The Wind Report: Unpacking Amnesty International
February 2nd 2022
Yesterday, Amnesty International issued, as it has done on a number of previous occasions, a critique of the State of Israel. In a 200-page report this London-based group concluded that Israel has “perpetrated the international wrong of apartheid, as a human rights violation and a violation of public international law,” in connection with the treatment of Palestinians both within Israel and Palestinian territories.
While AI claims that it reviews the human rights records of 149 countries, Myanmar and Israel are however the only nations that Amnesty has labeled “apartheid”. No such mention has been made of such countries as China, Iran or Syria, whose human rights record clearly should come under international scrutiny for such violations.
Criticism of AI’s Statements:
The avalanche of responses, critical of Amnesty’s statement, should be particularly instructive. Governments, political officials, national organizations have expressed their outrage with such overt and misrepresentative political labeling.
Amnesty, it would appear, has a special desire to single Israel out. No other nation has received the attention given to its human rights record, as has the Jewish State! It is important to note that on a number of occasions, in connection with this agency’s biased attention directed against Israel, AI has come under severe criticism.
Contrary to what the NGO implies on its website and in other PR materials, Amnesty International and its local branches have in fact accepted government funding.
While Amnesty claims that it maintains a policy of “impartiality” and is unbiased in its research of allegations of human rights violations. Amnesty employs an anti-Israel activist as a researcher in its “Israel, Occupied Palestinian Territories and Palestinian Authority” section, undermining its credibility and claims of neutrality.
It should also be noted that AI dismissed Gita Saghai for blowing the whistle on the organization’s association with a Taliban supporter, further weakening its credibility
The broader criticism directed against Amnesty International (AI) involve claims of selection bias, an orchestrated effort to highlight specific nations without applying the same standards to all states. In addition, AI has been charged with an undue ideological and foreign policy focus directed against non-Western countries and more directly, Western-supported nations.
In reaction to the agency’s criticism of the United States, as an example, Russian dissident Pavel Litvinov commented 2005:
"[B]y using hyperbole and muddling the difference between repressive regimes and the imperfections of democracy, Amnesty's spokesmen put its authority at risk. U.S. human rights violations seem almost trifling in comparison with those committed by Cuba, North Korea, Pakistan or Saudi Arabia.”
AI’s Own Problematic Statements:
Frank Johansson, the chairman of Amnesty International-Finland called Israel in 2010 a nilkkimaa, a derogatory term variously translated as "scum state", "creep state" or "punk state". Johansson stood by his statement, saying that it was based on Israel's "repeated flouting of international law", and his own personal experiences with Israelis. When asked by a journalist if any other country on earth that could be described in these terms, he said that he could not think of any, although some individual "Russian officials" could be so described. According to Israeli professor Gerald M. Steinberg of NGO Monitor: "Amnesty International has promoted an intense anti-Israel ideology, resulting in statements like these."
Internal Problems Plague AI:
But internal improper business practices also contribute to AI’s problematic image. In February 2019, Amnesty International's management team offered to resign. The offer came after an independent report found what it called a "toxic culture" of workplace bullying as well as numerous evidences of harassment, sexism, and racism.
“The report was commissioned by Amnesty after the investigation of the suicide of 30-year Amnesty veteran Gaetan Mootoo in Paris in May 2018 (who left a note citing work pressures), and 28-year-old intern Rosalind McGregor in Geneva in July 2018. The Konterra Report found that: "39 per cent of Amnesty International staff reported that they developed mental or physical health issues as the direct result of working at Amnesty". The report concluded: “‘organizational culture and management failures are the root cause of most staff wellbeing issues.’”
Budgetary Challenges at AI:
Beyond its political excesses, Amnesty International's Secretary General Kumi Naidoo in 2019 admitted to a deficit in the organization's budget of up to £17m in donor support.
In order to deal with the budgetary crisis Naidoo announced to staff that the organization's headquarters would have cut almost 100 jobs as a part of urgent restructuring, Unite the Union, the UK's biggest trade union, said the redundancies were a direct result of ‘overspending by the organisation's senior leadership team’ and have occurred "despite an increase in income’. Unite, which represents Amnesty's staff, feared that cuts would fall heaviest on lower income staff. It said that in the previous year the top 23 highest earners at Amnesty International were paid a total of £2.6m – an average of £113,000 per year. Unite demanded a review of whether it is necessary to have so many managers in the organisation.
In September 2020 The Times reported that Amnesty International paid £800,000 in compensation over the workplace suicide of Gaitan Mootoo and demanded his family keep the deal secret. The pre-trial agreement between London-based Amnesty's International Secretariat and Mootoo's wife was reached on the condition that she would keep the deal secret by signing NDA. This was done particularly to prevent discussing the settlement with the press or on social media. This arrangement led to criticism on social media, with people asking why an organisation such as Amnesty would condone the use of non-disclosure agreements.
Shaista Aziz, co-founder of the feminist advocacy group NGO Safe Space, questioned on Twitter why the ‘world's leading human rights organisation’ was employing such contracts. The source of the money was unknown. Amnesty stated that the payout to Mootoo's family ‘will not be made from donations or membership fees’.
On September 29, 2020, the Indian offshoot of Amnesty International released a statement announcing suspension of its operations in the country after the Enforcement Directorate which investigates financial crimes and irregularities in India, ordered the freezing of its bank accounts. In a statement, the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs said that Amnesty had contravened Indian laws by receiving funds from abroad.
Commentary: Human rights activists must question the credibility as well as policy and management practices of Amnesty International. Not only are its policy statements highly distortive and politically motivated but its internal business and operational practices as particularly unbecoming of a human rights institution!