audible ruminations
with an occasional lame rebuke. The impotence of
these responses raises many questions.
with human rights?
Consider the title
of a recent press release: "Israeli army must
respect human rights in its operations" .
According to AI, the Israeli depredations on occupied
land are acceptable as long as they "respect"
human rights. This is analogous to recommending
that a rapist should practice safe sex . It is
also difficult to imagine that a military occupation
could ever be imposed while observing "human
Consider the context.
During September 2004 the Israeli army killed on
average 3.7 Palestinians per day; it injured an
average of 19.3 p/day; it demolished many houses
affecting the lives of thousands; it has transformed
vast areas of Gaza into a denuded moonscape. It
is also clear that these gruesome statistics will
be worse in October. The Israeli Defense Minister
Shaul Mofaz openly states that the Palestinians
should be punished, and the measures advocated entail
collective punishment. The entire Palestinian population
is taken hostage; pressure is exerted on them as
a whole. Ethnic Cleansing is on going, and the construction
of the grotesque wall stands as proof of the criminality
of this policy.
Given the devastation
inflicted by the Israeli army and clear violations
of international law, one would expect at least
a tiny condemnation. However, this is the extent
of AI's reaction:
is concerned that the Israeli army's use of excessive
force in this latest incursion in the Gaza Strip
will result in further loss of lives and wanton
destruction of Palestinian homes and property.
Reprisals against protected persons and property
are prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention
and Israel is obliged to ensure that any measures
taken to protect the lives of Israeli civilians
are consistent with its obligations to respect
human rights and international humanitarian law.
should immediately allow international human rights
and humanitarian organizations to enter the Gaza
Strip. At present [AI] delegates and staff members
of other international organizations are denied
access to the Gaza Strip."
that this lame statement was uttered in reaction
to the attack on Jabalya, an onslaught which Dr.
Mustafa Barghouti described as follows: "Sharon's
tanks are rampaging through Jabalia and Beit Lahia,
just as they did in Khan Yunis, Rafah and Beit Hanun.
The simple fact is that Sharon is doing to Gaza
what he did to the West Bank in 2002." 
AI's hypocrisy in issuing this limp statement is
evident when it is compared with the press release
May 2004 AI issued a press release headed "AI
condemns murder of woman and her four daughters
by Palestinian gunmen." The body of the text
contains the following condemnation:
deliberate attacks against civilians, which have
been widespread, systematic and in furtherance
of a stated policy to attack the civilian population,
constitute crimes against humanity, as defined
by Article 7 (1) and (2)(a) of the 1998 Rome Statute
of the International Criminal."
when Palestinians kill some civilians, then it constitutes
a "crime against humanity" -- one of the
most serious crimes under international law, and
a precursor to genocide. But, when Israel kills
far more civilians "in furtherance of a stated
policy" (the phrasing AI used against Palestinians)
to "exact a price" (to use the words of
Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz ), all that
AI can do is to wring its hands and worry about
"the Israeli army's use of excessive force".
Thus, we see that AI does not hesitate to use against
Palestinians terms, such as "crime against
humanity", which it has never unambiguously
leveled against Israel.
that the Israeli woman killed by Palestinians in
the above episode was a settler. Thus, AI was stretching
a point a to call her a civilian -- settlers are
armed and they consider themselves, when they feel
like it, the shock troops of an expansionist zionism
whose stated goal is to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians
from, at least, all the land west of the River Jordan.
the Palestinian attack, AI also states: "deliberate
attacks against civilians, which have been widespread,
systematic and in furtherance of a stated policy
to attack the civilian population." Whoa! It
is astonishing that such a description was added
to its accusation pertaining a Palestinian attack,
but at the same time, it is not willing to classify
any Israeli actions as "systematic, deliberate
and widespread [etc.]". AI portrays Palestinian
violence as worse than Israeli violence, and this
amounts to a clear double standard.
