'Amnesty' was founded in 1961 by
Peter Benenson, a British labour lawyer, and Eric Baker,
a Quaker and nuclear disarmament activist. Its initial focus
was on letter writing campaigns in support of prisoners
around the world who were 'tortured, imprisoned or executed
because his opinions or religion are unacceptable to his
government'. In September 1962, the organization was renamed
Amnesty International (AI). Adopting 'prisoners of conscience'
became a favoured technique of the organization to exert
pressure on governments.
Eventually, the ambit of AI's interests
widened to include general human rights including the problem
of child soldiers, the death penalty, and abortion rights.
The latter was adopted only in 2007, to the fury of the
Catholic Church which was a traditional supporter of AI.
The question needs to be asked as to why abortion was given
a cold shoulder by AI up until that time. Was this right
suppressed in order to please the Catholic Church? And what
other issues have been ignored? There has been criticism
that the Israeli violations of human rights were ignored
by AI, although recent tussles with Israeli authorities
shows that that possible bias has now been corrected.
AI admits to focusing on democratic
governments in its criticism because they are more prone
to bending under public pressure. Famously, the Americans
rejected AI criticism of its behaviour at Abu Ghraib and
Gitmo. The Israelis piled into AI for 'the pattern of biased,
prejudiced, bigoted, one-sided judgments'. They have a point
because, by attacking democracies for the sake of convenience,
AI exempts terrorist organizations that cause democracies
to engage in conflict in the first place. Compared to the
lashings delivered to Sri Lanka by AI, the Tamil Tigers
have got off easily. Sri Lanka can take comfort in 'Moynihan's
Law' where the late US senator, a champion of human rights,
stated that the number of complaints about a nation's violations
of human rights is inversely proportional to actual violations.-Full