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NGO Monitor Analysis (Vol. 3 No. 1) 15 September 2004

Amnesty International and Christian Aid: Restoring a Human Rights Agenda?

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As noted by the NGO Monitor, the activities of Amnesty International and Christian Aid have been characterized by a strong pro-Palestinian political agenda.

However, recent evidence indicates the NGO Monitor analyses are having an important impact. In July and August, these organizations issued statements that seem to presage a reduced emphasis on overtly political positions, and a return to core human rights issues.

Amnesty International Condemns Terror Attack

In a press release of 31 August 2004, Amnesty International condemned the suicide attacks on two buses in the city of Beersheba, which killed at least 15 people and wounded nearly 100 others. Amnesty stated:

"Palestinian armed groups must put an immediate end to suicide bombings and other attacks against civilians. Such deliberate and systematic targeting of civilians is a crime against humanity."

The statement went on to reiterate Amnesty's repeated condemnation of "suicide bombings and other attacks against civilians carried out by Palestinian armed groups including Hamas, Islamic Jihad and al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades."

Noticeably absent from the statement was any 'balancing' criticism of Israeli policies. This is a small but important step towards restoring Amnesty's standing as an apolitical human rights organization.

Christian Aid Critical of Palestinian Authority

Also making something of a break with its previous political agenda, Christian Aid, a consistently acrimonious critic of Israel and supporter of Palestinian demands, published a press release on 19 July 2004 headlined "Crisis point for Palestinian Authority". For many years, this major NGO has carefully refrained from criticizing the Palestinian Authority and its leadership, while blaming Israel for the conflict and its impact. This time, however, Christian Aid commented on internal violence and infighting between armed Palestinian groups following the refusal of Yasser Arafat to implement political and security reforms. The organization issued a strong condemnation of the violence "and joins the majority of Palestinians who want to see a restoration of the Palestinian Authority's legitimacy and an end to the nepotism and corruption that has become a part of its daily routine."

The press release continued: "The PA needs to ensure respect for the rule of law and end growing internal instability. International aid money has been poorly spent on security concerns rather than on more urgent development needs and strong, accountable institutions."

At the same time, Christian Aid did not avoid repeating the standard practice of balance by also attempting to blame Israel for Palestinian failures. "Years of internal misrule and unrelenting military occupation by Israel has taken its toll on the Palestinian Authority. The systematic destruction of government buildings by the Israeli army has also made it difficult to make fundamental changes in the Gaza Strip and create a tangible difference to the ever-poorer population."

This artificial and gratuitous attempt to balance criticism of Palestinian leadership with an attack on Israeli policy reflects the continued influence of a strong political agenda in Christian Aid's approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

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