The war in the Middle East is fought on two battlefields. One is the small acreage where the fighting and bombing takes place. The other is the vast realm of global public opinion, where words are bullets and toxic clouds of moral superiority swirl about.
The verbal cluster bombs are inflicting serious collateral damage on institutions that save lives, clean up the mess after humanity's atrocities and generally make the world a better and safer place. When the United Nations and Amnesty International are slagged as "apologists for terror," it's time to call for a halt.
For more than 40 years, Amnesty has shone its light into dark corners of abuse and atrocity. There's little doubt that brave people -- lots of them -- are alive today because Amnesty came to their defence. Now it has had the temerity to suggest that someone look into what happened during Israel's assault on the Jenin refugee camp last month. You'd think it had called for the nuking of Tel Aviv.
Despite the claim that Amnesty is "blind in one eye," it has criticized the Palestinian Authority harshly. Its annual report covering the year 2000 states that "torture and ill-treatment by various Palestinian security forces were widespread." It recounts Palestinian attacks on Israelis and says the PA "failed to bring those responsible for human-rights abuses to justice." On March 28, Amnesty condemned the Passover hotel bombing that killed 28 and wounded dozens. "Nothing can justify the deliberate killing of civilians," it said.
Here's what Amnesty said after its delegates were allowed to tour Jenin: "The evidence compiled indicates that serious breaches of international human rights and humanitarian law were committed, including war crimes. But only an independent international commission of inquiry can establish the full facts and the scale of these violations." As for claims of a massacre, Amnesty secretary-general Irene Khan was quoted as saying in an April 29 press release: "There is no legal definition in international law of the word 'massacre' . . . its use in the current circumstances is not helpful."
Now for the UN. I know complexity is tiresome. But its essentially toothless Geneva-based Human Rights Commission is one thing. The core secretariat, humanitarian work and peace-building are far more important, and significantly improved under Kofi Annan.
Sure, criticize the commission's recent session. Like this: "The commission failed in its principal duty to protect victims of appalling human-rights violations in countries like China, Indonesia, Iran, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Togo and Zimbabwe."
Guess who wrote that? Amnesty International. Good for them.
The world isn't perfect; why should the UN be? But there's no way the attacks of Sept. 11 or the latest Middle East conflict justify junking the idea of international organizations, or the tenets of global justice. If there were no UN, who would rebuild disaster areas such as Sierra Leone and East Timor? Where would the poorest nations have an equal voice?
Never mind. Yesterday on these pages my colleague Margaret Wente consigned the UN to the trash heap, and said Amnesty wouldn't get another nickel from her. The Mugabes and Husseins and Milosevics of the world will be glad to hear it. Somewhere, some prisoner of conscience is bound to rot a bit longer in a squalid jail.
So I sent Amnesty a cheque yesterday to double my donation. Call it the Collateral Damage Fund.
© 2002 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc.