1) A letter from Aharon Eviatar, Chair, Israel Section, Amnesty International, in response to NGO Monitor’s analysis on Sudan, 26 August, 2004
29 August 2004
I have received your latest posting on NGO’s, Israel and Sudan. As Chair of the Israel Section of Amnesty International, I feel it incumbent on me to respond. I would be most grateful if you would post my response on your Web site and make it known to the readership of your newsletter.
Indeed you note that Amnesty International was the first organization to raise the alarm about the Darfur calamity. Sudan is a country that has always denied or raised difficulties with respect to access of human rights organizations to its territory. Amnesty International was allowed to visit Sudan for the first time in 13 years in January 2003. Sudan, as are Israel and the occupied territories, is one of our seventeen Country Action Campaign countries. This was true long before Darfur and was and is related to human rights violations in the entire territory of Sudan. It can hardly be said that we have not paid attention to it. Had we not been paying attention to Sudan, we would not have been one of the first to alert the world to Darfur in early 2003.
I have checked with our London Headquarters and have been assured that the resources allocated at the International Secretariat to Sudan are and have been approximately the same as those allocated to Israel and the Occupied Territories. The number of reports we issue depend on a whole host of factors, including for instance, available information, access to the country, breaking events, etc. It is simply wrong and misleading to measure Amnesty International’s interest in a particular country simply through the number of reports issued by the International Secretariat – as a campaigning organisation, the measure of our interest must also take into account membership action, co-group work, lobbying, etc, which this article totally ignores. The public reports are not the only or even the main means used to influence public opinion, which is our only means of creating change (vid. Stalin’s question about the divisions of the Pope).
Our experience has taught us that thousands of letters and faxes arriving on the desk of a state leader can have as great and even greater effect than press releases published in Europe. In the past month, I personally have written to the leaders of Russia, China, the Maldive Republic and Texas on matters that include excessive use of lethal force, repression of freedom of Internet use and expression, arbitrary detention of opposition politicians and implementation of capital punishment. There are 1.5 million of us around the world ready and willing to take up the cudgels of human rights defense in an apolitical manner anywhere in the world.
Direct comparison of the number of reports issued on any particular country is a crude and incorrect way of measuring impartiality. The content and approach to a particular subject, including our willingness to expose serious abuses wherever they occur determine our impartiality, not the number of column inches devoted to the abuse. If I may comment, your newsletter seems determined to create the impression that Israel, for whatever reason, enjoys immunity from legitimate criticism of the actions of its military and police, whatever the degree of human rights violation they may commit. For details, I refer you to the roving exhibition "Breaking Silence" of soldiers whom, while serving in the Occupied Territories, have found themselves committing acts that they regret and of which they are greatly ashamed. Some introspection might be in order.
Chair, Israel Section
September 7, 2004
Dear Prof. Eviatar, Thank you for this letter in response to our 26 August report on Sudan. Indeed, your response sharpens the focus on the fundamental deficiencies in the ways that NGOs prioritize their press activities and public relations campaigns. Perhaps through this exchange, you can help the readers of NGO Monitor to understand these processes, and we lead NGOs such as Amnesty to more transparent and responsible policies.
With respect to NGO Monitor’s documentation of the limited activity by human rights NGOs on southern Sudan prior to 2003, we do not accept your explanation based on the difficulties in gaining access to this area. As our report shows, there was a great deal of public information on the situation in southern Sudan, and had this been a priority, Amnesty would have issued more than 7 reports during this period. Furthermore, Amnesty’s August 25 2004 on Darfur, ("Intimidation and Denial-Attacks on freedom of expression in Darfur,") states that "Amnesty International is not, at present, being allowed access to the region by the Sudanese government." Nevertheless, AI issued 23 reports on the situation in Darfur in July and August – clear indications that access is not linked directly to the level of activity.
There is no moral foundation for an agenda that allows the neglect of human rights catastrophes simply due to restrictions from hostile regimes, or determined by "breaking events" (particularly when the reports of the NGOs often steer the news coverage). Indeed, beyond Sudan, if access or news flow turn out to be the primary criteria, rather than moral issues, this would explain why the NGOs devote the majority of their resources to the "easy" and more visible cases.
Similarly, without any verifiable evidence, we cannot simply accept the "assurances" of Amnesty’s London Headquarters "that the resources allocated at the International Secretariat to Sudan are and have been approximately the same as those allocated to Israel and the Occupied Territories." On what basis are these claims made? To the best of our knowledge, Amnesty does not publish information on budgetary allocations to different human rights crisis areas, and the basis for such priorities. However, other evidence, as clearly demonstrated in our analysis, shows that Amnesty and the other NGOs have put far more of their resources into condemning Israel than in alerting the world to the mass killings in southern Sudan.
In measuring the priorities and agendas of NGOs such as Amnesty, you also state that it is "misleading to measure Amnesty International’s interest in a particular country simply through the number of reports…the measure of our interest must also take into account membership action, co-group work, lobbying, etc."
Putting aside the absence of evidence that other activities have a significant impact, an examination of AI’s record in this area further highlight the political agendas that determine which issues are brought to the attention of AI’s "1.5 million…willing to take up the cudgels of human rights defense…" Amnesty’s primary method of member lobbying and letter-writing is though its ‘Urgent Action’ campaigns. From September 2000 until the beginning of 2003 there was not a single Urgent Action campaign directed at Sudan that focused primarily on the mass killings, rapes and abductions that were occurring at that time, or on the destruction of hundreds of villages by Sudanese government and allied forces. Every Urgent Action referred to isolated events such as the arrest, possible torture, or imminent execution of specific individuals, usually human rights or political activists. In contrast, during that same time period, at least 10 "Urgent Action" campaigns focusing on general practices or events were directed at Israeli policy. These included allegations of "excessive use of force", "targeted assassinations", etc.
Finally, there is no foundation for your claim that the NGO Monitor "seems determined to create the impression that Israel … enjoys immunity from legitimate criticism of the actions of its military and police…" NGO Monitor’s mandate is to provide transparency and expose cases where the language of human rights is immorally exploited in order to pursue narrow political agendas, such as the illegitimate demonization of Israel. Your letter and other responses demonstrate that in our analyses, we are fulfilling this mandate, and facilitating the process by which the activities of human rights NGOs are being returned to their moral foundation.
In this spirit, we look forward to further dialogue on these critical issues.
Gerald M. Steinberg
Editor, NGO Monitor