So, you feel for Amnesty International: Wipe away those tears and sample some of its vitriol

Our governments became alphabet soups of warring political factions even as the likes of Amnesty International made slow, steady but sure inroads.

Sandeep B August 18, 2016 13:42:11 IST
So, you feel for Amnesty International: Wipe away those tears and sample some of its vitriol

In hindsight, Indira Gandhi was perhaps justified in repeatedly harping about the hazards of the ubiquitous foreign hand. Only, it was ironical given the fact that more than 40 MPs in her government were on the payroll of the CIA or KGB or both, as the Mitrokhin Archives reveal. But her harping ensured keeping intact something that is non-negotiable for any independent, sovereign nation: external and internal security and freedom from alien — especially Western — interference, no matter how benign the disguise.

Let’s examine the 1984 National Day speech by Indira Gandhi’s contemporary, Lee Kuan Yew who recalls his early, uphill struggles to build Singapore:

….the stench, the filth…what did [build Singapore] it? Human rights? Are they bankable? The [Western nations] … should underwrite…admit two million people to Australia or UK or US [in case something goes wrong] and I’ll follow what you tell me…when you don’t have jobs, will you queue up outside the ILO?...when you’re hungry, will you go to the FAO?....This is the only bank you have…the Singapore government…I tell this…class of intelligentsia, those who read all these magazines and newspapers: who wrote it? What is his stake and interest in your future before you believe him? ... But you know, Amnesty International and all these human rights guys say, hanging is wrong!

It might be very hard for the post-colonial generations in former colonized nations to understand what they see as paranoia about allowing Western intervention on their soil in the name of human rights, aid, etc. But both Indira Gandhi and Lee Kuan Yew belonged to a generation that had lived the horrors of Western colonialism, and were justifiably wary.

Put another way, it must never be forgotten that the freedom struggle was fundamentally fought to achieve two ends: to drive out the oppressive, alien occupier and to unite India as one nation, a unity that should remain non-negotiable, Jammu and Kashmir included. And unless this fundamental, integral premise is not forgotten, it will become clear that the protracted violence and sloganeering that continues in the name of the so-called azadi for Kashmiri Muslims is not a debate much less “a point of view.”

So you feel for Amnesty International Wipe away those tears and sample some of its vitriol

Kashmiri rapper Roshan Ellahi, also known as MC Kash, centre, is confronted by Indian police at an event organised by Amnesty International in Bengaluru. AP

And this is precisely what vast sections of our academia, media, intelligentsia and policy wonks want us to forget when they cynically throw around diversionary labels like “human rights,” “hypernationalism” and so on. This is the context in which we need to examine the ongoing fracas that Amnesty International India instigated in Bengaluru under the garb of human rights abuses by the Indian army against Kashmiri Muslims.

I don’t wish to dwell at length on the ongoing issue because it’s merely the latest manifestation of a rot whose roots go much farther back in time.

Suffice to ask a few questions to Amnesty: Why hasn’t it interviewed even one Kashmir Pandit over more than two decades after lakhs of them were forced out of the Valley by the selfsame Azadi torchbearers? And why hasn’t Amnesty shown the sorry plight of the families of the slain Indian soldiers fighting to protect our borders? More importantly, why hasn’t it interviewed the perpetrators of the worst human rights abuses, the Jihadi groups and their enablers who violently execute this noble task of 'Azadi'? And what was the crying need for Amnesty to organise an event of such a nature — knowing well that it would lead to controversy — in the first place? Equally, the timing of the event also arouses a doubt: is it to keep the flames of sympathy for the slain terrorist Burhan Wani still burning?

The answers will become evident the moment we hold the mirror to Amnesty International specifically and to the entire West-and-Church-funded Human Rights cottage industry.

Human Rights as an interventionist model

The Western Human Rights cottage industry follows the historical colonial model of saving souls and the white man’s burden repackaged to fit contemporary times. Its core doctrine is dictated by interference in the affairs of independent nations using whatever tools are deemed fit including think tanks, bureaucracy, local advocacy groups, universities and the media.

