IA’s commotional commentary


Arshid Malik

“Denied: Failures in accountability for human rights violations by security force personnel in Jammu and Kashmir”is the title of latest report of Amnesty International on the human rights violations in Kashmir. The title is so very impressive that I could get it printed in bold, get it framed and hang it on my wall. However, one wonders as to whether the ground work done by researchers and collaborators down at Amnesty International was thorough and unbiased. The report, howsoever, sheds light on the violations committed by the Armed Forces deployed by India in Kashmir and mainly talks about the all too draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) particularly “on Section 7 of the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990 (AFSPA), which grants virtual immunity to members of the security forces from prosecution for alleged human rights violations.”The report, Amnesty International claims, is based on in-depth research in Jammu and Kashmir, including interviews with 58 family members of victims of alleged human rights violations by security forces, right to Information applications, examination of police and court records, and interviews with civil society groups, lawyers, and government officials.

The report is annexed with 5 case studies which are quite rattling when observed from the outsider’s point of view but quite a daily affair down here in Kashmir. The elite at the Amnesty international plead the case for the tortured, raped, maimed, orphaned Kashmiri people in a manner as if the dominion of India was only awaiting the Amnesty International to file the report so that they could send down some succour to the people of Kashmir. So goes the perceptions of the worldwide community which is remotely concerned about the welfare of the Kashmiri people. Although it is a hot topic down here in Kashmir and elsewhere in India, but there is immense need to assess the practical impact of the “report” on the political elite of India and the eventual “benefits” to the Kashmiri people and the “worthiness” of the organization itself.

The Amnesty International is by far the most “prestigious” and “trusted” non-governmental organization working in the field of human rights violations and abuses across the world. Every writer, politician, journalist, social worker, political activist quotes Amnesty International liberally and this has created a certain kind of immunity as well as consequential impunityaround the Amnesty International. There has been little scope for cross-examining the actual processes and potential outputs thereof as also leaving the organization to imperatively “benefit”itself. This is a point of intrigue since it weaves a web of assumed truthfulness and “veritable opinions” on world affairs concerning human rights abuses.

Assuming things the way they are presented may sometimes lead to historical blunders and that is just the case with Amnesty International.The truth is that ideological and political biases and the lack of professional methodology and credibility in Amnesty’s publicationshave potentially limited its effectiveness, and this is a point which I would highlight since the topic is that of the latest report of the Amnesty International on human rights violations by armed forces in Kashmir and we are all deliberating upon the “consequential bearing” it would have on Kashmir and its people.There is deep-rooted friction in terms of collection and surveys, fact-finding and eventual reportage within the organization’s different units. Amnesty International has also deep into a gender crisis. Some of the senior staff members at the Amnesty carry the belief that the “organization is undermining human rights through its own policies and practices”.  In the words of Gita Sahgal, former head of the Gender Unit, Amnesty’s relationship with a pro-Taliban group “fundamentally damages Amnesty International’s integrity and, more importantly, constitutes a threat to human rights.” – Richard Kerbaj, “Amnesty International is ‘damaged’ by Taliban link: An official at the human rights charity deplores its work with a ‘jihadist’,” Times of London, February 7, 2010.Another lacunae pointed out somewhere by insiders at Amnesty states that “the employment of individuals in key research and leadership positions whose backgrounds, skills, and activities demonstrate the absence of professional human rights experience further exacerbated by deep ideological and political bias has devastated the organization within while having far reaching impacts on pockets of the ruling elite who are in know of the state of affairs.

Internal reports acknowledged that in some regions, particularly in US, the organization has lost influence along with a significant number of members. Research by various agencies into the crisis finds the “failures” rooted in a number of structural problems, including consistent post-colonial ideological bias, a pronounced lack of credibility in research reports, moral inconsistency, financial instability and corruption, failure to act with transparency in critical organizational aspects, and friction between the London office and key national sections besides financial mismanagement among Amnesty’s corporate officers, most notably in the redundancy packages of former Secretary General Irene Khan and her deputy Kate Gilmore – Peter Pack, “A letter to all AI members and staff from the International Executive Committee,” available at http://www.amnesty.dk/sites.Salil Shetty, the Secretary-General of Amnesty International, who has held the position since July 2010, earns nearly £200,000 ($305,000) a year and senior directors earn up to £107,000 annually. While those salaries are roughly comparable to most other NGO senior executive pay-scales, the messy and somewhat mysterious departure of Shetty’s predecessor, Irene Khan, cast a harsh glare on Amnesty’s internal strife and financial issues – Palash Gosh in the July 02 issue of International Business Times.

Various reports illustrate limited understanding of armed conflict leading to erroneous claims and incorrect analysis; and violation of the universality of human rights, including a consistent institutionalized bias against Israel through double-standards. Amnesty International supposedly gains credence via its not “no acceptance of financial assistance” which generates a very clean image of the organization. But reports say that “Amnesty International received £842,000 in 2011 from the UK Department for International Development as part of a four-year award commencing in 2008 and totalling £3,149,000.” And in 2009, “Amnesty received €2.5 million (approximately 1% of its donations) from governments. The British government was the third largest donor (€800,000). Amnesty also received government funding in 2008 (€1million), 2007 (€1 million), and 2006 (€2 million)”- Amnesty International – INGO Accountability Charter Global Compliance Rep INGO Accountability Charter Global Compliance Report 2009 rt 2009 rt 2009. So, we are talking about an organization here which has rippled over into scams and non-professionalism besides tonnes of bias.

Let me not go too deep into the internal crisis that mars the Amnesty International although it is a strong point while forecasting and assessing the reports of the organization. The Amnesty International, as per its protocols, needs to send a report (in some cases) to the government of the concerned country and once it receives a go ahead from the government it then makes the report public. Earlier this yearAmnesty International had almost announced the release of its report on human rights violations in Kashmir but then recalled it since the Indian government had made certain remarks which sparked the call off. It is worth pondering as to what was inside the report which stalled the release till recently. So it was withheld and then release obviously after make changes. If the Amnesty is an independent organization why does it need to channel its reports through government establishments first? I guess this is where it loses credibility.

The Amnesty International’s report on human rights abuses and the subsequent “appeal” for revocation of AFSPA may have fallen on deaf ears eventually. In the aftermath of the release of International’s report, India’s Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) will be removed from Jammu and Kashmir when the situation is conducive.Such a crisp and timely reply from India should not come as a surprise to us. So, we might be right in not expecting much out of this commotional commentary released by the International.

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