When I was young and idealistic, I used to write enthusiastic essays in favour of the United Nations. When I grew up, I enthusiastically wrote cheques to Amnesty International and lots of other human-rights groups. It was a good thing to do. I knew I was helping to fight injustice in the darker corners of the world. Now Amnesty International has declared that Canada’s reputation as a champion of human rights is on the line. In a new report this week, it said ominously: "In a number of key areas, there has been a failure to walk the talk and match bold words with clear actions." Where has our nation gone wrong? Our main problem, according to the report, is that we are playing into the hands of that notorious human-rights violator, the United States. We’re turning over Afghan prisoners and condemning them to the hellhole of Guantanamo. Another problem is that our police violate the rights of summit protesters by squirting them with tear gas. Another problem is that we have refused to set up an independent body to investigate claims of prison torture. Prison torture in Canada? I racked my mind for recent hints of it. But all I could recall was a CBC report last week about how prisoners can’t get free Nicorettes.
Amnesty International has been in the news a lot these days. It was among the very first to protest Israeli atrocities in Jenin. "The evidence compiled indicates that serious breaches of international human rights and humanitarian law were committed, including war crimes," it declared. It demanded an immediate inquiry, like the investigations for ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. Its charges made headlines around the world. "In Jenin, there certainly has been mass killing — both of combatants and civilians," said one Amnesty International observer. The local hospital had treated very few casualties. But that only proved how bad things were. "Where are the severely injured?" the observer said angrily. "They must have died of their wounds. . . . We know, because we can smell the corpses as we walk across the top of the rubble." He was smelling something else, because as we all know now there was no mass killing. So Amnesty International downgraded its massacre to war crimes — but not before it left a lasting impression with its hysterical rush to judgment.
The UN’s deeply rooted bias against Israel is well known. What’s not well known is the bias of human-rights agencies with high-profile names. People think they’re objective because they’re independent, and so their pronouncements have considerable authority. In fact, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, to name just two, are infected with UN disease: The watchdogs are blind in one eye. "The abuses we documented in Jenin are extremely serious, and in some cases appear to be war crimes," said Human Rights Watch last week in another headline-making pronouncement. At least it didn’t allege a massacre.
CBC news and current-affairs shows gave a free ride to the story and to Human Rights Watch spokespersons, who neglected to mention that they hadn’t talked to the Israeli side. Neither of these groups has called for an independent inquiry into the cult of suicide bombing, or asked how Jenin became a nest for terrorists — the place Fatah itself called the capital of the suicide bombers. They have not asked how these things could happen in a camp that has been administered since the start by a UN relief agency. They have deplored the interception of Red Crescent ambulances by Israeli troops, but do not mention that those ambulances are used to smuggle weapons and even fighters. They have accused Israel of using child soldiers because some boys can enlist in the army when they’re only 17. But they’ve never mentioned the children who lob grenades for Islamic Jihad. One 15-year-old told a Boston Globe reporter how he threw homemade pipe bombs, helped with ambushes, and acted as a lookout. He said the militants had recruited 50 boys like him and divided them into teams of 10.
In its report, Amnesty International criticizes Canada for sometimes being on the wrong side. One example it gives is that we voted against a special UN mission to examine human rights in Israel. It’s worth noting that the UN Human Rights Commission includes such beacons of democracy as Zimbabwe, China, Sudan and Syria. At its annual meeting last month, its members voted down an inquiry into the rigged elections in Zimbabwe. They failed to mention persecutions in China or suffering in Chechnya. Instead, they spent most of their time resolving to support Palestinians in their "armed struggle" and condemning Israel for "acts of mass killings."
Once upon a time, I used to admire the UN. I looked up to Amnesty International, too. But they’ve become apologists for terror. They aren’t part of the solution. They’re part of the problem. And I’ve written them my last cheque.