Friday, May 18, 2007

AIUK still misleading members over secret abortion policy

If you were an interested Amnesty International UK members looking for some information or comment over the recent decision to advocate abortion as a human right, one of the first places you might turn would be the organization's members' magazine, Amnesty Magazine (especially as the organization's own staff appear to be either unable or unwilling to provide correct information).

AIUK members receiving their copy of the May/June issue this week would have to flick over quite a few pages - to page 37 of the 40 page issue- before hitting upon a small, pink box which mentioned the issue (it's been blown up on this blog for easier reading).

Hawk-eyed members would be rewarded with the information that following the resolutions put to the AGM in March:

"...AIUK's Board now has the task of analysing the decisions and determining the UK section's approach to future international discussion on the subject."

Couple of things:

1. What future discussions? The decision was apparently taken on 16 April - more than a month ago. The magazine manages to report on other stories that occurred several weeks after that date, so obviously production deadlines were not an issue in failing to report quite an important piece of information.

Did the AIUK Board forget to tell the editor that a decision had already been made or was this just a deliberate attempt to mislead AIUK members into thinking that there was still some doubt about what decision AI would come to ? Of course, this suggestion would have been unthinkable in the past, but that was before the shocking behavior of the AI Board on this matter and its attempts at a cover up had been revealed.

2. What happened to the democratic process that AI makes so much about in its secret documents? It appears that the AIUK Board is now quite clear: they'll take the decision on what the membership really thought. Now could it be that they would side with the resolution to form a policy on adoption proposed by...err... the AIUK Board?

I'm sure that there will be a few dictators and aspiring dictators who are all in favor of this type of democracy.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Time for Amnesty to come clean over secret abortion policy

When forced to address the abortion issue, AI representatives have often attempted to package their decision to advocate having an abortion as a "human right" with issues around protecting women from violence (AI has never quite explained just how abortion does this - isn't killing an unborn child a pretty violent act?). Anyway, by taking this approach they have thus far succeeded in avoiding all the difficult questions that adopting this policy and their subsequent attempts to cover it up raise.

Now that Amnesty International's leaders have apparently been successful in imposing their wishes on the organization, it is beholden on them to come clean about:

  • the real consultation process and why it was so biased;
  • why they failed to inform staff about the adoption of the policy;
  • why they were apparently quite happy to mislead AI members about the adoption of the policy;
  • why the policy was adopted before the slated date and why AI continued to say that a consultation was still ongoing, when the final decision had already been taken;
  • and, most importantly, provide a proper explanation as to why a human rights organization feels it can morally and logically adopt this policy.

On the last point, if AI is to justify its new position on abortion with any ounce of credibility it must provide the evidence of where and when life begins, for if it really believes in human rights, it must identify at what point a person exists to claim those rights. I suspect that this will be pretty problematic for the organization as, until now, no-one has been able to prove at what point a person exists (once we get 100% proof of this, then the abortion debate is over).

Given this lack of evidence, logically there are two positions that can be adopted: you either understand that you cannot determine the exact point of time at which a human inherits personhood and so accept that they should have rights (including the right to life) from the earliest possible moment that individual could potentially become a person; or you take a view that an individual becomes a person at some indeterminable point and set an arbitrary point at which human rights should be bestowed, knowing that by doing so there is a significant risk that many individuals may be denied their human rights.

So the problem for AI is to explain why it has taken the latter approach and adopted a position it knows very well could deny human rights to millions of individuals. Why the approach may be logically consistent for an organization with no interest in human rights (we'll leave the moral question out of this at the moment), AI has to convince us how this approach that is likely to deny human rights to many is consistent with its human rights work?

This is difficult question for a human rights organization to answer with any credibility, which is why it has been avoided. But it is no longer acceptable for AI bosses to hide behind the specious and illogical excuse for introducing this policy of stopping violence against women.

Come on, Amnesty Come Clean!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

AI on abortion policy - we "sort of felt like" addressing it

Sometimes it is in the throw-away lines that you can learn much more about what's really going on without the spin. So it is with Widney Brown's interview as reported by the Reuters press agency.

To be honest, Amnesty International has not been very good about putting a spin on its decision to adopt a policy on abortion and subsequently to hush up the decision: all attempts up until now make the organization's leaders look disingenuous and have damaged the reputation and integrity of a great organization.

Nevertheless, the Senior Director of International Law, Policy and Campaigns at AI’s International Secretariat made an interesting remark: "We sort of felt like if we're going to work on stopping violence against women we have to address (abortion),"

We sort of felt like it! Who is "we" Ms Brown? It was not the members.