We can turn to Lee Kuan Yew again:

…nail your colours to the mast, defend it and say, “This is my flag, this is what I believe in. I believe in open debate, arguments, persuasion, I hope to win by votes.” But start manipulating innocent professional groups, cultural groups and make them support political causes, whether its freedom of the foreign press or whatever, then I say you are looking for unpleasant linkages with what has happened in the past.” [Emphasis added] And more crucially,

“We allow American journalists in Singapore in order to report Singapore to their fellow countrymen…But we cannot allow them to assume a role in Singapore that the American media play in America, that is, that of invigilator, adversary and inquisitor of the administration.”

Now apply this to the Indian situation and notice how dangerously true this has turned out. From Amnesty International to the clutch of foreign media houses with a single-minded agenda of demonising and pressuring the Narendra Modi government on mostly phony grounds, and causing mini-conflicts at regular intervals.

Would the US or UK allow say, a desi version of Amnesty International to pry into its racism, police brutality, illegal detentions and spying on private citizens in the name of homeland security?

It’s a beautiful model though: first, identify a target country for intervention and concoct a random narrative of human rights abuses there, and when that country’s government protests, portray such protest as a proof of the poor human rights record of the country.

It is nobody’s claim that there are no human rights abuses in India or anywhere else the world. The point is that every country has its own ways of dealing with it, and no external agency should be accorded permission to interfere in the internal affairs of independent nations. Would the US or UK allow say, a desi version of Amnesty International to pry into its racism, police brutality, illegal detentions and spying on private citizens in the name of homeland security? Amnesty International India is thus precisely a case in point. The slogan shouters, its volunteers, its donors, and supporters are all mostly Indian citizens participating in alien agendas that include abusing and demoralising the Indian armed forces, and escalating social and gender tensions among others.

Revisiting Amnesty International in India

It might come as a surprise but Amnesty International was allowed to open shop in India only as late as in 2012. However, a short trip to the past reveals this interventionist agenda it has always had for Kashmir and Punjab, to begin with.

We can examine excerpts from just three Congressional records:

The Congressional House Record of 10 June, 1991

Placed by Rep Dan Burton, here’s how it reads: “…the President shall report to the Congress whether the Government of India is implementing a policy which prevents representatives of Amnesty International…from visiting India in order to monitor human rights conditions…” And if India still disallowed entry to Amnesty, “all development assistance for India shall be terminated.” And on Kashmir, “the Congress…demands that the Government of India open the borders of…Jammu and Kashmir to Amnesty International…to permit an accurate assessment of of the human rights situation…” This is the same Dan Burton who later was part of the team of US politicians who participated in denying the Visa to Narendra Modi.

The Congressional (House) Record of 10 May, 2000 (Extensions of Remarks)

Tabled by Rep Edolphus Towns cities an Amnesty International report that falsely blamed the then NDA government as responsible for the killing of 36 Sikhs at Chithi Singhpora. More tellingly, Towns says America “should also support…plebiscites in Kashmir, in Christian Nagaland and throughout India. This is the way to bring real freedom, peace, prosperity and stability to South Asia.” [Emphasis added]

The Congressional (House) Record of 1 June, 2004 (Extensions of Remarks)

Tabled yet again by Rep Edolphus Towns makes Punjab a part of “Khalistan.” It’s instructive to read this record at some length: "Mr Speaker, on 12 May, the Subcommittee on Human Rights and Wellness conducted a hearing into human-rights violations in Kashmir and in Punjab, Khalistan…Witnesses travelled from Kashmir…to testify. Those testifying included… Mr T Kumar, Advocacy Director—Asia, Amnesty International…Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai… India claims to be democratic, but it is really a brutal tyranny… Amnesty International hasnot been allowed into Punjab since 1978…" [Emphasis added]

What does this tell India about Amnesty’s alarming reach in the highest corridors of the US government? Given this, it’s hard not to appreciate the farsightedness of past Indian governments, which had accurately assessed its true character and kept it out of India. The role of Amnesty in India can also be examined in tandem in light of its aggressive campaign against denying the US visa to Narendra Modi and its nexus with the global Human Rights Award industry with generous backing of Evangelists of all hues.

