Wednesday, June 08, 2005
In the past week, traffic on Amnesty's Web site has gone up sixfold, donations have quintupled and new memberships have doubled.So that's what it was all about? (hat tip: Powerline) Sadly, while the publicity stunt seems to have worked very well for Amnesty, its new found popularity means that the recent influx comes from that section of the society which thinks the United States is the biggest threat to human rights worldwide, rather than, say, countries which actually hold political prisoners, maintain real gulags and labor camps, and suppress liberties. And while it bodes well for the anti-American left, what about the victims of persecution world-wide, who are increasingly losing the spotlight?
Some seventeen years ago, I briefly joined my high school branch of Amnesty International. It was 1988, the Wall was still standing, and having only just come to Australia from communist Poland, the plight of political prisoners was close to my heart. It was explained to me then that Amnesty's main tool were letter-writing campaigns, which - surprisingly - seemed to frequently work. The authorities in country X, having imprisoned Y, usually an opposition figure, a human rights activist, a journalist or an intellectual, would often relent after finding themselves flooded by thousand of letters from around the world calling for Y's release. It was also explained to me that Amnesty would not try to help political prisoners who advocated or engaged in violence - only proponents of peaceful activism and non-violent resistance would receive AI's support.
I'm sure that Amnesty still does these things, but sadly, the emphasis seems to be agitating against the world's oldest and second largest democracy about treatment of detainees, most of whom (though certainly not all) are members of terrorist or para-military groups implicated in gross human rights abuses, murdering civilians and propping up dictatorships. This is not wholly Amnesty's fault - Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo seems to be all that interests the mainstream media - not North Korean gulags, Chinese labor camps, or Iranian prisons. Giving Amnesty all the benefit of the doubt, maybe by bashing the US is the only way the organization can generate any sort of wider interest in its work. I suspect, however, that this is a far too generous an explanation of AI's recent behavior, and in any case this tactic will only result in further drift of this once non-partisan groups into the open arms of the left.