AI says it takes no view on whether abortion is good or bad or when life begins . But Ms Brown's casual comment shows that this is not the case: AI must have taken a view on where life begins or else its abortion policy is deliberately campaigning against the rights of unborn humans; surely that can't be fitting for such a venerable human rights organization? Why has Ms Brown decided this is not an issue that AI should be concerned with?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Amnesty International: no cover up, we just didn't need to tell

It would appear there was no press officer sitting in on the conversation between a Reuters' interviewer and Widney Brown, Senior Director of International Law, Policy and Campaigns at Amnesty International’s International Secretariat. For surely, if there had been, Ms Brown would not have made some of her absurd claims.

According to Reuters she told the agency that Amnesty was not deliberately trying to suppress the fact that the decision to support abortion had been made (even although allowing your staff to state that the policy had not been made and marking documents "for internal distribution only" looks pretty like such an attempt in my eyes). Instead Ms Brown told Reuters: "There's simply no reason for us to 'publicize' policy issues."

Now Ms Brown has only recently joined AI from Human Rights Watch, and to be charitable maybe someone has not told her yet that AI is a campaigning organization and should be doing all it can to publicize policy issues.

In her interview Ms Brown labored the point that AI had gone through a consultation process among its members (although she forgot to mention that the UK membership actually opposed the move and that we await the result of the AIUSA membership vote to be made public), a reasonable person might ask why she assumed that AI members (and indeed AI staff) might not be interested in finding out that a policy had been adopted.

Amnesty cover-up: did AI mislead staff as well as members?

If the scandal of Amnesty International ignoring the most basic rights to unborn children wasn't bad enough, the powers that be at AI have caused further outrage by attempting to cover up their decision - even trying to keep it from their staff.

As late as Tuesday afternoon, workers at Amnesty International UK's headquarters claimed that they believed a decision on the abortion policy had not been taken and would not be taken until later this summer, and indeed were reassuring members of this, apparently blissfully unaware that Amnesty was in fact trying to cover up the fact that it had already made its decision.

So their gas was put at the proverbial peep when it was pointed out to the benighted AIUK employees that documents on Amnesty International USA's site, uncovered by Consistent Life, completely contradicted what they were saying (see previous post) and these documents made them look, at the very best, sadly uninformed.

So the AIUK staff went off to find out more. At the time of writing this, they still had not managed to give a response to the member in question - that's almost 48 hours later, but we can assume that there has been some frantic activity, in fact there have been quite a few hits on this blog and its mirror sites from Amnesty International IP addresses over the last 24 hours (perhaps AIUK staff are trying to find out what their bosses have apparently been keeping from them).

Of course, AI didn't want to tell its members the unpalatable news until it had worked out how it was going to spin it to members who had vigorously opposed the proposals so it was quite useful to keep their staff in the dark so that they could answer in all honesty that the matter was still to be decided if they had to deal with troublesome member or press enquiries. And, as Jen R points out , this would not be the first time that such a tactic has been employed.

At the same time AIUK were preparing their response to this embarrassing incident, Widney Brown, Senior Director of International Law, Policy and Campaigns at Amnesty International's International Secretariat - and a former advocate on the women's rights program of Human Rights Watch (which also happens to have adopted a policy on abortion) - was forced into giving an interview to Reuters press agency, apparently confirming the decision that Amnesty was supporting abortions.

Reuters reports that she told its interviewer "that Amnesty also viewed abortion as a right for women whose health was threatened by a pregnancy and that the group would call for the procedure to be decriminalized globally. She said the board of the London-based group agreed the policy last month after two-years of consultations -- with experts and the group's more than 2.2 million members -- that has spurred much discussion on anti-abortion blogs."

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Amnesty International USA or UK - who's right?

One of the contributors to the blog has just contacted Amnesty International UK to ask them about their position on the abortion question. The contributor was asking as a private AI member, so was not speaking to a press officer or spokesperson. Anyway the AIUK rep was quite clear about the situation: AIUK had passed two “conflicting” resolutions at its AGM in March; one to develop a policy and one to remain neutral. (I have my doubts about this). Absolutely no decision had yet been made, she said, and AIUK could not adopt policy by itself, but would take its recommendations to the International meeting later this summer. She said there was a statement prepared and she would send it over (we’ll publish it here when we get it). UK US flags But what about the documents in the members only section of the AIUSA website, dated April 2007 and declaring that a policy had been adopted? The AIUK representative was puzzled (no wonder: the documents completely contradict what she had been saying). So puzzled was she, that our contributor offered to email her over a copy of the documents and she could respond once she had a chance to see them. He did this earlier this afternoon and awaits the result. No doubt there will be some frantic conversation between Amnesty International press officers before he gets a response. If a decision has already been made, there is another question for AI bosses: is Amnesty putting its front line staff in the unenviable position of misleading members, by not giving their own staff the full facts to respond to queries correctly? We’ll have to wait and see.

