Review of Amnesty International in 2007: Attacking Democracy instead of Oppression in Middle East
- NGO Monitor has systematically analyzed Amnesty International’s Middle East coverage in 2007, applying a quantitative methodology, similar to that used to examine the agenda of Human Rights Watch.
- The results show that in 2007 Amnesty singled out Israel for more condemnation than Syria, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Lebanon, and Algeria.
- More items were published condemning Israel, than the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and Hezbollah combined. If detailed reports are used as an indicator, Amnesty ranks Israel and Iraq as equally the worst human rights abusers in the Middle East.
- Israel’s democratic and open society ironically invites disproportionately negative reporting from Amnesty International. Access to information facilitates more comprehensive research than in less democratic regimes; democracy demands higher standards of human rights, according to Amnesty International’s Israel branch; external factors, such as media attention, dictate AI’s policy.
- Amnesty’s 2008 annual report (covering events in 2007) is yet another example of the NGO’s highly biased approach. It presents a gross distortion of the conflict, selectively reports events to remove the context of terrorism and ignore human rights issues not related to its political agenda, while repeating un-sourced and anecdotal claims.
- The Israeli Justice Ministry’s response to Amnesty’s June 2007 report, "Enduring occupation Palestinians under siege in the West Bank” stated that “Amnesty’s report is one-sided, immoral, and riddled with mistakes and numerous factual and legal inaccuracies, including scant mention of Palestinian terrorism."
Part I: Quantitative Analysis of Amnesty International’s Publications in 2007
This report presents a quantitative analysis of publications in Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa section using a weighted scale methodology consistent with NGO Monitor’s previous annual reports. A publication is only included in the count for a particular country when this country (as represented by its government, its military or its ministers) is criticized by Amnesty and when this is a central point throughout the publication. It should be noted that Amnesty’s new website design has made it harder to systematically find articles and that articles have been categorized differently than in the old archive, which is no longer accessible. The publications found in the Middle East and North Africa section on the current site have therefore been double-checked against each country’s individual file in Amnesty International’s old archive (before its removal from the site).
Methodology: Amnesty International (AI) publishes six 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.
Open Letters (9 points): Detailed documents addressed to an influential body, such as the United Nations or European Union, with the aim of influencing policy, such as economic aid, sanctions, or trade cooperation.
The Wire  (8 points): Amnesty International’s monthly magazine, sent to subscribers and people involved in AI’s campaigns, featuring articles on events that are considered by Amnesty officials to be the worst cases of human rights violations. The articles are usually accompanied by color photographs and captions. There is also a small section at the end of updates about ongoing events or the resolution of tensions reported in earlier issues, as well as a list of Worldwide Appeals initiated by Amnesty International (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 published immediately, the articles featured in The Wire reflect greater investment of resources. Also included in this category, for the purposes of this study, are “stories” which focus on a particular human rights issue with supporting photographs and captions.
Public Statements (7 points): A statement of Amnesty 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 Amnesty International, their “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 is then multiplied by the number of such documents issued by Amnesty International concerning each country during the year. For example, if in 2007, Amnesty International produced 2 Reports (20 points) and 2 Open Letters (18 points) on Country X, then that country would be given a score of 38 points. The numerical result is used for analytical comparison of Amnesty International’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.)
DATA FOR 2007: The following table reports the number of documents of each type published on several Middle Eastern and North African countries by Amnesty International in 2007. The column labeled “total documents” reflects the sum of all documents produced about a certain country that year, while “total points” represents the numerical value assigned to each country based on the weighted point system. Certain documents were counted more than once when there were substantial passages in the same article dealing with more than one country.
|Types of Publication|| Reports(10 points)
|| Open Letters
| The Wire/Story
| Public Statements
| Urgent Actions
|Total Documents||Total Points|
*Although the Palestinian Authority is not considered by the international community as an independent national entity (“country”), this interim administrative body plays a significant role in the region and has, therefore, been included in this study. In the first half of 2007, Hamas formed part of the unity government, together with the Fatah party. Following Hamas’ violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, it became the de-facto ruler of that region. Of these 24 documents, 3 Reports, 3 Public Statements, 3 Press Releases and 1 Urgent Action condemn Hamas along with the PA. In addition, 1 Urgent Action focuses exclusively on Hamas’ violations. In total, 71 points may be attributed to Hamas.
** Amnesty International’s publications devoted specifically to Hezbollah in 2007 include: Reports (0), Open Letters (0), The Wire (1), Public Statements (1), Press Releases (1), Urgent Actions (0), for a total of 3 documents and 21 points,.
