To read the original article in French, click here.

[English translation by NGO Monitor staff:]

In an interview published in Le Devoir on September 22nd of this year, Professor Gerald Steinberg delivers an unjustified attack against NGOs that militate for the defence of human rights. Professor Steinberg claims that these NGOs are committed to partisan and ideological activities, especially against Israel.

Such an accusation demonstrates the weaknesses of Professor Steinberg’s academic research, and his statements characterising us as "leftists and pacifists" merely confirm the meagreness of the credibility which he lends NGO Monitor.

It is entirely false to contend that Amnesty International (AI) denounces human rights abuses committed by Israel and its army against the Palestinian people without denouncing the attacks perpetrated by the armed Palestinian groups. In its annual reports describing human rights violations in approximately 150 countries, AI denounces violations committed by the Israeli army and the settlers against the Palestinian population in the Occupied Territories.

These same reports also characterise the deliberate attacks committed by armed Palestinian groups against civilians as crimes against humanity. Countless times, AI has denounced rocket fire from Gaza aimed at cities in southern Israel.

Concerning the 2006 war in Lebanon, AI’s reports and communiqués denounced the human rights abuses committed by the two parties to the conflict, and this very soon after the commencement of hostilities. AI demanded a cease-fire with the goal of protecting human lives on both sides of the border. In the December 2006 Israel-Lebanon report entitled "In The Cross-Hairs: Hezbullah’s Attacks on Northern Israel," AI describes in detail the grave consequences brought on by the firing of Hezbullah rockets into northern Israel, including the deaths of 43 civilians (seven of whom were children).

It is nonetheless equally important to mention that the civilian victims on the Palestinian side are much more numerous than those on the Israeli side. Furthermore, the Israeli authorities adversely affect the Palestinians’ economic and social rights (houses destroyed, movement restricted, access to health care limitations, etc.).

Certain other clarifications must be made:

-AI is far from being the only organisation to denounce the use of cluster bombs. According to UNICEF, 40% of the victims of cluster munitions are children wounded or killed well after the end of a given conflict. In 2008, the UN adopted a convention banning these bombs.

-Israel receives no special treatment from AI, as in its reports and communiqués, AI denounces human rights violations in the great majority of the countries of the world, including Libya, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, Egypt, etc.

-Finally, Professor Steinberg demonstrates his ignorance of AI’s history when he suggests that, during the Cold War, AI only denounced the incarceration of dissidents in communist countries and thus needed to invent for itself a new raison d’être after the fall of the Berlin Wall. On the contrary, AI has always denounced violations of human rights committed by dictatorships on the left and on the right as well as in democratic countries. The mission of AI has never been political. It’s raison d’être has always been and remains to defend human rights in all countries in the world. Poverty, the "war on terrorism," conflicts, violence against women — these are stakes that do not allow us the luxury of pondering a raison d’être.

A single conclusion of Professor Steinberg’s work is agreeable to us: this is his attribution to NGOs such as AI, founded through the work of some 2.3 million activists, an important influence. We are quite conscious that with this influence comes certain duties of transparency and independence. We carry out these duties with rigour and solidarity.

Norman King: Coordinator on Israel and Occupied Territories for Amnesty International in French Canada.

Béatrice Vaugrante: Director general on Israel and the Occupied Territories for Amnesty International in French Canada.