We can turn to the meticulously researched work, NGOs, Activists and Foreign Funds by Vigil, Chennai, first published in 2006:

"No Indian government will allow Amnesty International …to set foot inside this country… Amnesty International …will ask neither the Indian government for the truth, facts and figures…[but] will ask the likes of Teesta Setalvad, Harsh Mander and Kathy Sreedhar…" (Page 251)

The book informs us how in the year 2000, a certain Martin Macwan, a Christian from Gujarat received these awards: the Magsaysay and the Robert F Kennedy Human Rights Award. And one William Schulz, former Executive Director of Amnesty International, Smita Narula of Human Rights Watch and Kathy Sreedhar of the Holdeen India Fund recommended Macwan’s name to the judges. Now, Schulz is an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister, and served as president of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

And Amnesty’s deep links with the Evangelicals show up more distinctively in its campaign to deny Modi the US visa. Here’s Zahir Janmohamed, former Amnesty employee:

"In March 2005, the United States denied a visa to Gujarat’s chief minister, Narendra Modi…it came about from a highly unusual coalition made up of Indian-born activists, evangelical Christians, Jewish leaders and Republican members of Congress…I had a front-row seat to these events as they unfolded. I worked in Washington DC, from 2003 to 2011, mostly at Amnesty International and in the United States Congress, and I was a part of the campaign to deny Mr Modi a visa…"

And how Amnesty bullied talk show host Chris Mathews by writing a letter “to American Express asking it to withdraw its sponsorship of the conference” with Narendra Modi. Of course, the conference never happened because Modi’s visa was denied.

Funding Sources, Conflicts of Interest

Indeed, if Amnesty International operates with seeming impunity on this scale, it is also because of its funding and its labyrinthine web of relationships which continue to cause controversy.
Founded in 1961 by the Catholic lawyer Peter Beneson, Amnesty International was infiltrated early on by the UK Intelligence. The book, Like Water on Stone: The Story of Amnesty International says:

"Beneson’s suspicious about Amnesty’s collusion with the [UK] Foreign Office continued to fester in his mind…the Labour Party [Government’s] obvious embarrassment over the Aden issue deepened his suspicions that someone was working to keep the matter quiet. And top of his list of suspects was Robert Swann…[who] had worked for the British Foreign Office in Bangkok…Beneson began to suspect that Swann and…his colleagues were part of a British Intelligence conspiracy to subvert Amnesty… He contacted Sean MacBride [founding member of Amnesty and former Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army]… another bombshell exploded. An American source disclosed that CIA money was going to a US organization of jurists which in turn contributed funds to the International Commission of Jurists, of which Sean MacBride was secretary…Beneson became convinced that MacBride was tied up in a CIA network." (Pages 127-128)

This co-founder of Amnesty International, Sean MacBride went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Subsequently, a Sean MacBride Peace Prize was instituted in his honour. In 2000, the Communist journalist and author Praful Bidwai, and Delhi University Professor Achin Vanaik were awarded the MacBride Peace Prize.

The NGO watchdog website, NGO Monitor has this to say about Amnesty’s funding:

"Although AI claims that it does not “accept any funds for human rights research from governments or political parties from governments or political parties,” it has received governmental funding, including from the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the European Commission, the Netherlands, the United States, and Norway."

NGO Monitor has also published a monograph titled Amnesty International: Failed Methodology, Corruption, and Anti-Israel Bias, in which it details the various irregularities committed by Amnesty. As corroboration, we can also look at the International Business Times, which published a report on Amnesty’s funding anomalies:

…the messy and somewhat mysterious departure of Shetty’s predecessor, Irene Khan, cast a harsh glare on Amnesty’s internal strife and financial issues.

Khan, who had led the organization since 2001, was given a severance pay package of more than £533,000 ($760,000 in 2012 currency), while her deputy Kate Gilmore received a hefty £325,244 ($493,000) payout… An Australian blogger thundered:

“I am not sure about an international organisation that collects donations and then pays the leaving secretary- general £533,103 or 4 times her yearly wage... That is a lot of money and I am sure [it] could have been used much better to champion fight for human rights that Amnesty International go on about.”

In 2007, the Catholic Church, a long-time supporter of Amnesty, withdrew donations owing to the group's pro-abortion stance…. NGO-Monitor noted, in 2008, the campaigners received a four-year grant from the British government's Department for International Development (DFID in excess £3 million, including more than £840,000 in 2011 alone… Amnesty has also received funds from the European Commission, as well as from the government of Netherlands, the US, and Norway. In 2009, NGO-Monitor cites, Amnesty received €2.5 million (approximately 1 percent of its donations) from government entities. The British government was the third largest donor (at €800,000). Amnesty also received government funding in 2008 (€1million), 2007 (€1 million), and 2006 (€2 million).

