Canada and arrogance of Amnesty International

Par David T. Jones le 26 août 2011

Washington, DC - All human rights organizations are imperious; didactic; and self-righteous.  They perceive their role as afflicting the comfortable and belaboring malefactors whose sins of omission as well as commission demand vitriolic criticism.  Amnesty International (AI) is a human rights organization and by definition seeks to criticize:  the mote in your eye gets the same intense condemnation as the beam in the eye of another offender.

And on March 31, AI released "Getting Back on the 'Right' Track," a comprehensive set of directives for Canada to straighten up and fly right.  Indeed, the report is almost a caricature ofAI's inherent arrogance; in a 1,005 word press release, condensing a 22-page full report, it employs "must" 17 times, coupled with five "should" and one "have to."  One would think that Canada was Iran, Burma, or North Korea given the range of demands laid out by AI and the intrusive nature of its requirements for Canada to win again the AI seal of approval.

So Canada "must" reclaim its leading role in human rights.  Inter alia, it must guide efforts to tackle maternal mortality (without mentioning the Canadian G-8 initiative on the topic). Workmust be undertaken to develop an implementation plan for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (without mentioning that Canada has just endorsed the Declaration).  Economic, social, and cultural rights must be protected by allowing individual international level complaints to be brought against foreigners from Canadian courts. And Canada mustrecognize the right to water and sanitation in international law.

AI dismisses Canadian concern over differentiating between legitimate refugees and human traffickers by demanding that draft legislation in this regard not be reintroduced in a new Parliament (talk about interference in internal domestic affairs).  It demands greater attention to aboriginal issues at every level--and particularly abuse of aboriginal women and girls.  More basically, it excoriates Canada's "consistent and longstanding failure…to recognize [aboriginal] land rights"--without an iota of appreciation that aboriginal land claims cover huge areas of the country.

Internationally, AI seems especially incensed over Canadian support of Israel (it notes in particular the absence of Canadian criticism for the 2009 Gaza fighting).  One doubts that it will pay much attention to the mea culpa by Judge Richard Goldstone retracting his earlier conclusion that Israeli military deliberately targeted civilians in Gaza.  Nor has it anything to say regarding Canadian participation in Libya or the ongoing effort to stabilize Afghanistan (beyond contending that Canada transferred Afghan detainees to prospective torture.)

Perhaps it is the skewed absence of judicious judgment that is most depressing.  Ottawa's effort to pressure Beijing on human rights is derogated as "erratic" and that "no …strategy exists" for advancing human rights concerns in China.  What Canada does is never enough; it is not enough to have eliminated capital punishment domestically or to vote in the UN against capitalpunishment.  Canada must also co-sponsor such UN resolutions.  It is not enough to criticize Iran's, Burma's, Cote d'Ivoire's, and Cuba's human rights records; comparable action should be taken publicly regarding Colombia's "worrying" record--a record more worrisome to AI than to most observers.

Nor should its release at the opening of the Canadian election campaign be regarded ascoincidental.  Since there is barely a scintilla of even back-handed praise for the currentCanadian government's actions internally or internationally even a naïve observer could conclude that it was the equivalent of a gratuitous attack advertisement against the government.

But Canada is not alone.  AI now acts as the universal scold; reportedly with idiosyncratic positions on breast feeding, littering, double parking, and soccer rules.  When AI earlier tried in-your-face charges against the United States regarding U.S. security practices, Washington bluntly blew them off.  

The foregoing commentary is not meant to conclude that Canada is a poster child perfect illustration of human rights.  For example, the 2010 Department of State's annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices itemized abuse, e.g., employment of Tasers; detention of noncitizens and security certificates rulings; and gave extended examination of aboriginal problems.  Nevertheless, in the grudging language of these reports, in 2009 Canada received the equivalent of "A" (The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens…")  The2010 report eliminated such language, but Canada's exemplary status was clear.

As a result, the AI screed had zero effect on the recent campaign.  The government ignored it; and the Opposition apparently appreciated that embracing its inherently flawed construction would likely backfire.  The report was more an embarrassment to AI than to Canada.



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