Friday, August 31, 2007

AI's strange definition of human rights not shared by many members

WE MENTIONED the other day that there were two pieces in this week’s Tablet magazine about Amnesty International’s decision to adopt a pro-abortion policy. The other article is predominantly about the decision of the English Bishop of East Anglia Michael Evans to resign after 30-odd years with the organisation, but it also touches on a couple of other issues; one of which is a brief comment attributed to Amnesty International member and veteran campaigner Bruce Kent (pictured below), which, if correct, I find a little odd coming from a campaigner of his pedigree.

According to the Tablet, Mr Kent is optimistic that a way forward can be found to allow Amnesty International members opposed to abortion to remain members if their contributions and efforts were not used to support the pro abortion policy (I do not believe this to be in any way feasible, but the logistics of that is not my concern here).

Bruce Kent is a man of peace and I am sure that his suggestion - if it is his - comes from his innate conciliatory desire. But the suggestion necessitates Amnesty International becoming a very broad church to accommodate the vastly different views of human rights, and it makes the argument from a relativist viewpoint: where everyone’s view is right and truth is only a matter of perspective.

Basing a human rights organisation on the premise that all truths are equally valid is both dangerous and self-destructive. At first, it might seem attractive: we'd get a warm and fuzzy feeling getting along just fine, interpreting laws, conventions and charters in the loosest possible way so that we can even get round that irritating "right to life" phrase that once seemed quite simple. But if a human rights organisation cannot itself agree on the basic truth about the nature of human rights and, by extension, it sanctions the position that all interpretations of human rights are equal and truthful, then the organisation has made itself obsolete: it has accepted there can never be any actual abuse of human rights as those rights themselves can never be objectively defined. This, in part, is what makes Amnesty's abortion move so irrational and illogical.

Twenty years ago the then Catholic priest Monsignor Kent was a leading light in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (he is still Vice President of CND), but he also wished to stand for the UK parliament. Canon Law prevents priests from standing for political office and Kent was forced to choose between his political ambitions and his active ministry: he chosecndlogo the former and was laicised. He has championed Amnesty International and human rights in the past and has demonstrated the courage of his convictions on many occasions. I do not share his views on nuclear disarmament, but I recognise him as a man of principle, and admire him for that.

I would doubt, therefore, that Mr Kent would be willing to continue to support CND if it adopted a policy that campaigned for some countries to have nuclear arms in "certain circumstances" (a phrase du jour of the AI leadership). I would guess that the main opposition to the policy would not be about whether monetary contributions were spent on a pro-weapons campaign - although this would be a factor, but rather the fact that the policy betrayed the underlying principle of the organisation.

For many people that is exactly what has happened to Amnesty International: many of us believe that the fundamental human right is the right to life and abortion denies the unborn humans that right. For those of us who believe that abortion is an anathema to human rights, it is with a heavy heart that we have to accept we can no longer support Amnesty International as it now stands. We must look for other organisations to support while we campaign and hope that Amnesty International eventually sees sense and reverses its pro-abortion policy. We cannot remain with the organisation as Mr Kent is said to have suggested.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

More comments on AI's pro abortion policy

A few more comments about Amnesty International's decision to adopt a pro-abortion stance. More to come...

“People who support so-called ‘abortion rights’ are probably very pleased and feel they’ve scored another ‘coup'. But I think it is going to leave Amnesty International with a very questionable reputation from now on.” Rev Thomas King, SJ, Professor of Theology, Georgetown University, United States

"AS ABORTION brings about the death of a child before birth, it clearly violates the right of a child to life. What then of the mother and any rights she might claim? The position in relation to children's rights versus adult rights should be clear and is arguably covered by the paramountcy principle which states that: "the welfare of the child is paramount" and this is enshrined in International, European and UK legislative frameworks, hence the Children Act 1989" - Dr Rosemary Keenan, National Board of Catholic Women, England & Wales

"I DO not see how anyone who is committed to equal respect for all human life, whether on religious or philosophical grounds, can remain a member of Amnesty International." Ray Campbell, director of the Queensland Bioethics Centre, Australia

"Advocacy on behalf of both [mother and child] would take action when a policy of genocidal rape is being followed. It would provide help and support to the pregnant women, and community building to help their children find acceptance. In short, true compassion tries to provide healing following the violence, rather than extending the violence to the death of another human being." - Edith OSB,Monastic Musings blog, United States