The following graph shows the distribution of points across countries in the Middle East and North Africa and their relative weight.
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL’S BIASED AGENDA:
These results place Israel (191 points) second after Iran (339 points) , portraying it as one of the Middle East’s worst violators of human rights. Moreover, Israel is tied with Egypt (191 points). This outcome marks no improvement from 2006, as Israel and Iran remain the main foci of Amnesty’s reporting.
The above data reveals that Amnesty International devoted the most reports – documents describing events in-depth and analyzing them in the context of international law – to criticizing Israel (6 reports) and Iraq (6 reports) than to any other country in the region.
It is also notable that more in-depth critical reports were written about Israel than about Iran (4 reports) or Saudi Arabia (1 report). Statements by Amnesty officials indicate that this may be due to Israel’s democratic nature in which Amnesty enjoys freedom of movement and full access to information.  However, a May 2007 interview with Amnon Vidan, head of Amnesty International’s Israel branch, suggests that the criteria for action may be "[Amnesty’s] ability to influence, and need to present issues to media," and the "expectation of Israel and other democratic states to abide by a higher standard." This is problematic given Amnesty’s mandate to promote "internationally recognized human rights for all," and the widespread assumption that the NGO campaigns for universal human rights, rather than self-promotion.
It is important to examine how Amnesty unevenly distributes its resources when covering Israel and terrorist organizations operating in the region. More resources were devoted to Israel (191 points) than to Hamas (71 points) and Hezbollah (21 points)  combined. This imbalance extends to the substance of the reports as well. Amnesty International criticizes Israel for events in which both sides of the conflict were implicated. For instance, its June 1, 2007 Public Statement “Civilians in the line of fire in Gaza and Sderot,” focuses disproportionately on the suffering of Palestinians and minimizes Israel’s right to defend its civilians from attack. Although the title suggests balanced reporting, the article, presents Israel as the aggressor inviting Hamas’ rocket attacks in retaliation for its self-defensive military operations. Although Amnesty acknowledges that the IDF’s “attacks aim to kill members of armed groups involved in firing rockets into Israel,” it immediately negates this legal right, claiming that “such attacks often kill and injure large numbers of uninvolved bystanders.” Moreover, Amnesty’s juxtaposition of the number of casualties on each side evokes greater sympathy for the Palestinians. Finally, in its recommendations to the conflicting parties, only Israel’s actions are qualified as “reckless or disproportionate use of force.” It must be noted that no document exclusively condemns Hamas’ rocket attacks; such criticism is always accompanied by condemnation of Israel.
These results are particularly surprising in a year when even B’Tselem reported that 351 victims (nearly half of the total Palestinian death toll of 730) were “Palestinians killed by Palestinians” and not by Israeli security forces.  In addition, Israel’s General Security Service reported that seven Israeli civilians and six military personnel were killed by Palestinian terrorists and 1,271 rockets were launched against Israeli civilians in 2007. Two Israelis were killed by rockets and mortar shells and 342 were injured.  With inter-factional killings amounting to nearly half of the total Palestinian death toll and with additional Israeli casualties caused by Palestinian terrorism, as well as more than a thousand rockets fired into Israel, one would expect that more negative attention be directed toward Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Although it has issued several documents condemning intra-factional Palestinian violence, Amnesty International, nevertheless, continues to focus its condemnations on Israel.
Additionally, in 2007, Amnesty minimally referred to the kidnapped Israeli soldiers and has not issued any statements calling for their release. Even though Amnesty’s primary mandate is to fight for the release of hostages and prisoners, according to “Israel/Lebanon: War Crimes Without Accountability” (July 12, 2007), Amnesty International only “urge[s] Hezbollah to provide information about the two Israeli soldiers its fighters captured on 12 July 2006 and allow them immediate access to the International Committee of the Red Cross.” Other articles, such as one from May 2007 and another from March 2007, only mention the kidnapped soldiers in passing.
Part II: Qualitative Analysis of Amnesty International’s Publications in 2007
Methodology: In this section, we examine the nature of the terms and language used by Amnesty International in its reports. We note the number of times legalistic terms such as “violations of international humanitarian law,” “violations of human rights,” “international law violations,” “human rights abuses,” “unlawful killings,” “extrajudicial executions,” “crimes against humanity” and “war crimes” appear in publications about the different Middle Eastern and North African countries. Terms were only counted when they were used to directly describe or condemn the country’s actions and activities, in contrast to legal definitions or general statements of international policy.