Sept. 27, 2004 a settler from the Itamar settlement
killed a Palestinian in cold blood, and the Israeli
authorities even sought to exempt the settler from
house arrest; at most -- though not likely -- he
will be charged with manslaughter . While AI
was willing to issue a press release about the settler
woman and her kids who were killed, it was not willing
to issue any statement about this incident. What
makes this neglect curious is that around the same
time it issued a press release regarding an abducted
CNN stringer -- someone who was eventually released
AI's public record reveals an odd sense of proportion
in selecting which events it chooses to discuss.
seems that AI regards settlements as mere misplaced
suburbs, and its residents as just some Western
suburbanites. For some settlements, this may be
the case, but several settlements are home to racist
zionist fanatics. Jeff Halper, the director of the
Israel Committee Against House Demolitions, observes
that there is now a second generation of settlers,
those born in the settlements; he calls them the
"clockwork orange" settlers who are more
extreme, racist and violent than their predecessors
. The clockwork orange settlers frequently violently
harass Palestinians, demolish homes, and occasionally
kill with impunity. This context raises questions
about AI's repeated calls to exempt settlers from
the second intifada, AI has not issued any statement
about settler violence.
happened to the supreme crime?
is not an anti-war organization, and this stance
creates numerous contradictions. With the onset
of the US war against Iraq, it issued statements
about the means the US would employ in warfare,
but curiously, AI didn't condemn the war! This is
particularly curious given that the war was one
of aggression and thus constitutes a supreme international
crime. This is what Prof. Michael Mandel (Prof.
of Law at York Univ., Toronto) had to say about
the attack was launched, stern warnings were issued
to all the 'belligerents' by Human Rights Watch
and Amnesty International [...], reminding them
of their duties under the laws and customs of
war. But neither said a single word about the
illegality of the war itself or the supreme criminal
responsibility under international law of the
countries that had started it. 
pertaining to the press releases AI issued during
also questioned whether the required precautions
were being taken to protect civilians, and called
for investigations into civilian deaths like those
at the Karbala checkpoint, and the shooting of
demonstrators in Falluja. But never once did Amnesty
International [...] mention the fundamental reason
why none of the incidents really had to be investigated
at all -- namely that all of this death and destruction
was legally, as well as morally, on the heads
of the invaders, whatever precautions they claimed
to take, because it was due to an illegal, aggressive
war. Every death was a crime for which the leaders
of the invading coalition were personally, criminally
AI ruminations amount to recommending the "rapist
to engage in safe sex" -- no mention of the
crime! Even though AI often refers to international
law to issue its statements, when it comes to US
depredations, then even supreme crimes are not mentioned.
AI's statement issued regarding the situation in
United Nations Security Council should stop the
transfer of arms being used to commit mass human
rights violations in Darfur [AI] urged today while
releasing a report based on satellite images showing
large-scale destruction of villages in Darfur
over the past year."
situation may be awful in Darfur, and the measure
suggested may be warranted. However, the curious
aspect of this statement is that AI has never called
on the UN or any other body to impose an arms embargo
on Israel, although there are ample grounds for
such a recommendation.
American academic inquired about this double standard,
and she received the following answer from Donatella
Rovera, AI's principal researcher on Israel-Palestine:
situations in Sudan and in Israel-Occupied Territories
are quite different and different norms of international
law apply, which do not make it possible to call
for an arms embargos on either the Israeli or
the Palestinian side. The West Bank and Gaza Strip
are under Israeli military occupation (not the
case for the Darfour region in Sudan). Hence,
certain provisions of international humanitarian
law, known as the laws of war (notably the 1907
Hague Convention and the Fourth Geneva Convention)
apply in the Occupied Palestinian Territories
(and not in the Darfour region)." (email
communication July 5, 2004).
is couching its double standards in dubious legalese,
but consider what Prof. Francis Boyle (Professor
of International Law at Univ. of Illinois Champaign)
has to say about Rovera's statement:
is total gibberish. When I was on the Board of
Directors of Amnesty International USA near the
end of my second term in 1990-92, we received
the authority to call for an arms embargo against
major human rights violators, which Israel clearly
qualified for at the time and still does -- even
under United States domestic law. Of course no
one at AI was going to do so because pro-Israel
supporters were major funders of Amnesty International
USA, which in turn was a major funder of Amnesty
International in London. He who pays the piper
calls the tune -- especially at AIUSA Headquarters
in New York and at AI Headquarters in London.
about the prisoners?
core of AI's efforts have to do with "prisoners
of conscience", prison conditions, and torture.
