Thursday, July 9, 2009

Amnesty Report

Amnesty International (AI) has released its report on human rights in Operation Cast Lead. The report begins by describing Israeli human rights violations, then moves on to Hamas' human rights violations, and then discusses the applicable international law.

The background research for the report appears to be very solid. Countless interviews and personal stories really demonstrate an earnest attempt by AI to confirm or deny rumors about the use of certain weapons or tactics in Gaza and Southern Israel. Amnesty also clearly made a conscious effort to be even-handed in its approach, filling the reports appendix with harrowing and shocking accounts from both Palestinian and Israeli civilians.

However, the report too often cites "international law" without explaining which parts of which laws it's accusing any given side of violating. Bunching the entire legal analysis at the end makes it difficult to fully understand the legal context of the crimes AI is accusing both sides of committing. Also, in one case, AI quotes the Int'l Committee on the Red Cross' commentary on international law, which is not actually a legal source. It also makes legal assumptions that are not universally agreed-upon. For example, AI argues that Israel is in a belligerent occupation. I am inclined to agree with this analysis, but it is not universally accepted among legal scholars that this is the case, and its a bit irresponsible of AI to try to slip in its more liberal assumptions.

Additionally, the report says in many cases that "Israel failed to provide evidence to the contrary." The report does not explain cases in which Israel couldn't provide evidence and cases in which it didn't. AI is extremely mistrusted in Israel, and while the government should make a better effort to seriously address AI's claims, lack of response does not imply guilt. A well-respected organization like AI should be more responsible than to imply that lack of response indicates that the tragedy was avoidable.

Furthermore, the accounts are not always contextualized. In one case, Israel is fingered for attacking a hospital. While AI's assessment is very reasonable, they fail to mention the use of Shifa Hospital by Hamas as a military base, a blatant violation of the Geneva Conventions.

This indicates my overall objection to the report. AI points out numerous violations of vague and sweeping passages of international law. It does not contextualize the extreme difficulty of upholding human rights in a war situation, and does not fully seem to recognize the inevitable violations of human rights which will occur upon the decision of one actor to use force against another. While an honest and earnest attempt, the report is simply not on a wavelength which is useful for policymakers, and unfortunately is not likely to have the effect of significantly improving respect for human rights in future conflicts.

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