“ Abortion provides no relief from the realities they [rape vctims] face. It does nothing to alleviate injustice...God is bigger than Amnesty International and his plan for justice will not be thwarted." Deirdre A. McQuade, Director of planning and information for the USCCB Pro-Life Activities Secretariat

“It strikes against the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child, which states that every child “needs special safeguards and care, including legal protection, before as well as after birth. This is surely a crossing of the Rubicon..." Fr Chris Middleton SJ, principal of St Aloysius’ College, Milsons Point, Australia

Here you can read Fr Middleton's full statement on the decision to stop supporting Amnesty International at his school and instead form a new society to work on human rights: the Benenson Society, named after the late founder of Amnesty International.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Scottish cardinal quits Amnesty over abortion policy

SCOTLAND'S most senior Catholic, Cardinal Keith O'Brien of Edinburgh says he will leave Amnesty International following the organisation's decision to adopt a pro abortion policy.

The cardinal, who has been a member of AI for 40 years, said he was leaving the organisation as a "matter of conscience". He commented: "That basic and most fundamental of all human rights, the right to life is recognised by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the document upon which Amnesty International was founded. Sadly now Amnesty International seems to be placing itself at the forefront of a campaign for a universal ‘right' to abortion in contravention to that basic right to human life." In contrast to many other countries, the Scottish Catholic hierarchy has been quiet on the issue until now and this is a welcome, though belated, message from the Scottish Catholic church. The full text of Cardinal O'Brien's comments are given below.


"The recent decision by the International Council of Amnesty International to “Support the decriminalisation of abortion and to defend women’s access to abortion” has forced me to reconsider my membership of this noble organisation.

As a matter of conscience and with great sadness I have decided to resign from Amnesty International having first joined as a student and supported it over many decades.

Throughout my priestly ministry and more recently as Archbishop and Cardinal I have shown my desire along with my Church to defend life in all its aspects. Along with the Bishops of Scotland in 2001 in guidance ahead of the Scottish elections we stressed the commitment of the Catholic Church to life but we wanted to be clear what that meant. It was not something narrow but something wide and all encompassing. And we said then that: “We believe in a consistent ethic of life. We are pro-life in the fullest sense of that term”.

In recent years I have spoken out strongly on pro life issues including our necessity to ensure life for the poorest of the poor people of the world and have shown my care and concern by visiting some of those poorest countries especially in Africa and Asia and including also my visit to Darfur. I have also shown my high regard for life in consistently speaking out with members of other Churches here in Scotland against the renewal of the Trident Nuclear Weapon system which is based in Scotland.

Even more recently I have spoken out strongly against abortion when I marked the 40th anniversary of the passing of the Abortion Act in the Westminster in 1967. With regard to abortion I have now had to examine my own conscience, realising that Amnesty International was approving proposals in support of abortion.

I have listened to the teachings of my own Church in recent weeks in the form of a statement from Cardinal Renato Martino the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice & Peace said with regard to Amnesty International that it had “betrayed its mission” by abandoning its traditional neutral policy on abortion. Only a week ago Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone the Secretary of State of Pope Benedict XVI said on Vatican Radio that: “Men and women of the Church throughout the world have already made their stark opposition to this decision clear violence cannot be answered by further violence, murder with murder, for even if the child is unborn it is still a human person. It has a right to dignity as a human being”.

I also realise the anguish suffered by Bishop Michael Evans of East Anglia who has been an active member of Amnesty for 31 years and who has also recently announced his decision to resign. He indicated that the recent decision made it very difficult for Catholics to remain members of Amnesty or to give it any financial support saying: “This regrettable decision will almost certainly divide Amnesty’s membership and thereby undermine its vital work” adding “among all human rights, the right to life is fundamental”.

I am also aware that Amnesty International has previously criticised the Vatican for its stance against abortion and in 2005 described the refusal by America to pay for abortions overseas as “an attempt to stifle the evolution of the human rights framework”.

I hope I act in a manner which is ‘pro-life’ following what I believe is the teaching of Jesus Christ and the teaching of my Church. That basic and most fundamental of all human rights, the right to life is recognised by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the document upon which Amnesty International was founded. Sadly now Amnesty International seems to be placing itself at the forefront of a campaign for a universal ‘right’ to abortion in contravention to that basic right to human life.

For me it is a matter of conscience that I have decided to resign from Amnesty International.

