Amnesty International’s Orwellian Turn
In 1961, Amnesty International formed to defend non-violent “prisoners of conscience,” a term co-founder Eric Baker coined. Over subsequent decades, the group was crucial to shaming dictatorships and raising the profile of Soviet dissidents such as Natan Sharansky and Andrei Sakharov, Chinese dissidents like Wang Dan and Chen Guangcheng, and Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh.
No more. On August 4, 2022, Amnesty International released a report critical of Ukraine, handing a propaganda coup to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The report criticized Ukrainian fighters for resisting Russian invaders and implied that Kyiv, not Moscow, was responsible for subsequent deaths. “The ensuing Russian strikes in populated areas have killed civilians and destroyed civilian infrastructure,” Amnesty concluded. The finding may be morally inverse—the equivalent of blaming Jews during the Holocaust for an Auschwitz guard falling to his death from a guard tower—but, anyone who has traced Amnesty’s trajectory in recent years should not be surprised.
The report is bizarre from start to finish. It blames Ukraine’s defense rather than Russia’s onslaught for civilian deaths, never mind that Russia’s strikes on civilian targets are 60 times more frequent than its targeting of military sites. That Russian forces violated agreements of safe passage, murdered fleeing civilians, and trapped the others inside besieged cities was irrelevant to Amnesty’s experts. U.N. War Crimes investigator Marc Garlasco noted Amnesty International simply got the law wrong. Nevertheless, even as Russian troops kidnap, rape, and summarily execute Ukrainian civilians, Amnesty suggests that Ukrainian efforts to defend civilians from the onslaught was no different from Russian aggression, and that Ukraine is guilty of war crimes because too many of its civilians remained in harm’s way. In one case, Amnesty blamed Ukrainian soldiers for a Russian missile strike on a village in which some Ukrainian soldiers lived—Ukrainian soldiers have to live somewhere, and the village was far outside of denser urban areas. As retired Col. John Sweet further pointed out, there is hardly a military base in America without civilians living just outside its gates as families and businesses move nearby to educate children, provides services, and conduct business. Here, Amnesty experts expose themselves as both ignorant of the military and the laws upon which they comment. It is illegal for groups like Hamas to fire rockets from the courtyards of U.N.-run schools or the rooftop of an office building housing press (something Amnesty ignores), but there is no law against operating in civilian areas to defend civilian infrastructure against an invading force.
That the report read as if plagiarized from a Kremlin propaganda factory should not surprise, though. Amnesty International has long since dispensed with its original mission and subordinated objective human rights to its leaders’ subjective leftist, anti-American, and antisemitic politics. It pushes its research through the lens of politics and, when the facts do not fit, it simply dispenses with them.