There’s just no other way of saying this: we slept, our political class fought internally, our governments became alphabet soups of warring political factions even as the likes of Amnesty International made slow, steady but sure inroads.

The report also mentions the name of Amnesty International’s Secretary-General, Salil Shetty who “earns nearly £200,000 ($305,000) a year.” Salil Shetty is the son of the Bengaluru-based VT Rajashekhar, publisher of the notorious journal, Dalit Voice, which Arun Shourie characterized as a “venomous rag.” And that brings us to the question of conflicts of interests, which are aplenty and the nexus, deadly to say the least.

Here are a few names:

Aakar Patel, currently India head of Amnesty International has a lengthy record of baiting Prime Minister Narendra Modi in racist language and generally building a casteist narrative of Hindu society. His wife, Tushita Aakar Patel is/was the political secretary of disgraced business tycoon, Vijay Mallya whose foray in the media business is shown by his connection to NDTV.

Salil Shetty was previously Chief Executive of ActionAid and Director, United Nations Millennium Campaign. Sonia Gandhi’s confidant, Harsh Mander had once been the head of ActionAid.

Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, was drawn directly from the US State Department, again, utterly contradicting Amnesty's claims of being "independent" of governments and corporate interests.

George Macfarlane, formerly with Greenpeace International and Oxfam.

Minar Pimple, Senior Director of Global Operations at Amnesty International was Regional Director of the United Nations Millennium Campaign, and Oxfam India.

Divya Iyer, now Research Manager at Amnesty International, India was with NDTV, AajTak and CNN-IBN.

Carolyn Hardy, now a co-opted member of Amnesty, was with United Nations and UNICEF.

Anantapadmanabhan, now Executive Director at Amnesty International India, was formerly Executive Director, Greenpeace India.

I’m sure one can uncover more such relationships in this complex web of the NGO-Human Rights-Foreign Governments-Church universe but the worrying aspect is their former and present connections to international bodies like the UN and the US State Department. And so, is it any surprise that when the Modi government showed the door to Greenpeace India, one of the first and most vocal critics was Amnesty?

Friends with Jihadis

Even if we grant that Amnesty International is focused on the noble tasks in the Human Rights sphere, we need to but ask a fundamental question: what is its record in adhering to the Indian national interest?

The evident answer: terrible.

Amnesty International has consistently deepened fissures in the Indian society by escalating internal fault-lines using various devices one of which is manufacturing and disseminating atrocity literature. About a year ago, Amnesty published a scurrilous petition about the rape of two Dalit girls in Uttar Pradesh’s Baghpat region, which was supposedly ordered by the village’s Khap panchayat. The petition generated more than 500000 signatures but the truth was revealed a few days later by this Reuters report:

"…members of the village council in the Baghpat region of northern India have told Reuters they passed no such order. Family members of the two sisters also told Reuters they are unsure if the ruling was made. And local police deny any such directive was given."

But then Amnesty’s purpose had been served: the phony petition will be another notch in Amnesty’s narrative of widespread human rights abuses that continue to occur in India.

Not to be left behind, Amnesty too, had a hand in supporting the anti-Kudankulam protests, which had the covert backing of Hillary Clinton.

Now, sample this “overview” to India on Amnesty International’s India web page:

"Authorities clamped down on civil society organizations critical of official policies, and increased restrictions on foreign funding. Religious tensions intensified, and gender- and caste-based discrimination and violence remained pervasive. Censorship and attacks on freedom of expression by hardline Hindu groups grew. Scores of artists, writers and scientists returned national honours in protest against what they said was a climate of growing intolerance… The criminal justice system remained flawed, violating fair trial rights and failing to ensure justice for abuses. Extrajudicial executions and torture and other ill-treatment persisted."

Gives the picture of a horrible tyranny, right? And the instances it gives to back up all these claims are supplied precisely by the local award wapsi brigade, the intolerance bogey and the rest.
Never mind the fact that India allows Amnesty freedom enough to actually write all this. Had Amnesty’s claims been true, it would’ve received the treatment that Lee Kuan Yew gave it in the past.
Indeed, is it narratives like this that prompts US politicians like Towns to label India as a “brutal tyranny” on the floor of the House.

If this is on the one side, the other side is more worrying.

