By Paul Richard Harris | Axis of Logic
Axis of Logic
Wednesday, Feb 27, 2019
|Amnesty International (AI) has been around since 1961 when it was founded by a British labour lawyer (Peter Berenson), along with a friend (Philip James) who was a professor of law.
According to Berenson, what sparked the formation of the organization was a newspaper article he chanced upon that documented a seven-year prison sentence given to two Portuguese students convicted for ‘drinking a toast to liberty’. Although researchers have failed to find any record of the news article, it is nonetheless true that Portugal was ruled at that time by a very stern and authoritarian government under António de Oliveira Salazar.
Regardless of the truth behind the organization’s birth, AI’s profile in the world is that it is generally considered a force for good, for the downtrodden and persecuted. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.
AI has seen criticism which,
includes claims of selection bias, as well as ideology and foreign policy bias against either non-Western countries or Western-supported countries. Governments that have criticised AI include those of Israel, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, China, Vietnam, Russia, and the United States, which have complained about Amnesty International for what they assert is one-sided reporting, or a failure to treat threats to security as a mitigating factor. The actions of these governments—and of other governments critical of Amnesty International—have been the subject of human rights concerns voiced by Amnesty. Although one of the frequent criticisms of AI relates to a perceived [and at least partly substantiated] anti-Western bias, the organization’s record regarding countries not aligned with the United States is not difficult to spot. One case in particular is Nicaragua.
The Catholic Church has also criticized Amnesty for its stance on abortion, particularly in Catholic-majority countries. Amnesty International has also been criticized for paying some of its staff high salaries. A 2019 report also showed that a toxic work environment is present at Amnesty.
A Nicaraguan-based organization (Tortilla con Sal) has shared with Axis of Logic a document entitled ‘Dismissing the Truth: Why Amnesty International is wrong about Nicaragua’. The document is a critique subtitled ‘An evaluation of and response to Amnesty International’s report of October 2018 which was itself titled ‘Instilling Terror: from lethal force to persecution in Nicaragua’.
Dismissing the Truth is the work of Alliance for Global Justice (United States) and Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign Action Group (United Kingdom) and was prepared in association with a collective of Nicaraguans and internationalists based in Nicaragua, the USA, and the UK. [There is a link to the full publication at the end of this article.]
So let’s begin with the Forward to Dismissing the Truth:
Foreword by Camilo Mejia, former Amnesty International Prisoner of ConscienceDismissing the Truth then goes on to describe – in remarkable detail – the points made by the Forward.
‘In war, truth is the first casualty.’ (Aeschylus)
The above quote, attributed to the ancient Greek tragedian Aeschylus, is timely and relevant to the Nicaraguan crisis more than 2500 years after its writing, not only because what has been happening in Nicaragua since April of last year is nothing shy of a war – military, economic, psychological, cultural, political – but also because the truth about the crisis, with the full support of Amnesty International, was indeed the first casualty.
Throughout this critique of Amnesty International’s coverage and reporting of the crisis in Nicaragua, readers will find how public opinion has been manipulated in order to present a highly biased, anti-government account of the violent events that befell the Central American nation between April and September of 2018. For starters, the first three people who died were a Sandinista, a police officer, and an innocent bystander returning home from work, and their deaths were not only violent, they marked the beginning of a pattern of death and destruction carried out by the opposition that was completely ignored by AI’s two reports: ‘Shoot to Kill’ and ‘Instilling Terror’.
Equally damaging to AI’s omission of the killing of Sandinistas, and anyone standing up to the opposition, is its insistence in portraying the anti-government protesters as peaceful, despite overwhelming photographic and video evidence to the contrary. Along with the misleading portrayal of protesters as unarmed and peaceful, Amnesty also insists on painting the different actions by the opposition as legitimate civic acts of protest, when in reality they were marred by violence and death, as is obvious from the evidence throughout the report which follows.
