- Amnesty International’s ideological bias and double standards were exposed by the suspension of senior staff member Gita Sahgal, after she condemned Amnesty’s alliance with an alleged Taliban supporter. “Like all tyrants - whether of the right and left, Amnesty International raised the spectre of an assault on human rights to avoid answering questions and to imply that Amnesty International was under attack.”
- Longtime Secretary General Irene Khan left Amnesty in December 2009. Her interim replacement, Claudio Cordone, was centrally involved in the Gita Sahgal controversy including the response that “jihad in self-defence” is not “antithetical to human rights.”
- In the Middle East, while Amnesty’s main focus in 2009 was Iran’s post-election crisis, arrests, and executions, Israel and the January 2009 Gaza war were given disproportionate and distorted attention.
- During the war, AI led NGO campaigns accusing Israel of “unlawful,” “disproportionate,” and “indiscriminate” attacks against Palestinian civilians, releasing more than 20 statements criticizing Israel.
- After the war, AI called for an arms embargo against Israel, continued to promote “lawfare” against Israeli officials, and labeled Israel’s treatment of Gaza as “collective punishment under international law.”
- Analysis of AI’s 2009 Middle East activities reflects a disproportionate and unjustified focus on Israel. AI issued more in-depth reports (seven) on Israel than on any other country in the region.
- The data indicate that ideology, rather than universal human rights, continues to propel AI’s resource allocation. With the exception of Iran, AI devotes little coverage to other chronic Mideast human rights abusers.
- AI’s October 2009 report “Troubled Waters – Palestinians Denied Fair Access to Water,” coincided with a campaign alleging that “Israel’s Control of Water [is] a Tool of Apartheid and a Means of Ethnic Cleansing.”
- The sections in AI’s Annual Report for 2009 on the Palestinians include token mentions of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and condemnation of indiscriminate missile attacks from Gaza, without significant “action items,” in contrast to the targeting of Israel.
- This analysis of Amnesty’s 2009 activities demonstrates the continued exploitation of human rights principles, and the degradation of these moral values.
While Amnesty International’s (AI) main Middle East focus in 2009 was Iran’s post-election crisis, arrests, and executions, it also allotted a disproportionate amount of attention and resources to the January 2009 Gaza war.
Israel’s military operation in Gaza was a major and disproportionate focal point for Amnesty International (AI) in 2009. AI virtually erased the context of terrorism in the Gaza war, the continuing violation of Gilad Shalit’s rights, and minimized Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli civilians. Its reports consistently accused Israel of “collective punishment” and promoted international isolation of Israel, including a call for an arms embargo.
NGO Monitor’s analysis shows that AI’s reports alleging Israeli violations and “war crimes” lack credible evidence, distort international legal terms, use data selectively, and function as part of a larger demonization campaign.
Quantitative Analysis of Amnesty International Publications in 2009
Using a quantitative rating system, NGO Monitor examined all of Amnesty International’s Middle East publications in 2009. AI generates five types of documents addressing human rights. Based on the relative resources required to produce each type of document, as well as its relative impact, NGO Monitor developed a rating system by which to measure, assess, and compare each type. NGO Monitor implemented the same methodology in previous years (2008, 2007, 2006).
Table I: Analysis of Amnesty Publications in 2009
Note: “Story” refers to case studies and videos, counted here with Wire articles.
Note: The majority of documents listed in the “Palestinian Authority/Hamas” category also appear in the “Israel” category. Therefore, combining the figures from these two groups does not accurately reflect Amnesty’s output on the Arab-Israeli conflict.
While AI’s main focus in 2009 was Iran’s post-election crisis, arrests, and executions, it also allotted a disproportionate amount of attention and resources to the Gaza war and the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Of the 51 documents on the Palestinian Authority, only eight focus exclusively on Palestinian “violations.” Of the remainder, 33 deal with both Israel and the PA, while 10 focus exclusively on condemnations of Israel.
