One of the first things I did in my initial orientation week as a wide eyed new student at university was to join Amnesty International. I was attracted by the objectives and vision of an organisation that sought to enable every person in the world to enjoy all of the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights standards.
I’m not sure why but, despite my early enthusiasm, I don't believe I ever did anything for the cause either that year or ever again. Indeed, I allowed my membership of this and most of the other clubs I had joined (folk music, athletics and Papua New Guinea – please don’t even ask why?) to lapse.
I continued to actively support progressive causes, marched in the anti Vietnam War moratoriums, rallied against Apartheid, supported the rights of our indigenous people, graduated, married and became middle aged and even updated my collection of Dylan albums.
Once in a while I would read of some good deeds of Amnesty International and various other human rights groups and non government organisations. I nodded in appreciation and donated to their causes. That was until Durban 2002 when I came to the realisation that something had gone amiss in the world of the good people. Most of them had gone blind and stupid. "Stuff them," I thought.
Last week, AI belatedly published a report accusing the terror group Hizbullah of serious violations of international humanitarian law, amounting to war crimes for targeting Israeli citizens, killing 43 of them, wounding hundred of others and causing hundred of thousands to evacuate their homes with their rocket attacks during the 34-day Israel-Lebanon war (read the report here).
The report accused the Shiite militant group of deliberately failing to distinguish between civilian and military targets, and of wrongfully seeking to justify its barrage by claiming to be retaliating for Israel's attacks on Lebanese civilians.
Could there be anything more blindingly obvious than that?
What made the report so belated was that AI had already issued a report on Israel's attacks on Lebanese infrastructure during the war and concluded that such attacks on roads, bridges and other installations which were shared by Lebanese civilians and Hizbullah was a “war crime” (read that report here).
The problem with this analysis was that, as Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz pointed out, AI was acting very creatively by inventing a new war crime with which to charge Israel. In Amnesty Int'l redefines 'war crimes', Dershowitz quotes another law professor David Bernstein who said that "if attacking the civilian infrastructure is a war crime, then modern warfare is entirely impermissible, and terrorists have a free hand in attacking democracies and hiding from retaliation among civilians. Terrorists become de facto immune from any consequences for their atrocities."
It must be noted that AI hasn’t finished with the conflict yet and wants to look into all aspects of human rights abuses resulting from this war.
And so it should, starting with how Hizbullah began preparing for this conflict on the day Israel left every square inch of Lebanese territory according to the United Nations; how Hizbullah was permitted for six years by its Lebanese hosts to bring 13,000 missiles and other assorted lethal weaponry into the country, how it built a terrorist infrastructure inside populated areas among hospitals schools and around UN outposts and thereby turned Lebanon into what was to become a war zone, how from time to time it provoked attacks on Israelis and eventually without provocation launched around 60 katyusha rockets on populated areas in Israel to create a diversion for the killing of eight Israeli soldiers and the abduction of another two soldiers on Israeli soil.
And when AI is through with that, perhaps it might also consider the role of Syria and Iran in using Hizbullah as its proxies and the Lebanese and Israel people as its hostages in this war.
The latest AI report states:-
"This briefing does not address Israeli charges that Hizbullah used the civilian population as a cover for its military activities and that it must therefore be held responsible for the harm caused to civilians by Israeli attacks. Specifically, Israel accuses Hizbullah of having bases in tunnels and other facilities within towns and villages; of storing Katyusha rockets and other weapons there; of firing Katyusha rockets from close proximity to civilian houses; and of having prevented civilians from fleeing their villages.
Hizbullah denies any policy of endangering civilians and accuses Israel of deliberating targeting civilians in Lebanon. Hizbullah officials deny that their fighters launched Katyusha rockets into Israel from populated areas or that they stored their rockets in such areas. They acknowledge that other weapons and facilities are present in towns and villages and argue that they are needed for their fighters to defend their communities against Israeli attacks. Hizbullah strongly denies that it prevented civilians from fleeing.
Amnesty International is conducting further research into these issues and intends to address them separately. It will also be addressing the issue of attacks by Israeli forces that Israel says were directly aimed at Hizbullah fighters and their bases and resulted in heavy civilian casualties, and the impact of such attacks on civilians in Lebanon."