by NGO Monitor
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NGO Monitor documents severe flaws and abuses committed by Amnesty International, contradicting its inflated reputation
Amnesty International is perhaps the most prestigious international non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to furthering human rights. Amnesty’s campaigns and publications are quoted by political leaders, journalists, diplomats, and academics. Amnesty has helped set agendas and influenced governments, as well as other international bodies such as the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Founded in 1961 as a small, volunteer initiative by Peter Benenson, the London-based organization has evolved dramatically, today operating around the globe, with thousands of employees and a multi-million dollar budget.
Despite Amnesty’s influence, critical analysis of the organization and its activities has been limited. The “halo effect,” which shields groups claiming to promote universal moral agendas and human rights from scrutiny because of a perceived impartiality, has insulated Amnesty from systematic critical assessment and reform, to its own detriment.
In 2014, Amnesty finds itself in the midst of unprecedented crisis. In late 2012, working conditions led to strikes in its London office and UK section. Internal reports acknowledged that in some regions, particularly in the US, the organization has lost influence along with a significant number of members. As NGO Monitor’s research has shown, the crisis is rooted in a number of structural problems, including consistent post-colonial ideological bias, a pronounced lack of credibility in research reports, moral inconsistency, financial instability and corruption, failure to act with transparency in critical organizational aspects, and friction between the London office and key national sections (particularly the U.S.).
The purpose of the detailed research is to contribute to a much needed independent assessment of Amnesty’s structure and activities. We present a brief overview of Amnesty’s founding, evolution, and current structure. On this foundation, we examine financial issues, including decreased funding (in part due to a significant drop in membership) and the myth of Amnesty’s rejection of government funds.
Additional sections deal with ideological and political biases and with the lack of professional methodology and credibility in Amnesty’s publications, which have further limited the effectiveness of the organization. In particular, these failures are illustrated in Amnesty’s relationship with Israel and its treatment of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
In the course of our research, NGO Monitor has found:
- Financial mismanagement among Amnesty’s corporate officers, most notably in the redundancy packages of former Secretary General Irene Khan and her deputy Kate Gilmore.
- A professional staff who believe that Amnesty is undermining human rights through its own policies and practices. In the words of Gita Sahgal, former head of the Gender Unit, Amnesty’s relationship with a pro-Taliban group “fundamentally damages Amnesty International’s integrity and, more importantly, constitutes a threat to human rights.”1
- Repeated examples of “lawfare,” the tendentious misapplications of legal terms and statutes to create the false impression of guilt.
- Likewise, systematic flaws in the reporting of human rights abuses, including the repetition of false libels and comparison of Israel to terror groups such as Hamas.
- An inadequate understanding of armed conflict leading to erroneous claims and incorrect analysis.
- Violation of the universality of human rights, including a consistent institutionalized bias against Israel through double standards.
- The employment of individuals in key research and leadership positions whose backgrounds, skills, and activities demonstrate the absence of professional human rights experience, exacerbated by deep ideological and political bias. This trend is incompatible with the requirements for credible and universal human rights reporting and analysis.
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