As demonstrated in Table II, the Gaza war was the primary focus of AI’s work on Israel in 2009; it released the most documents during the war in January. In September and October, there was a slight increase in the number of documents due to AI’s endorsement of the Goldstone Report. (During the Goldstone process, AI official Donatella Rovera praised Goldstone and the “experts” involved with the inquiry. AI was also responsible for providing Goldstone with a list of 36 incidents to investigate [all relating to alleged Israeli violations], and which became the sole focus of Goldstone’s report. In a meeting with Goldstone in Geneva in May 2009, an AI official provided Goldstone with an outline for his report, which he adopted.)
In terms of total documents, Israel is portrayed as the second worst human rights violator in the Middle East in 2009 (89 documents), following Iran (218 documents – the vast majority of these are “urgent actions,” see below) Regarding Iran, AI discussed the post-election crisis, as well as brutal imprisonments and executions. But, Palestinian, Syrian, Libyan, Egyptian, and Saudi human rights violations received far less attention.
AI issued more in-depth reports – which have the greatest impact – on Israel (seven) than on any other country. Only Israel, Iran (five), and Iraq (five) were the subjects of more than three reports in 2009. The number of articles about Israel (43), PA/Hamas (33), and Iran (67) in AI’s bimonthly “action-zine,” Wire – the most detailed pieces produced by AI – also reveals Amnesty’s myopic focus. Most other counties merited less than half as many (between 1 and 17). This distribution indicates that media attention, not universal human rights, drives AI’s agenda.
AI’s Urgent Action alerts for activist members are described as providing “an effective and rapid response to urgent situations involving prisoners of conscience, detainees, and other threatened individuals.” These alerts more closely reflect AI’s traditional and core role than do its charges of human rights violations in conflict zones where AI lacks expertise, research capabilities, and credibility.
Similar to 2008, the statistical analysis of Urgent Actions in 2009 represents a more balanced perspective on human rights in comparison with previous years: the number on Iran (109) outnumbers all other Middle East countries by far; indeed, Israel only had seven. Abusive regimes such as Syria (25) and Saudi Arabia (24) also received noteworthy attention in the Urgent Actions category. However, there is a notable dearth of serious attention to abuses in authoritarian states such as Libya, Lebanon, Algeria, Morocco, and Jordan.
Note: “Story” refers to case studies and videos, counted here with Wire articles.
If narrowly focused Urgent Action documents are removed (see methodology), the gap between the numbers on Iran and Israel markedly decreases. As Table IV below shows, 50% of AI’s documents on Iran (109 of 218) were Urgent Actions, while only seven of the 89 documents on Israel were Urgent Action documents.
Amnesty International’s Role in the Gaza War
Arms Embargo and Boycott
During the Gaza conflict, AI released more than 20 statements, which were overwhelmingly critical of Israel and used the rhetoric of international humanitarian law (IHL) in a consistently biased manner. Israel was accused of “unlawful,” “disproportionate,” and “indiscriminate” attacks against Palestinian civilians, similar to AI’s false claims against Israel during the Second Lebanon War (2006).
Denying Israel’s right to self-defense
In February 2009, AI issued a 43-page report, “Fueling conflict: Foreign arms supplies to Israel/Gaza,” which calls on the UN Security Council to “[i]mpose immediately a comprehensive ... arms embargo on Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups until effective mechanisms are in place to ensure that weapons or munitions and other military equipment will not be used to commit serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law.”
The report is based on discredited accusations and misrepresentations of international law. AI’s Gaza team included “expert” Chris Cobb-Smith, whose previous “investigations” helped AI promote the myth of a “massacre” in Jenin in 2002.
Following the February report, AI escalated its campaign for an arms embargo against Israel, while ignoring the massive flow of offensive weapons and explosives from Iran and Syria into Gaza. An April 1, 2009 press release (“Shipment reaches Israel, President Obama urged to halt further exports”), revealed that AI tracked a vessel carrying arms across the Atlantic Ocean and through the Mediterranean Sea. Amnesty-USA accompanied this report with a call for action: letters to Secretary of State Clinton labeling Israel a “grave violator of human rights” and demanding to know the “reason behind sending these arms now.” In contrast, Amnesty has been silent on illegal weapons transfers from Iran and Syria to Hamas.
