Writing recently about how we were misled by Amnesty International’s reports on Syria, I was criticised – for using the past tense.
This week Amnesty International has published a ‘new’ report – Syria: The Human Slaughterhouse – that presents no new evidence of the deaths it purports to be documenting. Even the BBC’s take on it makes clear: ‘it does not have evidence of executions taking place since December 2015’. The publication repeats previous claims about the years 2011-2015, and extrapolates.
Such grave allegations need to be taken very seriously, but that starts with being scrupulous about their basis.
Those guidelines were those set out by Secretary General, Salil Shetty, and I think he could give a clearer steer on the need to observe them. In an interview, it was put to Shetty that accusations of bias are sometimes levelled at Amnesty International. His reply was that, since the organisation is criticised from all sides, ‘it must be doing something right’. This facile reply is fallacious. I can think of one controversial Amnesty representative, for instance, who has been accused of making unjustified claims against the governments of both Israel and Syria. I suspect many people who check will think he is wrong in one of those cases, although not necessarily the same one, without thereby assuming either he must be right in the other. I myself would simply regard him as simply insufficiently reliable.
Even if it is in fact true that the organisation is doing ‘something’ right, I do not think Amnesty should be content that this is good enough. I would want to insist that Amnesty needs to be tenacious in ensuring not to get it wrong. Its practice in Syria of extrapolating on the basis of conjectures made following conversations with representatives of the opposition is not guaranteed to ensure that.
What I think the grassroots supporters of Amnesty International need above all to be concerned about is what the organisation is trying to achieve with this new publication. With more constructive possibilities of international involvement following the end of the siege of Aleppo, what is the reason for reviving attempts to demonise the Syrian government?
Whatever excesses any parties need eventually to be held to account for, the concern of Amnesty International is supposed to be with human beings, and their interest lies overwhelmingly in achieving peace – not in stoking the embers of the war.
 A critical discussion of this is available at http://www.moonofalabama.org/2017/02/amnesty-report-hearsay.html
 For the 2012 report, which covers the first year of the five referred to in the new publication, I showed, point by point, that the report admits failing to fulfil some of the research criteria and fails to show it has met any of them. Substantially the same verdict applies to what is said here for 2012-2015; regarding the period 2015-2016, which many readers will understandably, but mistakenly, assume the ‘new’ evidence relates to, no evidence at all is even claimed to be presented.