Others must follow their own consciences. But I would suggest that any who do and who resign from Amnesty International, would put their previous contributions to Amnesty International to agencies which do indeed support the right to life of each and every human being wherever conceived and in whatsoever part of the world, and to help women who have suffered violence at the hands of others, particularly those who have endured rape.

We are all members of the one human family and we must defend unborn children in our family however conceived, they may be seen as unwanted or inconvenient, but they have from moment of conception, been given the gift of life by Almighty God."

Picture: Cardinal Keith O'Brien, Archbishop of St Andrews and Einburgh, from

Monday, August 27, 2007

Amnesty loses friends over abortion policy

The issue as covered by the UK's Tablet magazine. The Tablet is a Catholic magazine read widely around the English speaking world and unfortunately its coverage of the issue to date has been disappointing. Nevertheless, two pieces appear in this week's edition: the one that follows and an article about Bishop Michael Evans resigning from AI.

Amnesty loses friends over abortion policy

THE VATICAN this week intensified its call to Catholics to stop supporting Amnesty International following the pressure group's decision to back the legalisation of abortion.

AI affirmed a revised abortion policy at the conclusion of its leadership council meeting in Mexico last week, making official a departure from its longtime neutrality on the issue despite protests from many Catholic leaders.

"With the prevention of violence against women as its major campaigning focus AI's leaders committed themselves anew to work for universal respect for sexual and reproductive rights," the organisation said in a statement released after the meeting.

Under the new policy, the group said, AI would support the decriminalisation of abortion, push for access to health care for women suffering from complications of abortion procedures, and "defend women's access to abortio, within reasonable gestational limits, when their health or human rights are in danger".

More...In all, the group said, the revisions to its policy aim to emphasise that "women and men must exercise their sexual and reproductive rights free from coercion, discrimination and violence."

The announcement was followed by strongly worded criticism by the Vatican. "One cannot eliminate life as such, even if it is the fruit of violence," said the Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone SDB.

Analysts feared the move would weaken joint efforts between church groups and AI on several other justice issues, including disarmament and the abolition of capital punishment.

Italy's leading Catholic newspaper said the decision to back legalised abortion, even in the case of rape, was a "disturbing precedent" in a "glorious organisation" that had worked so effectively for human rights.

by Timothy Lavin and Robert Mickens, The Tablet 25 August 2007.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Amnesty duped pro-life celebrities

The UK's Sunday Times today reports that Amnesty International has been accused of duping pro life pop stars - including Christina Aguilera (pictured) and Avril Lavigne - by persuading them to record tracks for a CD to raise funds. The article quotes representative from the Rock for Life organisation. The full article appears below. (Note: the headline as it appeared in print is given below, the internet version of the story was headlined "Pro-life rockers clash with Amnesty" on the Times' website.)

Amnesty "duped" pro-life pop stars

By Maurice Chittenden and Dipesh Gadher

Amnesty International risks alienating some of its high-profile rock star backers in the row over its decision to support women’s access to abortion.

The group has been accused of “duping” the singers Christina Aguilera and Avril Lavigne, who have both made statements against abortion and are among


contributors to an Amnesty CD released to raise money for survivors of the atrocities in Darfur.

Two weeks ago, just two months after the album’s release, Amnesty adopted a worldwide policy to back the right of women to abortion in carefully defined circumstances — for example, when their health or life are in danger or when they have been victims of rape in areas of conflict such as Darfur.

The album, which has already sold more than 400,000 copies, features cover versions of hits by John Lennon such as Imagine, and Give Peace a Chance. It was made possible by Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono, who gave the rights to all his solo works to Amnesty in 2003.

The policy on abortion has brought Amnesty into conflict with the Roman Catholic Church, and has shown how new divides have displaced the old left-right geopolitics that gave rise to Amnesty. The group was founded in Britain in 1961 by Peter Benenson, a radical socialist lawyer and a Catholic convert, to campaign for the release of prisoners of conscience.

Now Rock for Life, a collaboration of musicians linked to the antiabortion movement, has accused Amnesty of using the album to promote abortion without making its intentions clear to the singers.

Erik Whittington, director of Rock for Life, said: “The human suffering going on right now in Darfur is horrific. To add insult to injury, however, using this tragic abuse of human rights to raise money for a pro-abortion organisation is hypocritical and beyond belief.

“The manipulation of musicians to fund this hypocrisy is maddening.” He added: “We are writing to all the artists to ask for their views.”

Amnesty, which claims 260,000 members in Britain, more than the Labour party, has been surprised by the ferocity of the reaction to its new policy.

The position has been condemned as support for a “right to kill” never envisaged in the United Nations 1948 declaration of human rights that formed the original bedrock of Amnesty’s focus. The Vatican has called on Catholics to withhold donations and Amnesty’s Irish section has said it will effectively opt out of the policy and not participate in abortion-related campaigns.

Last week Michael Evans, the Catholic bishop of East Anglia, resigned from Amnesty after 31 years as an activist saying it had been “deeply compromised”. Many Christians among Amnesty’s 2m members worldwide are said to be considering following suit, although Amnesty officials in London insisted only “a handful” had done so.

The views of singers who have contributed to the album - who also include George Harrison’s son Dhani - on Amnesty’s change of heart are not yet clear.

But Aguilera, 26, is a devout American Catholic. She is reportedly expecting her first child and has taken part in a television show in which she interviewed a teenager who had kept her baby rather than have an abortion.

Avril LavigneLavigne, 22, [pictured left] is a French-Canadian from a tight-knit Christian family. Her song Keep Holding On is the backing track to a pro-life video on YouTube that declares “abortion is murder”.

Aguilera and Lavigne were unavailable for comment. An aide to Lavigne said: “I don’t think she would want to comment on this. But what has abortion to do with Amnesty? It’s for a lot of different things such as prisoners of conscience and human rights.”

Rock for Life has drawn up a list of 700 acts, including Bryan Ferry and the rapper MC Hammer, who it says are opposed to abortion.

An Amnesty spokesman said: “We don’t know the personal opinion of the artists on abortion but the CD has been launched to raise awareness of the situation in Darfur.”

Widney Brown, Amnesty’s director of policy, said there had been “overwhelming support” for the policy change at the meeting in Mexico City. Since 2005 72 branches of Amnesty around the world have passed similar motions.

Amnesty’s position now is not for abortion to be a universal right but for it to be decriminalised and for access to abortion to be permitted within its defined circumstances.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

US Catholic Bishops accuse Amnesty of false compassion for women's rights

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has responded to Amnesty International's recently-adopted abortion policy by warning AI that the Bishops would be looking to work with other human rights groups. The Conference also calls for AI to reverse the policy.

The President of the Conference, Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane said in a statement:

"This basic policy change undermines Amnesty's longstanding moral credibility and unnecessarily diverts its mission. In promoting abortion, Amnesty divides its own members (many of whom are Catholics and others who defend the rights of unborn children) and jeopardizes its support by people in many nations, cultures and religions.."

He continues: "To some, the action of Amnesty International may appear to be a compassionate response to women in difficult situations of pregnancy, but this is a false compassion. True commitment to women's rights puts us in solidarity with women and their unborn children. It does not pit one gainst the other but calls us to advocate on behalf of both."

The full text of the Bishops' Statement follows below.More...

A Statement of the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Bishop William S. Skylstad, Bishop of Spokane August 23, 2007

After nearly a year of dialogue with leaders of Amnesty International AI), the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops strongly protests the recent action of AI's International Council to promote worldwide access to abortion. This basic policy change undermines Amnesty's longstanding moral credibility and unnecessarily diverts its mission. In promoting abortion, Amnesty divides its own members (many of whom are Catholics and thers who defend the rights of unborn children) and jeopardizes its support by people in many nations, cultures and religions who share a consistent commitment to all human rights.

Amnesty International's action will lead many people of conscience to seek alternative means to end grave human rights abuses, fight injustice, and promote freedom of conscience and expression. The essential work of protecting human life and promoting human dignity must carry on. We must continue to oppose the use of the death penalty and the crushing effects of dehumanizing poverty. We must continue to stand with prisoners of conscience, refugees and migrants, and other oppressed peoples. But we will seek to do so in authentic ways, working most closely with organizations who do not oppose the fundamental right to life from conception to natural death.

To some, the action of Amnesty International may appear to be a compassionate response to women in difficult situations of pregnancy, but this is a false compassion. True commitment to women's rights puts us in solidarity with women and their unborn children. It does not pit one against the other but calls us to advocate on behalf of both. As our Conference has argued, a far more compassionate response is to provide support and services for pregnant women, advance their educational and economic standing in society, and resist all forms of violence and stigmatization against women. The Catholic Church provides these services to many women around the world and will continue to do so.

