Amnesty International's hypocrisy and double standards - opinion

While Amnesty is fully justified in calling out human rights violations by governments and organizations, this must be done in a fair and impartial manner.

 PALESTINIAN CHILDREN act out the takeover of an IDF military post, in Gaza City, 2019. Amnesty International correctly calls out Ukraine for allegedly establishing bases in schools but refrains from addressing the same phenomenon employed by Hamas, says the writer.  (photo credit: HASSAN JEDI/FLASH90)
PALESTINIAN CHILDREN act out the takeover of an IDF military post, in Gaza City, 2019. Amnesty International correctly calls out Ukraine for allegedly establishing bases in schools but refrains from addressing the same phenomenon employed by Hamas, says the writer.
(photo credit: HASSAN JEDI/FLASH90)

In the context of the present conflict between Russia and Ukraine, Amnesty International, a widely recognized global human rights movement, issued a report on August 4, accusing Ukraine of establishing bases and operating weapons systems in populated residential areas. These included schools and hospitals, thereby generating Russian strikes against those populated areas causing civilian fatalities and destruction of civilian infrastructure. The report implies that Ukraine may be committing war crimes and that its soldiers’ actions might be interpreted as using civilians as human shields.

There is no doubt as to the centrality and essential nature of the humanitarian obligations set out in the internationally accepted instruments of international humanitarian law requiring the protection of civilians and civilian objects. 

One cannot avoid observing a stark disproportion between Amnesty International’s justified concern for the protection of the human rights of civilians and civilian centers in Ukraine on the one hand, and its glaring and unjustified lack of concern, when it comes to identical, and even more flagrant, violations of international law by Palestinian terror groups in the Gaza Strip. 

While Amnesty correctly calls out Ukraine for allegedly “establishing bases and operating weapons systems in populated residential areas, including in schools and hospitals, thereby turning civilian objects into military targets,” it curiously refrains from addressing exactly the same, identical phenomenon employed by the Palestinian terror groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Such an apparent double standard is clearly incompatible with Amnesty International’s own core principles and stated mission.

 AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL secretary-general Agnes Callamard announces the organization’s 211-page report, ‘Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestinians: Cruel System of Domination and Crime Against Humanity,’ in east Jerusalem, February 1. (credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS) AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL secretary-general Agnes Callamard announces the organization’s 211-page report, ‘Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestinians: Cruel System of Domination and Crime Against Humanity,’ in east Jerusalem, February 1. (credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)

Amnesty appears to ignore or minimize violations of international humanitarian law committed by these Palestinian terror groups in using the local Palestinian public in the Gaza Strip as human shields and in indiscriminately directing thousands of rockets against Israeli civilian towns, villages, agricultural centers, schools and hospitals.

If Amnesty is so genuinely concerned with preventing abuse of the civilian population, then one may justifiably ask why has it refrained from criticizing the Palestinian practice of housing tactical headquarters and strategic command centers in and under hospitals, private homes, high-rise commercial buildings and civilian commercial centers. 

Similarly, one may ask why Amnesty has not found it necessary to condemn Hamas’s placement and firing of rockets next to hospitals, schools, mosques and private homes.

Why has Amnesty not called out the practice of Hamas in excavating and operating hundreds of kilometers of tactical tunnels underneath Gaza City, endangering civilian roads, commercial centers and local communities living above their tunnels?

A clear double standard

CLEARLY, WERE Amnesty International genuinely and impartially focused on pointing out all and any violations of humanitarian law in all circumstances, and on voicing genuine concern for all individual civilians, civilian centers, buildings and localities wherever they are, then one might expect it to voice equal concern at the deliberate disregard by Palestinian terror groups of the very same humanitarian norms.

From a brief perusal of Amnesty’s website and its periodic media briefings one cannot but perceive a distinct fixation, a plethora of daily accusations against Israel, as opposed to an acute scantiness – indeed an almost non-existent coverage – of the grave humanitarian violations by Palestinian terror groups. 

In fact, during the hostilities of May 2021, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad indiscriminately fired over 4,000 rockets aimed at Israeli populated areas, of which almost 700 landed within the Gaza Strip, endangering the Palestinian population. This hardly generated any serious, substantive reaction by Amnesty. 

Similarly, in the most recent hostilities last month, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group, launched some 1,175 rockets against Israel, 200 of which fell inside the Gaza Strip, killing and wounding Palestinians.

But for some strange reason, Amnesty International could hardly bring itself to refer to the actions of what it calls “Palestinian armed groups,” and virtually ignored their deliberate targeting of Israeli civilians and their use of their own Palestinian population as human shields. 

In its media briefings, Amnesty glibly mentioned that “Palestinian armed groups have also committed violations of international humanitarian law with impunity.” Amnesty even added a token condemnation of “indiscriminate rocket fire by Palestinian armed groups,” adding that “firing rockets which cannot be accurately aimed into populated areas can amount to a war crime and endangers civilian lives on both sides of the Israel/Gaza border.” 

Disproportionate balance 

NO LESS disappointing, but nevertheless utterly predictable, was the need felt by Amnesty to “balance out” its minimal and meager criticism of Palestinian humanitarian violations with the inevitable accusation against Israel for having “a deplorable record of carrying out unlawful attacks in Gaza killing and injuring civilians including war crimes and crimes against humanity.” 

This evident bias and disproportion, together with its official pronouncements calling for an arms embargo and UN Security Council censure of Israel, all point to Amnesty International’s distinct fixation with Israel, undermining its stated mission and core principles to act with “impartiality, independent of any government, political ideology, economic interest or religion.”

It runs counter to Amnesty’s principled aim “to take no position on issues of sovereignty, territorial disputes or international political or legal arrangements that might be adopted to implement the right to self-determination.”

It is inconceivable that Amnesty International choses to seriously criticize Ukraine for endangering its civilians by establishing bases and operating weapons systems in populated residential areas, while virtually ignoring flagrant humanitarian violations by Palestinian terror groups in Gaza.

While Amnesty is fully justified in calling out human rights violations by governments and organizations, this must be done in a fair and impartial manner, without discrimination and bias, and without displaying such a glaring double standard. 

In order to maintain its credibility and dignity as a bona fide human rights watchdog, Amnesty International must carry out its duty impartially and without the slightest indication of political partisanship. 

It cannot permit itself to undermine and prejudice its claim to impartiality by submitting to intimidation by terror groups and political pressures by governments.

The writer served as the legal adviser to Israel’s Foreign Ministry and Israel’s ambassador to Canada. He presently directs the international law program at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.