Macdonald Stainsby on Amnesty International

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Wed Nov 19 19:09:18 MST 2003

Coup At Amnesty International:
Venezuelan Human Rights, Canadian Film Festivals and Censorship.
  by Macdonald Stainsby

I used to canvass for Amnesty International. They are one of several 
progressive but not openly radical NGO's I have worked for, and I've 
learned a great deal about talking to strangers about political issues from 
this experience. I've had some serious misgivings about working with the 
organization-- such as I was not interested in Amnesty's penchant for being 
'extra tough' on those very countries that the United States or other 
imperialist countries have lined up through their militarist or colonialist 
sights-- nonetheless, I preferred to spend my wage earning days talking 
about Guantanamo Bay, even if I put unrealistic stress on that issue as 
compared with AI in general. I also spoke to people about the real life 
example of a man I met who was a former dissident from Iran-- he told me of 
his story of getting out of Iran, only to arrive in Pakistan and somehow 
then, making it to Canada. Once he arrived, he was told that he didn't 
qualify as a political refugee and was to be deported back to Iran 
directly, as Pakistan didn't want him either. AI apparently took up his 
case and shortly thereafter he was recognized as a legitimate human rights 
political refugee case; he says Amnesty saved his life—and this story 
became the 'personal touch' I used to help bring in enough donations and 
memberships to safely keep my job.

I also used to quietly enjoy it when people saw me with an AI clipboard and 
busted my chops over it, with biting questions. Such as the time when a 
First Nations woman on a motorized wheelchair asked me “What good would 
that do for Leonard Peltier?”, or when I've heard comments about how 
Amnesty International had once upon a time pushed the very same 
incubator-babies-on-the-floor story that the daughter of the Kuwaiti 
ambassador told in order to help unleash a bombing on Iraq in 1991. 
Combined with the post war sanctions, infrastructure destruction, and of 
course the initial 300 000 killed in the 91 aerial war, AI's supposed gaffe 
helped in its small but not insignificant way to touch off what would 
eventually end the lives of up-to 2 million Iraqis prematurely. All of this 
before George W Bush's military invaded and occupied the country last year 
in violation of International Law and human rights (that Amnesty has 
publicly yet quietly opposed). Those of us who questioned them about their 
use of the incubator story have never heard more than regret, no apology or 
sufficient explanation has ever been given. One thing I learned as a 
canvasser for this group is how many genuinely well-meaning people trust 
what Amnesty has to say-- their repeating of the American sponsored lies on 
the eve of the war in 1991 is a definitively big deal. They do indeed sway 
people with their pronouncements.

Further, AI uncritically swallows the US State Department story on what is 
happening on the island of Cuba with what AI calls 'dissidents'. It is one 
thing for a group that has a general line on the death penalty to express 
that principled line when it comes to Cuba, even many supporters of the 
Castro government have expressed discomfort or condemnation of the use of 
the death penalty on the island. It is another matter entirely to ignore 
the collected data on which groups and individuals have been trying to form 
a fifth column on behalf of (and in connivance with) the great, merciless 
military superpower to the North. In fact, this is not simply missing 
information-- but without discussing the terrorists that organize the 
bombings of planes, hotels, destruction of food crops, tobacco and sugar 
harvests and even the poisoning of school children's milk-- to ignore those 
groups that exist in Miami is not oversight nor objectivity but to take 
sides with the US in their war against the besieged Cuban revolutionary 
government. Amnesty now also wants people to 'demand' that Cuba release 
recently convicted agents of that same superpower, calling them 
'dissidents'. Meanwhile, on the great scandal of the Cuban Five, the 
anti-terrorist Cubans who were recently imprisoned in the US for being too 
close to the Miami terrorist cells, Amnesty is silent.


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