A publisher of graphic design books in Barcelona will soon produce a book compiling a selection posters against the war in Iraq designed by artists around the world. When soliciting submissions, the editor announced that profits from the book would be donated to Amnesty International.
I informed the editor that it was a little strange for a book of anti-war posters to support an organization that never actually opposed the war. He was shocked to hear this.
He quoted from Amnesty’s Web site:
“In February 2003, before the start of the war, Amnesty International handed to the UN a petition signed by more than 60,000 people in nearly 200 countries and territories calling on the Security Council to assess the human rights and humanitarian impact on the civilian population of any military action against Iraq.”
This is true, but this is not the same as opposing the war. In fact, this actually implies that the invasion is just fine as long as the humanitarian and human rights impact is within some acceptable limit. This is consistent with International Humanitarian Law. Under IHL, a certain amount of “collateral damage” is assumed. You can kill plenty of civilians, as long as you are not specifically targeting them and have taken some measures to minimize harm.
Amnesty does wonderful work on behalf of prisoners around the world, but they are not an anti-war organization. They are not actually opposed to war, but war crimes. Contradictions abound: Amnesty opposes the use of land-mines as “inhumane,” but takes no position on nuclear weapons. Amnesty also recently launched a campaign to control the trafficking of small arms, though they say nothing about the general trade of large weapons.
The editor wrote, “I went through a list of charity organizations and Amnesty is one that gets one of the highest marks for how much money they use from donations for actual causes rather than promotion etc. Also, they were only one of many charities who responded to my query.”
I pointed out that Amnesty’s is not structured like other organizations. Amnesty’s London office does all the research and generates materials for advocacy, but does no fundraising or marketing at all. It is Amnesty’s autonomous national offices that do the fundraising and marketing. The national offices send a portion of their funds back to the international headquarters in London. Thus, if you looked at the international headquarters of Amnesty it would appear that they spent all of their money on program work and none on fundraising. This is true, but misleading.
I also noted that Amnesty is a well-funded organization. The budget of the its international headquarters was £23,728,000 in fiscal year 2002. That headquarters employs 410 staff. In contrast, many of the small organizations and coalitions that came together specifically to oppose the war are struggling to stay afloat and to keep the pressure on. These groups could use the money a lot more than Amnesty.
The editor considered my arguments and later circulated a poll to let the contributing artists decide who should receive the proceeds. He wrote:
“My original plan for the book was to donate a portion of the profits from the book to a non governmental organization (NGO) which could use the money to help promote peace, non-violence, and help people affected by war. There are many such organizations around the world and it has been very hard to choose one to be the recipient of this donation. I am hoping that you, the artists, can help me choose one of these NGOs and make this a truly democratic project.
The following is a list of NGOs which are internationally recognized and are currently making efforts to help the people in Iraq, either by organizing people against the occupation, or helping people on the ground.
Of the organizations listed, Amnesty International is the only one that has neither opposed to the occupation nor delivered supplies and relief to the people of Iraq. Instead Amnesty asks the occupying forces themselves to ensure that provisions and medical supplies are delivered. Take a look at Amnesty’s own briefing paper on Iraq. Amnesty calls for oil revenue to benefit the people of Iraq, but does not name specific U.S. contracts and companies profiting instead. Amnesty calls for “justice and security,” but not for the transfer of power to the people of Iraq. Amnesty calls for investigations into cases of abuse by US and UK soldiers in Iraq, but would never call for Bush or his administration to be held accountable for the lies that put them there.
No matter. When the votes were tallied, Amnesty International won by landslide.
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