International Humanitarian Law / Human Rights Law
|International Law Violations / Violations of International Law||Violations of Human Rights / Human Rights Violations||Abuses of International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law / Abuses of Human Rights / Human Rights Abuses /||Arbitrary / Unlawful / Extrajudicial / Summary / Deliberate / Illegal Killing(s) / Execution(s) / Killing of Civilians / Killing… Civilians||Crimes Against Humanity||War Crime (s)|
|PA / Hamas||2||–||2||8||15||–||1|
|Lebanon / Hezbollah||2||3||1||1||1||–||–|
*Among the 150 accusations of “arbitrary/unlawful/extra-judicial/summary/illegal killings” are 35 mentions of Saddam Hussein’s execution.
*The "Killings/Execution" data was extracted from the more comprehensive graph, due to Iran’s high number compared to the other countries and the effect this had on the presentation of the overall graph of the distribution of terms.
As demonstrated by the above charts and graphs, Amnesty used human rights terminology to demonize Israel (43 citations in total) more frequently than the Palestinian Authority and Hamas (28), Lebanon and Hezbollah (15), Morocco (12), Tunisia (6), Jordan (3), and Syria (2). Moreover, Amnesty applied each of the terms, except for “crimes against humanity”, to describe Israeli actions, while it is more selective when referring to other countries.
QUALITATIVE BIAS IN SELECT DOCUMENTS:
The following section provides an analysis of selected articles that confirm this unscientific, unstandardized application of the human rights discourse by Amnesty International in order to condemn Israel.
In June 2007, Amnesty published a major report coninciding with the 40th “anniversary of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza”, entitled “Enduring occupation Palestinians under siege in the West Bank:”
- This one-sided report accuses Israel of human rights violations against the Palestinians, allegedly caused by the existence of settlements, checkpoints and the security fence. Amnesty claims checkpoints and roadblocks are arbitrarily positioned and are intended to discriminate against the Palestinians on the basis of ethnicity and religion. Amnesty International largely ignores Palestinian terrorism and Israel’s right to self-defense, as well as the effectiveness of the security barrier in reducing terrorist attacks. As stated in the Israeli Justice Ministry’s official response to this report, “Amnesty’s report is one-sided, immoral, and riddled with mistakes and numerous factual and legal inaccuracies, including scant mention of Palestinian terrorism which holds non-combatants hostage, using them as human shields and camouflage […] the lack of emphasis on the centrality of Palestinian terrorism and the IDF’s responsibility to protect Israeli citizens as a direct result is not reasonable and creates a deliberate distortion.”
- This report exploits international legal terminology in order to delegitimize Israel. Most disturbingly, Amnesty refers to the security barrier as the “Wall of Death” (page 10), a term associated with the Holocaust. In Auschwitz, this appellation was used for the wall in the courtyard against which prisoners were executed. The application of this phrase to the security barrier draws a parallel between the Nazi regime and the Israeli government, further demonizing the State of Israel by portraying the Israelis as aggressors, in an absurd exploitation of Holocaust terminology.
- Amnesty International uses uncorroborated personal anecdotes, emotional language, undefined legal terminology, as well as factual errors and the omission of the context of terror, to portray the Palestinians solely as victims and to demonize Israel, such as the highly charged opening implication that Israel deliberately kills Palestinian children.
- No sources are provided to verify Amnesty’s statistical claims, which do not distinguish between civilian casualties and terrorist deaths. Many of the other statements repeat the unverified claims of Machsom Watch, B’Tselem, Yesh Din and Peace Now.
Three months later, the September 2007 issue of The Wire focused on disproportionate condemnation of Israel, this time in an article headlined “Peace talks ignore rights.”
- This article erases the context of ongoing terror attacks emanating from Gaza, in order to demonize Israeli restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement.
- It also ignores Hamas’ takeover of Gaza, despite the terrorist group’s exploitation of crossings for terrorist attacks and the significance of continued transfer of fuel and medicines from Israel to Gaza.
- To Amnesty’s credit, it acknowledges that serious medical cases were permitted to leave Gaza and that humanitarian aid is still sent to Gaza.
In April 2007, Amnesty International USA posted what it termed a “Passover Action for Human Rights” that entirely ignored the central human rights concerns of Israelis and Jews.
- No mention was made of the Israeli soldiers who were kidnapped by Hamas and Hezbollah during the past year. Amnesty was also silent on the fact that, in violation of all humanitarian norms, their captors have refused to allow Red Cross visits, nor have they provided any information on their condition and whether they are alive.