We can begin with the name of Gita Sahgal, whose statement slamming Amnesty was reported by Firstpost. This former Amnesty International employee was suspended in 2010 by the organization. Christopher Hitchens narrates what happened in Slate:

Amnesty International has just suspended one of its senior officers, a woman named Gita Sahgal who until recently headed the organization's "gender unit." It's fairly easy to summarize her concern in her own words. "To be appearing on platforms with Britain's most famous supporter of the Taliban, whom we treat as a human rights defender," she wrote, "is a gross error of judgment." One might think that to be an uncontroversial statement, but it led to her immediate suspension.

The most famous supporter of Taliban was Moazzem Begg who was detained at Guantanamo Bay in the wake of 9/11. He’s friends with militant groups like Hizb-ut Tahrir, and extremists like Abu Hamza. And Amnesty International lends its support to him. And how! A 2014 Wall Street Journal article on Amnesty says: is "jihad in self-defence...antithetical to human rights? Our answer is no." That was how Claudio Cordone, then Amnesty International's interim secretary-general, responded in February 2010 to criticism after the human-rights group made ex-Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg its poster child… Nor was Amnesty bothered that, alongside his "human-rights" work, Begg was conducting fawning interviews with Al-Qaeda propagandists such as the late terrorist imam Anwar al-Awlaki… The world needs morally credible human-rights organizations. Amnesty too often isn't one of them. In fact, given the pattern of Amnesty’s interventions over the years, it seems to be on the side of radical jihadists — early on, from supporting violent extremists in Kashmir and Punjab to Taliban now.

But there’s more.

NGO Monitor’s numerous reports also show how Amnesty International has taken to supporting Palestinian terrorists and has consistently painted the state of Israel as the villain. One of the reports as much as calls it “Amnesty’s war on Israel.” It is worth perusing NGO Monitor’s collection of reports on Amnesty’s damning record of supporting pro-Jihadis both in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Rajiv Malhotra recounts in a 2004 article, the words of Nobel Laureate David Trimble:

“One of the great curses of this world is the human rights industry. They justify terrorist acts and end up being complicit in the murder of innocent victims.”

His words drew an angry reaction from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, two of the world’s biggest human rights groups, with more than a million members worldwide. And why would it invite said angry reaction when Trimble hadn’t named anybody? Guilty conscience much?

How did we get here?

As far as India is concerned, Amnesty’s “human rights” work has been selective to say the least. Apart from completely ignoring the plight of Kashmiri Pandits, Amnesty has been mum about the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Hindus in West Bengal at the hands of both illegal Bangladeshi Muslim infiltrators and local Muslim extremists. It appears as though Amnesty is wilfully blind to this despite the meticulous, detailed and heartrending documentation of this massacre on the Hindu Samhati Global Media website.

This equally applies to Hindu workers and RSS members murdered with alarming regularity in Kerala either at the hands of Communists or Muslims or both. Apparently some lives deserve to be violently extinguished.

Given this historical pattern, it goes without saying that today, Kashmir’s 'azadi' might be Amnesty’s focus area and tomorrow, it could be West Bengal: perhaps all that’s required is for that one spark of separatism to be lit.

How did we even get here?

As we’ve seen earlier, Amnesty has invested in India for nearly four decades: recall the US House Representative’s claim that Amnesty was disallowed in Punjab in 1978. What does that tell us? What does it say about our capabilities, even our self-worth, that we allow this kind of (alien) Congressional hearings about our internal matters?

There’s just no other way of saying this: we slept, our political class fought internally, our governments became alphabet soups of warring political factions even as the likes of Amnesty International made slow, steady but sure inroads. In Arun Shourie’s words, the Indian state steadily “hollowed out.” And it finally gave in during Sonia Gandhi’s decade-long NGO regime where the likes of Greenpeace and Amnesty flourished, the cancer eating India’s vitals. And now, when the Government itself tries to mitigate the situation, it has to face internal and international resistance and hostility on an epic scale.

Indeed, it appears that we’ve remained in a civilisational inertia of meekly allowing the West to lecture us about “human rights” given how the sponsors of these human-rights-advocates continue to bomb entire countries out of existence and are on a spree of plundering the planet. And so, the fundamental question remains: given what these human rights worthies have done and continue to do, is something like Amnesty International even required in India? If the answer is yes, then we might as well concede defeat and throw up our hands in helplessness at being unable to guarantee our own internal and external security and national integrity.

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