So, it is of some interest to determine how this
issue is dealt with pertaining Palestinian prisoners
and the Abu Ghraib torture scandal . The table
below provides some context for the Palestinian
of Palestinian Prisoners (July 8, 2004)
(age < 18)
Violation of accords 
of prisoners put on trial
 All prisoners held prior to the signing of
the Oslo Accords should have been released. 
Administrative detention is illegal under international
law. Administrative detention orders may last
for up to six months, with Palestinians held without
charges or trial during this period. Israel routinely
renews the detention orders thereby holding Palestinians
without charge or trial indefinitely. During this
period, detainees are often denied legal counsel.
AI doesn't publish the lists of prisoners of conscience
[POC], and one must trawl through its public record
to determine if there are Palestinian POCs. During
the second intifada, its record indicates two POCs
and two "possible" POCs, and no other
information on Palestinian prisoners is evident.
There are many Palestinian "administrative
detainees" -- those held without charges, without
trial, and for indefinite terms -- yet AI doesn't
deem fit to bestow on them its magic POC label.
The contrast with the treatment of Cuban POCs is
stark: here even people paid by the US embassy for
subversive activities earned a POC status, and simple
search of the AI-USA website or some of the right-wing
Cuban-American websites reveal 88 POCs . This
implies that a large percentage of "political"
prisoners in Cuba are POCs . While the Palestinian
POC list is not made public, when it comes to Cuba,
a different standard applies .
the case of Cuba AI issues stern statements and
calls to release the prisoners. Such statements
may be justified given that there are 88 Cuban POCs.
However, AI has not issued a similar statement about
the much larger number of political prisoners held
by Israel. Maybe the mere "four" Palestinian
POCs do not warrant this effort.
for Palestinian prisoners in Israel and the occupied
territories are appalling, and torture of prisoners
is common. Earlier this year, Palestinian political
prisoners went on hunger strike to protest these
conditions. Israeli prison authorities engaged in
awful tactics to disrupt the hunger strike, e.g.,
prison staff barbecued meat in the prison courtyard
to unnerve the hunger strikers, confiscated salt,
etc. . Given AI's interest in prison conditions,
torture, and denial of medical treatment, when it
came to the Palestinian hunger strike there was
no statement whatsoever. A request for a position
on this issue revealed a similar unwillingness to
utter a peep. A comparison with the treatment of
Cuban POC would be instructive, but beyond the scope
of this article.
is no doubt that US forces in Iraq are engaged in
the systematic use of torture -- contrary to initial
US reports aimed to minimize the damage, it was
not a case of "a few rotten apples," and
the evidence for the most perverse forms of torture
--and indications that responsibility for them goes
up the chain of command-- is damning. Furthermore,
it is also clear that many prisoners were killed
while in detention-- several deaths clearly due
to torture. So, what does AI have to say about this?
wrote a letter to "His Excellency Mr. John
D. Negroponte" to ask under which legal framework
the prisoners would be treated. First, it is odd
to see AI deferring to Negroponte in such an abject
manner. Negroponte has a sinister past and it is
odd to refer to him as "His Excellency".
The letter then requests a clarification of the
legal framework applying to the prisoners -- and
this in the face of the torture revelations:
reports of torture of Iraqis not only by the occupying
powers but also by the Iraqi police, [AI] would
welcome information about the legal and practical
safeguards that will apply to arrest, detention
and internment; what access international and
Iraqi organizations will have to those held; and
whether prisons and detention centres will be
placed under Iraqi government or other control.