- The focus was instead on Tove Johannsson, a Swedish pro-Palestinian activist belonging to the radical International Solidarity Movement, injured in a scuffle in Hebron in November 2006. (The circumstances of her injury and the role of ISM in provoking the violence are disputed.)
Amnesty USA also ignored key security factors in its March 2007 report entitled “Right to family life denied.”
- Despite Amnesty’s claim that it “knows of no case in which a woman within this category [Jordanian women of Palestinian origin who are married to Palestinian men] has been responsible for or involved in any important security incident,” no definition is given for “important”. Moreover, Amnesty omits the fact that, out of 272 suicide attacks conducted in Israel, 38 were carried out by Palestinians holding Israeli identity cards.
Amnesty’s 2008 Annual Report (covering events in 2007), published in May 2008, is yet another example of the NGO’s highly biased approach. It repeats un-sourced and anecdotal claims, presents a gross distortion of the conflict and selectively reports events to remove the context of terrorism and ignore human rights issues not related to its political agenda.
- Gross misrepresentation of the conflict
- In the summary and again in the country entry, Amnesty states that "Israeli forces killed more than 370 Palestinians." Only later does the report mention that "more than half of [these] are armed militants… participating in armed confrontation or attacks."
- In describing civilian casualties of Israeli actions, there is no mention of Palestinian terrorists’ deliberate exploitation of civilian areas for launching attacks.
- The context of the Palestinian campaign of terror against Israel is erased. The report states that "suicide bombings and shooting attacks almost ceased," implying a fall in the occurrence of these human rights violations. This absurdly ignores the frequent attacks thwarted by Israeli forces, using checkpoints (which are condemned by Amnesty) and other means.
- Amnesty claims that Israel’s "unprecedented blockage" of Gaza "virtually imprison[s]" the population, "subjecting them to collective punishment." These terms are not defined and the facts are skewed to portray Israel as a unique aggressor – there is no mention of the continual rocket attacks and border breaches, nor Hamas’ refusal to renounce violence or recognize Israel.
- Lack of credible sources
- There are no footnotes or sources in the Annual Report, and hence no way to confirm or refute the claims. Many statements appear to be based on anecdotal evidence and there is a lack of precise information (numbers or statistics) in favor of general statements.
- Ignoring other human rights issues
- Amnesty qualifies its country entries by stating that its approach "is informed by both the challenges and opportunities for change in a given country or region," and "the omission of an issue or country should not be taken as an admission…that abuses…did not occur." However, it also states that "each entry begins with a summary of the human rights situation in the country."
- The entry on "Israel and the Occupied territories" focuses exclusively on the Israeli – Palestinian conflict, and nearly entirely on alleged human rights violations against Palestinians, despite a separate entry for the "Palestinian Authority" in the annual report. There is no discussion of other human rights issues in Israel, such as human trafficking, immigrant integration, distribution of healthcare.
The results of this study indicate that factors other than the gravity and frequency of human rights violations drive Amnesty’s reporting priorities in the Middle East. In 2007 Amnesty singled out Israel for more condemnation than Syria, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Lebanon, and Algeria. Israel and Iraq were equally the subject of the most detailed reports, and more items were published on Israel than on Hamas, Hezbollah and the Palestinian Authority combined. Combined with statements from Amnesty officials indicating that country access and potential for media attention determine priorities, such skewed reporting policies damage Amnesty’s reputation as defender of universal human rights.
 NGO Monitor was unable to access the January 2007 edition of The Wire on Amnesty’s website.
 This total of 339 points is artificially inflated by Iran’s 105 "Urgent Actions," a clear outlier within the data. Since in the case of Iran, Urgent Actions usually deal with individuals at risk of mistreatment rather than with national events, it is useful to consider the results without this figure. This would bring Iran’s total down to 224 points.
 In “A Comprehensive Report on Severe Human Rights Violation by IRI in Prisons,” Iranian-Canadian author, Ghazal Omid, writes that Amnesty International’s London office stated that it has not been allowed to visit Iran since 1979. She quotes a senior official from the London branch of Amnesty International saying: “We don’t quite know who is who and which stories are accurate. We rely on Human Rights activists to tell us.” This statement implies an inherent difficulty for Amnesty to provide reliable and detailed documentation (i.e. reports) on the situation in Iran.
 Amnesty’s publications devoted directly to Hezbollah in 2007 include: "Israel/Lebanon: Need for investigation into violations committed during Israel/Hizbullah conflict", "Israel/Lebanon: War crimes without accountability" and ""AI witnesses turmoil and despair in the Middle East".
 NGO Monitor considers this figure unreliable, probably underestimating the extent of internal Palestinian violence.
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