International Human Rights week, which marks the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Genocide Conventions on Dec. 10, 1948, provides an opportunity to re-examine and take stock of human rights around the world. It also enables us to ask what more can be done to ensure equal rights for all.
One of the tenets of the declaration is the principle of “universality”—namely, that “everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms … without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” Countries are meant to uphold these principles, but the most prominent promoters of these values are international human-rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
Yet the true universal promotion of rights by these groups is questionable at best. Instead of upholding the principle of universality and defending the populations that are suffering, organizations like Amnesty International regularly make political choices and take sides.
For example, it took Amnesty two years of watching what has been labeled a genocide in Myanmar to revoke Aung San Suu Kyi’s “Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience Awards.” While Rohingyan Muslims were being persecuted, Amnesty made the political, self-serving decision to deny any mistake in its initial promotion of Suu Kyi. Only on Nov. 11, 2018 did it finally recognize her government’s complicity in the atrocities and make human rights a priority.
Similar politicization occurs in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Amnesty has long lobbied extensively in support of the Palestinians, regularly publishing reports, excessively tweeting in response to current events, and constantly pumping out condemnations of Israel and calls for sanctions.
But Amnesty is far less active about Israeli human rights.
Since March 30, 2018, Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups have organized violent confrontations along Gaza’s border with Israel under the label of the “March of Return.” Amnesty took sides and ignored the protests’ violence, including organized armed attack on the Israeli border and military positions, attempts to destroy and breach the border fence, and sustained arson, rocket and mortar attacks on Israel’s civilian communities.
Amnesty was similarly silent when Palestinian terror groups in Gaza fired more than 450 rockets and missiles into Israeli population centers, resulting in one death (of a Palestinian man in Israel) and more than 70 injured. According to international law, targeting civilians is a war crime, and therefore, each of the 450 rockets sent by the terror groups targeting Israel’s civilians is defined as such. One would expect Amnesty to condemn these blatant violations of human rights.
Instead, Saleh Hijazi, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, favored weighing in to the politics of the Arab-Israeli conflict and absurdly placed blame for the escalation on Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Hijazi conveniently neglected to mention that Israel’s restriction of goods was created to stop Hamas smuggling in weapons and rockets used to target Israeli citizens in the first place. Hijazi stated that “Israel has a history of carrying out serious violations of international humanitarian law in Gaza, including war crimes, with impunity and displaying a shocking disregard for Palestinian lives.” She did conveniently include a singular line in a page-long statement condemning “Palestinian armed groups, including Hamas.”
This is sadly not the first time that Amnesty International has belittled the universal human rights of Israelis and remained silent in the face of Palestinian terror groups’ war crimes. Following the 2014 Gaza war, Amnesty ignored the fact that Hamas was sending hundreds of rockets towards innocent civilians, and instead accused Israel of war crimes, acting “above the law,” perpetrating “relentless” attacks, “unprecedented death and destruction,” “massive bombardment” and “unrelenting onslaught.” Amnesty even went so far as to accuse Israel of being motivated by “revenge.”
On Human Rights week, one cannot help but wonder if all people are truly “born free and equal in dignity and rights,” then why does Amnesty only speak out when certain lives are targeted? Why is it that Amnesty takes sides in conflicts and chooses to promote the rights of some over the other?
Whereas politicians might make statements regarding who is “right” or “wrong,” it is the responsibility of international human rights NGOs like Amnesty to remain neutral, impartial and focused on the people suffering. Amnesty’s selective promotion of human rights is disappointing and is a glaring insult to the declaration’s call for universality.
Ariella Esterson is the Harry C. Wechsler Memorial Fellow and Researcher at NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institute.