Amnesty doesn't play politics; it gives credit where credit is due

In the course of attacking the Blair government's human rights record, John Pilger (2 October) takes a few pot shots at Amnesty International for noting in its recent Human Rights Audit of foreign policy that the UK's record isn't all bad. "Amnesty," he contends, "is now playing politics." In fact, playing politics is the opposite of what we do. According to Labour, the government's support for human rights is beyond reproach; according to the Tories, it is a cynical sham.

The reality, of course, is more complex and, as John Pilger himself acknowledges, Amnesty's audit listed the government's many failings - particularly over strategic arms control and asylum policy - alongside its achievements, including the abolition of the death penalty and support for the creation of an international criminal court to try those accused of crimes against humanity. Contrary to Pilger's implication, one policy we certainly did not welcome was Nato military action against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia: as an impartial organisation, we do not take sides in wars. We do, however, monitor actions against civilians, and denounced the bombing of the Serb state television station by Nato as a war crime.

Acknowledging that the government's record contains both good and bad is not making "contradictory statements". It is about refusing to play the political game.

Pilger has worked for many years, like Amnesty International, to expose human rights violations around the world. But he should not encourage us to oversimplify our assessment of government policies. Just as we did with the Thatcher government in 1988 when we welcomed its action in ratifying the UN Convention against Torture, we will continue to give credit to this government where credit is due, but also to detail its many shortcomings, including its abject failure, four years after the Scott Report, to introduce effective arms control legislation.

Kate Allen
Director, Amnesty International UK
London EC1

This article first appeared in the 09 October 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Schools that teach children to lie