Human Rights or Wrongs? Amnesty International's commitment to freedom is questionable

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by Stephen Baskerville

Previously by Stephen Baskerville: Alec Baldwin and Parens Patriae

     

Amnesty International has long been regarded as among the world's leading human rights organizations. Having worked with Amnesty for some years in their campaign to free political prisoners, I know that they deserved this reputation.

So it is sad to see the group squander their credibility. Amnesty has been so captured by political ideology that, far from defending human rights, they have become advocates for violating them.

The latest example comes from Sweden, where Amnesty is no longer fighting for political prisoners but instead advocates for authoritarian ideology. Amnesty sponsored a film competition, but when some finalists produced a film that angered feminists, the film was pulled from Amnesty's YouTube site. Amnesty denies that pressure from an Uppsala women's shelter was responsible for suppressing the film, but the shelter itself is gloating about its political clout.

The film, created by four high school students and titled, The Right To Be a Father, is a powerful depiction of how children are taken from their fathers by Sweden's feminist family courts. Separating children from their fathers is not only a bedrock principle of the war against "patriarchy," but also the bread-and-butter of the lucrative child custody industry, so it is not surprising that the sisterhood would come down hard on the heresy that feminists violate human rights.

The film was nominated for the final stage of the competition. Amnesty posted it on YouTube, and the creators were invited to the film gala in Gothenburg. "But our film was never shown at the festival, and the day after it also disappeared from Amnesty’s YouTube channel," says Sara Sivesson, one of the creators. Further, the students claim they obtained an email from the Uppsala feminists bragging, "Thanks to the protests Amnesty did not show the film at the festival and they also dropped it from their website."

The matter was publicized by blogger Joakim Ramstedt, who alleges that his government health benefits were then revoked because of his blogging and that confidential information from his own custody case (he has not seen his five-year-old daughter for over a year) was leaked and posted on the internet in an effort to smear him. Sweden prides itself on protections for privacy and civil liberties, but this may be what we can all expect when a welfare state manages our lives.

This is not isolated. In recent years Amnesty has become a mouthpiece for the radical feminist agenda, to the point of pushing programs that violate human rights. Amnesty's campaign against "domestic violence," for example, is a prescription for criminalizing the innocent on a huge scale.

Even on its face, "domestic violence" is a matter not of human rights but of crime. No one suggests that ordinary theft or assault, when not perpetrated by government agents, are "human rights" violations. They are crimes for which the criminal justice system either provides or it does not. If not, the system is dysfunctional, but it has nothing to do with "human rights."

But this is precisely what is wrong with the trumped-up hysteria over "domestic violence" (and most accusations are indeed trumped-up): It exists precisely to circumvent the legal safeguards and protections for the rights of the accused that make free countries free. Newfangled gender crimes like "domestic violence" exist to punish those who cannot be convicted with evidence.

Why can alleged assailants not be charged and tried according to standard laws against violent assault? Because domestic "violence" criminalizes almost anything, even if it is not violent or even physical.

In domestic violence cases there is seldom a trial, almost never a jury, and no one is ever acquitted. One study published in Criminology and Public Policy found that everyone arrested for domestic violence receives some punishment. Special "domestic violence courts" now exist for the express purpose of processing more convictions.

It is based on this presumption of guilt that Amnesty can claim that in the US "a woman is battered every 15 seconds." Amnesty provides no documentation for this preposterous figure, because none exists. We also learn that "Amnesty International considers domestic violence a form of torture," demonstrating an Orwellian willingness to redefine words and cheapening their own campaign against real torture.

Amnesty is quite clear that it is stretching the meaning of "human rights" into a backdoor penal instrument. "A human rights framework…enables Amnesty International to use international human rights standards and laws…to hold governments accountable if they fail to meet their obligations to protect women." In other words, far from limiting government reach and repression, Amnesty is working to expand them.

This in turn points to a larger problem in the trajectory of human rights law. When you accuse people of violating human rights — of crimes — you raise the question of protecting their own human rights at the most basic level of due process. Protecting the human rights of those accused of human rights violations is something for which "human rights" groups have shown little concern. On the contrary, they seem far more concerned with erecting an assortment of grand-sounding conventions, monitoring committees, and pseudo-tribunals, whose mandate seems to be to convict anyone who is accused.

The due process protections being undermined are far more fundamental than some questionable new human rights: "rights" to food or education, for example, or the "rights of the child" to be free from parental authority.

Addressing this question becomes especially urgent when an assortment of political authorities, from national foreign ministries, to the EU, to the UN, is busy creating criminal jurisdiction for itself — powers that are not limited by due process protections — culminating in the august "International Criminal Court."

Human rights are too important to be hijacked by ideologues with an agenda. We need an extensive discussion about what we mean by human rights and what it means to accuse someone of violating them. If human rights becomes a free-for-all for every mountebank peddling a grievance, it will become a vehicle for violating human rights, as we see with Amnesty International.

Stephen Baskerville [send him mail] is associate professor of government at Patrick Henry College and author of Taken Into Custody: The War Against Fathers, Marriage, and the Family (Cumberland House, 2007).

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