We call upon Amnesty International once again to act in accord with its noblest principles, reconsider its error, and reverse its policy on abortion.

Picture: The photograph is of Bishop William Skylstad from

Friday, August 24, 2007

Comments from around the web

Below are some of the views being posted around the web on Amnesty International's decision on abortion. More will follow. Also see Consistent Life's page for more links.

“Violence cannot be answered with further violence; murder with murder; for even if the child is unborn, it is still a human person. It has a right to dignity as a human being.” Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone as reported by Spero News

"If Amnesty International becomes an organisation which affirms the right to abortion, even under certain circumstances, it is free democratically to do so. But it cannot expect those of us who are just as passionate about the human rights of the unborn child to feel at ease being part of such an organisation." - Rt Rev Michael Evans as reported in the Times of London

"By its actions Amnesty International has shown that in today’s world what determines a “human right” is based on ideology rather than human dignity." - John Mallon, Human Right International

"It is a tragedy that AI has adopted abortion as a human right. It has now placed in jeopardy the wonderful work that it has performed."- Right to Life, New Zealand

"I think it sad that Amnesty should get involved with something that simply isn't in its remit; it will inevitably compromise the good work it does." - Nova et Vetera blog

"To claim the right to abortion and to recognize that right in law, means to attribute to human freedom a perverse and evil significance: that of an absolute power over others and against others. This is the death of true freedom." - Paul Kokoski,
Caribbean Net News

Amnesty International, the world's largest human rights organization, definitively threw away its last chance to rescind its recent abortion advocacy policy at the International Council meeting in Mexico City last weekend. - Elizabeth O'Brien, Lifesite

"Don't let the media fool you - opposition and outrage to AI's sharp break with its history on this issue is not limited to the "Church" or "Christians"" - Marjorie Campbell, Deal W. Hudson blog

"Amnesty offers no comment on the murder of innocent pre-born babies in light of their right to continue living. I’m not overlooking the terrible act of rape which does sometimes result in pregnancy. I’m recognizing the inescapable fact that abortion is the murder of an innocent to punish the sin of someone else entirely or to try and escape the natural consequence of one’s own sin." - Marklaroi, Pieces of a Whole blog

"I support the work you do, but I can not support you if you support abortion, a betrayal of human rights, as a human right." - John-Paul C. Deddens, Students for Life of Illinois

"The Jesuit headmaster of Sydney's St Aloysius' College has confirmed that his school will sever its ties with Amnesty International." - CathNews

"We can work with groups and people with whom we do not agree with on every issue on common interests," Mr. [Stephen] Colecchi [director of the Office of International Peace and Justice at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops] said. "But it's a different moral issue for people of conscience to contribute directly to an organization whose work now will include the decriminalization of abortion." - The Washington Times

"Amnesty International was founded to protect human rights, yet it now treads upon the most fundamental human right, the right to life." - Fr Frank Pavone, Priests for Life

"Amnesty has ignored the views of its own membership and the very aims for which it was constituted. It has treated the views of church-goes (its best supporters) with contempt. Pro-lifers will now be looking very seriously at initiating an immediate and complete boycott of Amnesty." - LifeLeague

"It’s not only Catholics therefore, but those of all faiths and none, who are in favour of the human rights of all, especially the most vulnerable in our society, who will now boycott this organisation and divert their time, money and resources to other causes. "
- Damian Rhodes, South Wales Echo

" seems like another example of an organisation succumbing to "mission creep", involving itself in matters which have nothing to do with the reason it was set up.." - Indigo Jo blog

"The point I am making is about Amnesty International, an organization that uses its credibility to intervene in political processes and discussions. That credibility has long ago been squandered." - Helen Szamuely, Eureferendum blog

"AI’s position on abortion appears inconsistent with its larger purpose of securing the rights and dignity of all people — unless the humanity of unborn babies is denied. This change takes the organization another step away from its original charter, and weakens its alliances with other groups..." - cehwiedel, Blogger News Network

Monday, August 13, 2007

Independent looks at the issue at last

The UK newspaper the Independent has covered the issue in today's paper; hardly in the most impartial way, as it attempts to suggest that the Catholic Church's opposition to this issue is an attack on the victims of rape - of course it is not. Nevertheless, today's front page splash highlights the issue more than any other mainstream paper has done so far.

The opposition to AI's policy is well rehearsed in this blog and on other sites. AI is now feeling a little worried about the backlash of the decision that they tried so hard to cover up.independent130807