The international community should know what measures
are in place to ensure that the absolute prohibition
of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment
or punishment will be strictly observed by Iraqi,
US and other forces. In this respect, we would
appreciate knowing your views about our recommendation
that the United Nations should have a specific
monitoring mandate to supervise all places of
is curious that AI has to inquire about the rights
of prisoners in Iraq by appealing to a representative
of the country that launched an illegal war of aggression.
The abject tone of the letter is disturbing -- it
also means that AI has no desire to confront serious
US crimes in a forceful manner. Whereas in the past
AI reports could cause trepidation among some dictators,
today AI's statements hardly make mass human rights
abusers take notice. For this type of preferential
service AI received a Nobel Peace Prize.
other AI press releases are of a similar nature.
calls on the MNF to take all necessary precautions
to protect civilians and respect the principles
of necessity and proportionality, and to take
measures to ensure that they comply fully with
their obligations under international law. 
sounds familiar because AI is using the template
which they have used to report on Israeli "abuses".
right to "defend itself"?
just like the US government, issues ritual statements
that "Israel has a right to defend itself".
AI accepts military intervention in the occupied
territories to make sure that Israel obtains its
elusive "security". The only difference
between AI's position and that of the US is that
AI urges the military intervention to "respect
human rights" or for it not to be "excessive"
. Both accept Israel's right to build the Apartheid
Wall, AI just urges that it be built on the Green
Mandel offers an interesting view on this so-called
right to self-defense:
aggressor has no right to self-defense. If you
break into someone's house and hold them at gunpoint
and they try to kill you but you kill them first,
they're guilty of nothing and you're guilty of
is the aggressor in the region, and its actions
are meant to hold on to land it conquered by force.
Ethnic cleansing has been on going since 1948 until
the present day, and it is irrational to suggest
that Israel has a right to repress those whom it
seeks to dispossess. Today Israel tries to repress
Palestinians who happen to have kept the keys to
their houses that were stolen from them since 1948;
so, Mandel's analogy is appropriate.
statements about measured violence to obtain "security"
also flies in the face of a history of ethnic cleansing.
Israeli policy has been one of stealing the land
and dispossessing the population. Given this history,
it is outrageous to suggest that Israel has a right
to "defend" itself since its actions have
amounted to continued aggression.
position is riven with contradictions. On the one
hand, it seeks to defend "human rights",
but on the other, it "understands" war
or weapons of war, or accepts the right of "self-defense"
of an aggressor. AI also attempts to equate the
violence of the oppressor with that of the oppressed;
the latter it tries to de-legitimize, while the
former it tries to contain so that it "respects
human rights". Without addressing the underlying
injustice, AI's position is simply absurd. The implication
of AI's stance is that it does not promote a solution
with a modicum of justice; it seems to accept the
status quo, but with "human rights" --
whatever that means in AI's warped lexicon.
concerned with justice for the Palestinian cause
or seeking to end the obscene war in Iraq will be
disappointed with Amnesty International's stance.
It is no use appreciating the bits of its reports
that are useful; the problem is that its overall
position on key issues is at best contradictory.
Many of the well-intentioned and idealistic volunteers
working on AI's campaigns may be wasting their efforts
given that the AI framework adopts a blinkered understanding
of the problems. Donating to AI doesn't translate
into effective action for these causes, and given
AI's record, the Palestinians certainly cannot expect
fair coverage or representation. Will AI ever clearly
and categorically condemn Israel for the large number
of killings and the havoc and destruction it has
caused in Jabalya or Beit Hanoun? Don't count on
Israeli assault on Palestinian refugee camps, each
US bombing of cities in Iraq, and each assassination
of yet more Palestinians or Iraqis reveals AI's
dubious stance. Today, most AI pronouncements range
between moral flatulence and moral fraudulence.
is a writer living in London. He can be reached
all emails with attachments will be automatically
de Rooij © 2004
Nabeel Abraham, et al.; International Human Rights
Organizations and the Palestine Question, Middle
East Report (MERIP), Vol. 18, No. 1, January-February
1988, pp. 12 -- 20. Available online: www.corkpsc.org/db.php?aid=4388
Dennis Bernstein and Francis Boyle, "Amnesty
on Jenin": an interview, CAQ, Summer 2002,
pp. 9 -- 12, 27. Available online www.corkpsc.org/db.php?aid=4573.
