Analysis: Amnesty was not set up to bash Israel

By Martin Bright, May 21, 2010

Amnesty has taken a curious turn recently. Its credibility was damaged when it sided with an organisation campaigning for Guantanamo detainees in a dispute with its own official, Gita Sahgal, a respected women's rights campaigner.

In doing so, it appeared to suspend its strict rules on the groups with which it associates its brand.

Amnesty should defend the rights of those abused in the pursuit of the war on terror. But it should not promote them at the expense of longstanding activists such as Sahgal.

In the Middle East it is even more difficult for Amnesty to maintain its independence. If it is to hold the Israeli government to account, as it must, then it must not be seen to take sides.

It has always been the Amnesty principle that campaigns should focus on individual human rights violations and that the human rights of one group should not be balanced against those of another. It is good to see campaign manager Kristyan Benedict open to the possibility of holding a meeting on Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held hostage by Hamas since 2006. He is also correct to say that it is Amnesty's role to raise the issue of Palestinian prisoners. But one cannot be conditional on the other.

Amnesty's Jewish founder, Peter Benenson, established it on the principle that each human life is precious. This is not a competition.

Last updated: 2:26pm, November 8 2010