Some of the notable cases overlooked by AI include the kidnapping and attempted murder of student union leader Leonel Morales, who supported the initial marchers on behalf of his union but was nearly killed by the opposition after the government called for a national dialogue, prompting Morales to call off the protests. Another case was that of Sander Bonilla, a member of the Sandinista Youth whose kidnapping and torture, overseen by both Catholic and Evangelical priests, were captured on video. There are many other cases, presented here, of victims of the opposition that were either omitted or manipulated by Amnesty International in its two official reports.
Perhaps the most important benefit that this response provides its readers is the encouragement to verify much of the information countering AI’s claims. This response does not address the entirety of AI’s reports (and focuses on the second one), but it provides sufficient information for readers to gain access to enough facts to discover a much wider picture of the crisis, and that in itself is a huge achievement.
While it is of vital importance that people become aware of the reality that we can no longer trust prestigious human rights organizations to tell us what is happening in the world, the real triumph of this critique would be for readers to go beyond both the crisis in Nicaragua and the destabilizing role Amnesty has played in it, because the truth is not a casualty only in Nicaragua, but everywhere else as well. And the real tragedy is not that we may no longer trust AI or others to tell us the truth, but that we have ceded our own agency, our own ability to question dominant narratives, and have chosen instead to blindly trust what powerful entities tell us.
As I write this foreword the United States’ war drums beat on Venezuela, where Amnesty International has also played a very destabilizing role. And that is how the story goes: the United States chooses a government for regime change, calls upon its grantees – media outlets of global reach, human rights organizations, diplomatic entities, other powerful nations – to vilify the chosen government; before we know, and without ever taking the time to vet the information, we fall prey to the media spell and begin to provide our consent for intervention.
Lives matter! All lives! – including the lives of those whose deaths were omitted by Amnesty International in its two reports on Nicaragua. The lives of those the anti-government opposition robbed, kidnapped, tortured, raped, killed, and even burned in public view, matter. So why not view this critique of a highly reputable human rights organization as an invitation to question the dominant narratives that herald invasions and occupations? We must reclaim our ability, our moral duty, to search for the truth, to find it and uphold it, to protect it, and to hold everyone accountable to it, starting with ourselves.
This report, Dismissing the Truth, provides a way for readers to do precisely that: find the truth on their own.
A reading of Dismissing the Truth shows – clearly – that Amnesty International is either inept (not likely), careless (perhaps), or decidedly prejudicial in their reporting (almost certainly). It is not impolite to suggest that AI’s reports are riddled with what can only be considered deliberate omissions and direct misstatement of facts. Most people would call that ‘lying’.
Dismissing the Truth does not try to understand AI’s deliberately misleading work in regard to Nicaragua, but the obvious conclusion must be that AI is working on behalf of hidden motivators which could include other Non-Governmental Organizations, or perhaps governments, or corporate interests. Or all of these. Dismissing the Truth documents clearly that AI could not possibly take the positions it does without doing so deliberately – and that can only mean that, for whatever reasons or backers, AI is choosing to lie.
From Dismissing the Truth’s concluding chapter:
Amnesty International has a history of producing controversial and unbalanced reports about Nicaragua that began soon after the Sandinista revolution defeated the Somoza dictatorship in 1979.Axis of Logic has two suggestions for readers:
As recently as 2017 it produced a report on the planned interoceanic canal, which exaggerated the opposition to the project and made little attempt at balanced coverage.
- First, read Dismissing the Truth. It is well-documented with photos, articles, links to evidence and so on that will shed a light of honesty in regard to Nicaragua. The truth about the country rarely appears in the mainstream press and Amnesty International assists the mainstream press by providing dishonest research to support poor journalism.
- Second, never accept anything from Amnesty International at face value. It has been my belief that for quite some time – regardless of whether AI was created with honest intent – it has long ago lost its way and is, today, primarily a dishonest mouthpiece for the government of the United States.
Find Dismissing the Truth here.
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