Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
How can Amnesty International argue with a straight face that the 2014 Occupy movement was peaceful? Mabel AU, their Hong Kong head, sought to do that on Radio 3’s Backchat this week. Like the fabled ‘frog in the well’, Amnesty adopts a narrow view that clouds its reputation.
Ms AU was speaking following the release of an Amnesty report critical of human rights in Hong Kong. Amnesty cites the arrest and prosecution of protesters in so-called ‘non-violent’ demonstrations. In trying to persuade us, she comes up against several immovable obstacles.
The most serious is the hundreds of injuries inflicted on security staff and police. Amnesty’s willful blindness forms part of a consistent effort by many groups to distort the truth. This propaganda work began at the genesis of Occupy. It continues today.
It's fortunate that we have plenty of video and photographs of the protesters mounting unprovoked attacks. Besides, I have the advantage of witnessing first-hand the violence of the Occupy mob. A rational person will recognise this proves the precise opposite of Amnesty’s stance.
In fairness, Amnesty is critical of the human rights in just about every country including the UK and USA. Even that hotbed of repression Denmark fails to meet Amnesty’s exacting standards. Am I missing something here, or can Amnesty enunciate their ideal state? Perhaps, it’s a fantasy.
Amnesty itself is not beyond criticism. It gets cited for bias, an ideological driven agenda and stating opinion as facts. The instances of Amnesty getting it wrong abound, and are too many to list here. While academic studies have thrown doubts on Amnesty’s methods, other faults get laid at Amnesty's door. Systematic flaws in reporting, plus a limited understanding of conflicts lead to erroneous claims.
The sharpest criticism is that Amnesty fails to treat threats to security as a mitigating factor in government actions. It’s almost as if Amnesty would rather see people die to protect the dubious rights of a few. Some suggest that Amnesty gives tacit support to terrorist groups. The critics believe that Amnesty undermines legitimate government efforts to protect innocent citizens.
Indeed, Israel feels that way. We do have evidence of an anti-semitic element operating within Amnesty. In 2012, Amnesty disciplined a senior staff member for his anti-semitic tweets.
When pushed to explain the alleged deterioration of human rights in Hong Kong, Ms AU's answer is revealing. She first cited the issue of insulting the national anthem. Hardly the most pressing of matters in the context of events going on elsewhere.
The prosecution of the Occupy student leaders also draws Amnesty's ire. They find fault that the government practice differs from that applied in the past. Are you surprised? Occupy was a unique event, that merits a different response. Further, due-process is underway with the Courts having the final say.
All the other cases in the Amnesty report involve matters that have or will go before the Courts. It's worth pointing out that Hong Kong’s judiciary is steadfast in retaining independence. They have ruled against the government and opposition forces in equal measure.
Ms AU asserts “The government is sending a clear message to the public that if they go out onto the streets, their behaviour could land them in jail. This might make them afraid to come out to express their ideas and opinions.” The number and scale of public protests contradict that statement.
She’s on stronger ground when discussing the instance of the disappearing booksellers. That case remains baffling and a cause for concern. And yet, beyond that, Hong Kong retains a vibrant press, as free speech flourishes. That Ms AU can appear on a government radio station to present Amnesty’s case suggests misplaced fears.
To me, Ms AU and others have adopted the tactic of embellishing threats, with emotive and extravagant language.
It also has to be said that these people are guilty of confusing opinions with facts. While Ms AU seeks to make serious allegations, she and Amnesty do not have full regard for the facts. Also, we need to remember that Amnesty is not in possession of any unique or independent source of knowledge. Accordingly, see their reports in that context.
I welcome the oversight of NGOs such as Amnesty. In a pluralistic society, such NGOs can bring balance by holding the authorities to account. Yet, they must get the facts right and not inflate situations without justification.
Article 28 of the "Universal Declaration on Human Rights" states that "We all have the right to live in a peaceful and orderly society”. Amnesty overlooks this provision when they are defending anarchists who attacked the police. The word ‘all’ is the pivotal point in that sentence; it covers the ordinary citizens and the police. No one has a monopoly on human rights.
For me, the Hong Kong government message is that peaceful protests get facilitated. But if you adopt violent tactics, then expect consequences. Moreover, there is no sign that people are afraid to speak out. Demonstrably, the opposite is true. Protests are weekly occurrences, with all sectors getting airtime in a lively debate.
Amnesty has a well-earned reputation for defending human rights. Aggrandisement or blatant misrepresentation of the facts do not serve these interests. Also, it needs to get out of its ideological well to start looking at the bigger picture. Then, it will retain a credibility that is currently slipping.
Walter De Havilland is one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Hong Kong Police.