Monday, May 07, 2007

AI's "secret" policy betrays human rights values

Amnesty International's recently adopted policy to advocate the right to an abortion as a human right has been condemned as a betrayal of the organization's values.

Talking of the decision Amnesty International is currently trying to keep under wraps, the US National Director of Priests for Life, Fr Frank Pavone, said, "Amnesty International purports to be an advocate for human rights, yet it apparently now thinks that it's acceptable for governments to trample on the most important, fundamental right, the right to life."

Fr Pavone continued: "When will we extend amnesty to unborn children?"

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Today's World Press Freedom Day - so here's something AI isn't publishing yet

On UN World Freedom of the Press day, here's Amnesty International USA's response to some anticipated bad press (with a couple of comments)

Media Response Letter on Amnesty International’s Policy on Sexual and Reproductive Rights April, 2007

Note: This letter is only to be sent to newspapers as a response to articles, editorials or letters to the editor that are critical of the new sexual and reproductive rights policy; it is not to be sent proactively. (oops!!)

To The Editor: Violence against women is pervasive worldwide. (Yes, this is dreadful, but this is not the issue here) In conflict zones from Bosnia to Sudan to Guatemala, rape has been used as a weapon of war. (And how many Amnesty International members and good thinking people do not abhor this? Again, this is clouding the issue.) The World Health Organization estimates that one woman in five will be the victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime. (Again, absolutely dreadful, but not the point here. This tactic of trying to make out that those people who oppose abortion do not care for protecting women is low - and wrong) Women who are raped suffer additional abuse and isolation. In some countries abortion is a crime with severe penalties. Recently in Nigeria, a woman who miscarried was accused of aborting and threatened with the death penalty. (Of course this was awful for the woman involved; many of us campaigned on her behalf and she was released. AI campaigns vigorously against capital punishment anyway, so why use this as an example to excuse the change in the abortion stance ?) . In many countries, women suffer terrible consequences when access to medical treatment is blocked. (Everyone should have access to medical treatment, that is not an issue. But not all medical procedures are conducive to human rights) Every year, 70,000 women died from unsafe abortions and another five million suffer often debilitating complications. (This is tragic, but there is a 100% mortality rate for the unborn child as a result of every abortion - why is a human rights organization not addressing this issue).

As a human rights organization, Amnesty International cannot remain silent in the face of this suffering. (So why does the human rights organization feel it can remain silent in the face of the suffering of the unborn, defenseless child?) The severe violence and dire circumstances women face inspired Amnesty International to initiate a global campaign to Stop Violence against Women through which we advocate for every woman’s right to be free from inhuman treatment, cruelty, coercion, discrimination or violence. (This should be a right for everyone - man, woman, child, born and unborn. Why has AI chosen to limit these rights to a particular group with this policy?) This campaign has led us to defend a woman’s right to be free from any form of coercion, discrimination or violence as she makes and puts into effect informed decisions concerning reproduction, including decisions in relation to the continuation or termination of pregnancy(The campaign has not seen AI protecting the right of a female or male child's right to life or protecting them from the violence of abortion). In particular, we call for protection of women who seek an abortion as a consequence of rape or incest or who are facing grave risk to their health or loss of life. (How can this be a logical stance for a human rights organization to take? If you argue that abortion is a right, then why would you limit it to particular circumstances? Of course this might make it slightly more palatable for your membership if you planned to widen the policy at a later date and was introducing this policy as a mere stepping stone.) We support the right of women to receive medical treatment for complications arising from abortion, (but ignore the "complication" of abortion to the unborn child; the removal of that most basic of their human rights: the right to life) and we oppose sending women and their health care providers to jail for abortion.

Amnesty International takes no position on whether a woman should have an abortion under any of these circumstances but instead seeks to assure that abortion services are safe and accessible to prevent grave human rights violations that can result if women are denied this option. (Abortion is a grave human rights violation. Would AI really accept an argument that it should drop its campaign against the death penalty and instead campaign for a "humane" method of execution; one that does not result in complications which would cause the victim too much suffering, such as the complications that have been associated with the electric chair or gas chamber? I doubt it, yet this is the argument it tries to present here.)