In July 2009, AI published a report entitled “Operation ‘Cast Lead’: 22 Days of Death and Destruction,” charging Israel with “war crimes” during the conflict. The 127-page publication ignores considerable evidence that Hamas used human shields, minimizes Palestinian violations of international law, and promotes boycotts and “lawfare” against Israel. The only mention of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit is in a footnote, underlining AI’s double standards in the application of human rights norms. The investigation fell far short of the requirements stipulated in the Lund-London Guidelines for “human rights fact-finding visits and reports.” In response to criticism of the report from NGO Monitor and the IDF, AI said, “NGO Monitor has a track record of trying to rubbish human rights reports on Israel-Palestine.”
Gaza war anniversary
On the first anniversary of the Gaza war, AI published a report (Suffocating: The Gaza Strip under Israeli Blockade, January 18, 2010), accusing Israel of “collective punishment under international law.” Egypt’s and Hamas’ responsibility is minimized, and AI makes the legally false assertion that “as the occupying power, it is Israel that bears the foremost responsibility for ensuring the welfare of the inhabitants of Gaza.” The report also repeats the claim, which originated in an earlier Amnesty report on Gaza, that an Israeli air attack destroyed the Bader flour mill. This incident was not contemporaneously reported by Palestinian NGOs in Gaza nor in the Arabic media. According to the Israeli army, photographs prove that the mill was accidentally hit by artillery during a firefight with Hamas combatants.
Promoting “Lawfare” Claims
On February 2, 2009, several media outlets reported that AI transferred files to the International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor regarding alleged “war crimes” committed by Israel. These reports made no mention of any AI initiative regarding Hamas war crimes aided by Iran and Syria.
AI also mounted a defense of the exploitation of British courts by pro-Palestinian “lawfare” activists. Amnesty-UK Director Kate Allen, along with other NGO officials, signed a letter published in the Guardian (“We must not renege on war crime laws,” January 16, 2010), protesting proposed changes to British law that would limit the unregulated access to UK judges that allows for politically motivated cases. One such instance was the attempt to arrest Tzipi Livni in December 2009.
Amnesty International’s Water Report: “Israel-Apartheid” Allegations
The release of AI’s October 2009 report “Troubled Waters – Palestinians Denied Fair Access to Water” coincided with a campaign alleging that “Israel’s Control of Water [is] a Tool of Apartheid and a Means of Ethnic Cleansing.” BDS activist Omar Barghouti conducted a speaking tour in the United States and Amnesty-UK hosted a “discussion” (October 28, 2009) with Ben White, author of Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide, entitled “Discriminatory and Unsustainable: Water and Politics in Israel & the Occupied Palestinian Territories.” The AI water publication alleges that Israeli “restrictions are imposed on all Palestinians because they are Palestinians” (emphasis in original) and Israel “restrict[s] access to water as a means of expulsion.”
The report is based on the prejudicial claim that Israel is violating Palestinian human rights, because the Oslo framework, on which current water arrangements are based, “codified inequality in access to water resources.” This approach patronizingly assumes that the Palestinian leadership is incapable of negotiating agreements, and creates the specter of future agreements being abrogated on similar grounds.
Amnesty also ignores evidence that not only does Israel provide West Bank Palestinians with more water than required under Oslo, but that Palestinian water thieves are responsible for stealing up to 50% of supplies in some areas. It claims that levels of Palestinian water consumption (60 to 70 liters per person per day), are “the lowest in the region,” omitting evidence that this is a similar, if not higher, level than in major regional cities such as Amman, Tunis, and Algiers.
AI also invents standards of international law by erroneously claiming (including on the front cover) that Israel has an “obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the right to water” based on the International Covenant of Economic, Cultural & Social Rights (ICESCR). AI implies that the ICESCR demands a right to water when no such right is mentioned in the treaty. In fact, the legislative history of the ICESCR indicates that the state parties deliberately omitted water issues.