Sara Flounders, "Massacre in Jenin, Human Rights
Watch and the Stage-Management of Imperialism,"
CAQ, Fall 2002. Available online: www.corkpsc.org/db.php?aid=3220.
Amnesty International, "Israeli army must respect
human rights in its operations", MDE 15/094/2004,
October 1, 2004.
A very similar statement was issued in its "Excessive
use of force" [MDE 15/095/2004, October 5,
2004] press release, where it demanded that Israel
"put an immediate end to the use of excessive
lethal force" . The implication is that
a lower level of violence is acceptable. Again,
AI didn't condemn the continued occupation of Palestinian
land. Another point must be made about its press
releases regarding Israeli violence. Invariably
these contain some finger pointing against Palestinians.
However, the opposite is not the case, i.e., statements
about Palestinian violence don't contain condemnation
of Israeli violence. Yet another double standard.
AI, "AI condemns murder of woman and her four
daughters by Palestinian gunmen", MDE 15/049/2004,
May 4, 2004.
Arnon Regular, Court: Settler to stay under house
arrest over killing driver, Haaretz, Sept. 29, 2004.
AI, "[AI] calls for immediate release of journalist
Riad Ali", MDE 15/093/2004, Sept. 28, 2004.
Michael Mandel, How America Gets Away With Murder,
Pluto Press 2004, p. 7.
ibid, p. 8. NB: this book contains more examples
of AI's inconsistencies and other problems with
its moral backbone.
Amnesty International, "Sudan: The UN Security
Council should stop arms transfers to Sudan and
the Janjawid militia", AFR 54/074/2004, July
NB: the propaganda compliant term is "abuse
scandal" -- it is clearly more serious than
for example: AI-USA, "Amnesty International
Urges Release of Prisoners of Conscience in Cuba
on One-Year Anniversary of Arrests", March
It is difficult to classify prisoners in Cuba, and
there is some discussion about this on the web.
For their own ends right-wing Cuban-Americans claim
large numbers, but these claims are doubtful. However,
the same groups use AI's POC with relish. NB: many
of the prisoners in AI's Cuba POC list were paid
by the US embassy to engage in black propaganda,
and several were caught red-handed receiving money
from embassy staff. Never mind that these people
may be thus tainted, AI raised no questions about
their "embassy" business to bestow a POC
Source: personal communication with the principal
AI researcher on Israel-Palestine.
As an example of the measures taken against the
prisoners see: Arnon Regular, Jonathan Lis, and
Jackie Khoury, "Prisons Service will set up
barbecues to combat hunger strike by Palestinian
security prisoners", Ha'aretz, Aug. 16, 2004.
Here is one quote:
have been set up to grill meat near the cells
of Palestinian security prisoners in an effort
to combat a hunger strike that the prisoners launched
yesterday. Prisons Service guards confiscated
cigarettes and candy, along with large quantities
of salt, which the prisoners had hidden in their
mattresses apparently to provide themselves with
minerals during the strike. The guards also removed
pens and newspapers. In addition to setting up
barbecues to whet the appetite of security prisoners,
the Prisons Service is halting all family visits
for the strikers, while radios and televisions
have been removed from their cells."
AI, "Clarification needed on status of prisoners
after 30 June", MDE 14/031/2004, June 18, 2004.
AI, "End bloodshed and killing of children",
MDE 14/050/2004, Oct. 1, 2004.
AI, "Excessive use of force" MDE 15/095/2004,
October 5, 2004.
AI, "The fence/wall violates international
law," MDE 15-018-2004, Feb. 189, 2004.
Mandel, op. cit., p. 9.