Name Amnesty International USA

What Amnesty International doesn't want you to know

It would appear that Amnesty International has already taken the tragic decision to advocate abortion as a “human right”, but is so concerned about the fuss that will be made that it does not want to officially say anything. So, in line with Amnesty’s own campaign to prevent censorship of the web, here is a letter posted on the AIUSA members’ website (their emphasis):

Dear Volunteer Leaders, Amnesty International’s International Executive Committee (IEC) has adopted a new position on Sexual and Reproductive Rights that includes support for abortion in very particular circumstances, in the context of our work to stop grave human rights abuses against women and girls. This new policy, which grew out of our campaigning to stop violence against women and the tragic circumstances in which women all too often find themselves, will enable the organization to: Support women who seek a safe, early medical termination of pregnancy in cases of rape, incest or when a woman’s life or health is at grave risk. Urge governments to make medical care available to women who suffer complications from unsafe abortions; Oppose imprisonment and other criminal penalties for abortion against women and their providers. It is very important to be aware of the following: This policy will not be made public at this time. As the IEC has written to all sections, “There is to be no proactive external publication of the policy position or of the fact of its adoption issued. This means no section or structure is to issue a press release or public statement or external communication of any kind on the policy decision.” A central reason for this is that there will be no campaigning on these issues until at least later this year, and we will await further guidance on this matter from the IS and IEC. Because we recognize that word about this decision may enter the public domain, the SRR Working Group has prepared some guidance and materials for you to respond to inquiries and to potential criticism in your communities. The documents include: • Letter from the Executive Director: This can be sent to those who express concern about our new policy. This is, therefore, an external document that can be used for-response to inquiries. • Two-page overview: This explains the context for this decision and the consultation process. This is an external document that can be used for-response to inquiries. • Letter to the Editor: This is an external document, but one that should be used only to respond to critical editorials or letters to the editor in local newspapers. • FAQ: This is an internal document that can be used to respond to inquiries, but not distributed to the public. A word about press inquiries: Please do not respond to any inquiries from the news media. Any press inquiries should be sent to Gwen Fitzgerald ( or Suzanne Trimel ( in the Communications Department’s media office. We are also establishing an email burst for inquiries from members and the public: Any questions should be directed there or to your regional office. Thank you. Best, Karen Schneider Chair, SRR Working Group

Consistent Life has put together a great page on the issue, with some links on other organizations to join.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

AIUSA: pot, kettle and black springs to mind

"These are extraordinary times and we need you now more than ever." So starts the blurb on Amnesty International USA's member recruitment website. And I agree wholeheartedly with this statement, times are indeed extraordinary when an organization that purports to be an advocate and defender of human rights proposes to actively remove the rights of unborn children.

I am still an active member of Amnesty International and I will continue to be one unless and until the organization adopts the policy that will advocate abortion as a human right. There are many people in the same situation which is why AI sectors worldwide are preparing for an exodus of members, hence more intensified recruitment drives. AIUSA is already seeing the need to attract more members and in an online recruitment campaign tagged "Believe. And be counted."(sic) the organization says it wants to attract 75 new members every day in April.

AIUSA's recruitment literature continues: "We can't restore the basic American rights that have been so seriously eroded over the past six years without you. You can play an important role in Amnesty International's work to reverse the disastrous course of human rights pursued by the Bush Administration. Renew your membership or join Amnesty for the first time and declare your commitment to the America you believe in."

(I have serious misgivings about this type of attack as a way to recruit members: AI's members come from a wide political spectrum...however this is not a point that I'm going to go into here). I am no particular fan of the Bush Administration, and have voiced my condemnation of many of the things it has done. However when I read AIUSA's recruitment blurb and consider Amnesty International's own proposals to advocate abortion as a human right the words "pot", "kettle" and "black" spring to mind. Should it be implemented, AI's proposals would be no less disastrous for the course of human rights than anything the Bush Administration has done; and as far as I am aware even the Bush Administration has not been as hypocritical to call itself a human rights organization.

I would respectfully suggest to Amnesty International USA that if it genuinely wants to restore human rights it first does so by campaigning to stop all attempts by AI sectors to deny the most basic of human rights - the right of life - to unborn children. Once it does so it may find that it is able to retain the membership of many of its long-term supporters.

Pat Oliphant's famous cartoon.