The report’s numerous inaccuracies have been detailed by the Israel Water Authority, CAMERA, and NGO Monitor.
At the end of 2009, AI Secretary General Irene Khan left the organization after an eight-year term. Claudio Cordone is serving as the interim Secretary General until Salil Shetty assumes the position in June 2010.
The change in leadership has been accompanied by controversies and scandals. In February 2010, AI suspended Gita Sahgal, head of its Gender Unit, for criticizing AI’s alliance with Moazzam Begg, an alleged supporter of the Taliban. AI’s actions were condemned by author Salman Rushdie and columnist Christopher Hitchens, among others. Hitchens called the “degeneration and politicization” of AI “a moral crisis that has global implications,” and urged AI members to withhold their funding. AI promised an “internal inquiry” into the Sahgal suspension.
In Amnesty’s official response, AI’s interim Secretary General Claudio Cordone defended Begg, stating that “jihad in self-defence” is not “antithetical to human rights” (February 28, 2010).The organization previously claimed it had collaborated with Begg because he is a “compelling speaker” and because of its commitment to “upholding the universality of human rights.”
Although AI devoted serious resources to exposing human rights abuses in Iran in 2009, the NGO superpower continued to disproportionally focus on Israel and ignore abuses in other Mideast countries.
AI’s promotion of an arms embargo against Israel, boycotts, “lawfare,” and its accusations of “war crimes,” “collective punishment,” and “indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks against civilians” are made without any credible evidence and reflect ideological bias. This analysis of Amnesty’s 2009 activities demonstrates the continued exploitation of human rights principles, and the degradation of these moral values.
Appendix: NGO Monitor’s Methodology
Amnesty International (AI) publishes five types of documents addressing human rights. Based on the relative resources required to produce each type of document, as well as its relative impact, NGO Monitor has developed a rating system by which to measure, assess, and compare each of these types of publications.
Reports (10 points): Detailed documents describing events in depth and analyzing them in the context of international law, reports may focus either on a specific country or on a particular topic. In the latter case, some of the reports analyze the behavior of a number of countries in the framework of international conventions.
Wire/Stories (8 points): AI International’s bi-monthly “action-zine,” sent to subscribers and people involved in AI’s campaigns and posted on AI’s website, features articles on events judged to be egregious cases of human rights violations. The articles are usually accompanied by color photographs and captions. There is also a small section of updates about ongoing events or the resolution of tensions reported in earlier issues, as well as a list of Worldwide Appeals initiated by AI (these were not included in the sum of documents for each country; only feature articles were counted). In contrast to press releases, for example, which are written and released immediately, the articles in Wire reflect greater investment of resources. Also included in this category, for the purposes of this study, are “stories” – case studies and videos -- which focus on a particular human rights issue with supporting photographs and captions.
Public Statements (7 points): Articulations of AI International’s official position in response to specific events.
Press Releases/Media Advisories (6 points): Only several paragraphs long, press releases announce newsworthy events and developments.
Urgent Actions (1 point): According to AI, its “Urgent Action Network provides an effective and rapid response to urgent situations involving prisoners of conscience, detainees, and other threatened individuals.” This usually takes the form of a letter-writing campaign. The lower point value of this category reflects the focus on the plight of specific individuals rather than on national or regional events. Urgent actions often repeat information previously delivered in other types of documents. Moreover, many of these articles serve as updates to previous publications, or announce the end of campaigns and the resolution of the issue at hand.
The value assigned to each type of document by NGO Monitor was then multiplied by the number of such documents issued by AI concerning each country that year. For example, if in 2009 AI produced two reports (20 points) and two press releases (12 points) on Country X, then that country would be given a score of 32 points. The numerical result is used for analytical comparison of AI’s attention to the various countries in the region. A higher rating reflects a greater focus on the country, while a lower rating demonstrates a lower priority level and degree of involvement. While different scales may lead to somewhat different numerical results, they are unlikely to affect the overall conclusions. (The sources used by NGO Monitor are fully documented and references are available upon request.)