The authorities in Nigeria are possibly waking up to the reality of the true nature of the mission of Amnesty International (AI) in their country. Hopefully, the realization that the international ‘non-governmental organisation’ may not be all about safeguarding human rights may have finally dawned on the most populous African country, which has been in the grip of extremists themed terrorism of the Boko Haram sect(which refers to itself as Wilāyat Gharb Ifrīqīyyah – Islamic State West Africa Province, ISWAP), particularly in the country’s north-east. This realization and the frustration that naturally follows was given vent at a meeting between Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai and AI’s Director Of Research Africa, Netsanet Belay.
It is quite surprising that the Nigerian Army had erroneously expected AI or any of their franchises or affiliates will have anything positive to say about their country or the war they have been waging against terrorists, whose reign of terror in the enclave they earlier controlled was so barbaric that even al-Qaeda disowned them. The tide turned with the coming of General Buratai as he found the strategy to motivate the fighting forces coupled with the acquisition of the hardwares that were previously dismally lacking. The anger of the Nigerian side during the meeting with AI representatives and afterwards is then understandable: instead of receiving acknowledgement for rescuing civilian populations from bloodthirsty terrorists the NGO came on a fault finding mission that could be potentially escalated to bring war crime charges against those who fought terrorists.
The Nigerian side would have to do better than getting angry. Its best bet is to understand the entity it is dealing with. On the surface, AI markets itself as that infallible guardian of human right across the globe. But how well does this claim seat? A content analysis of the reports it has issued in recent years – going back over a decade reveals a glaring discrepancy between the wording of reports about western countries and the wording for developing countries. Its findings and report about western countries often betray a sort of timidity that suggests that the exercise as regards this set of nation was meant to fulfill all righteousness. For other nations, the indictment from AI is always harsh in its damning conclusions.
An answer to this trend can be found in the funding of the NGO. AI brands itself as an entity that is funded through membership and public donations thereby hinting at insulation from governments and corporate behemoths. Nothing can be further from the truth.
For example, page 11 of its 2011 Report and Financial Statement stated that “The Directors are pleased to acknowledge the support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Oak Foundation, Open Society Georgia Foundation, the Vanguard Charitable Endowment Programme, Mauro Tunes and American Jewish World Service. The UK Department for International Development (Governance and Transparency Fund) continued to fund a four year human rights education project in Africa. The European Commission (EuropeAid) generously awarded a multi-year grant towards Amnesty International’s human rights education work in Europe.”
How then can Amnesty International take donations from such entities and still pretend to objectively holding all to accounts in human rights issues? Countries that are the receiving end of AI destabilization campaign should learn to task this tool of Western propaganda as to its true intents in raising issues of abuse in their home countries. In addition to asking about intent, nation should also ask the Ngo about its methodology. Oftentimes, reports are written from the comfort of five star hotels without speaking to the actual people involved in the subject of review.
An article by Rick Sterling titled ‘“Spreading False Information”: Eight Problems with Amnesty’s Report on Aleppo, Syria’ amply captured the gimmick that is AI. The treatise raised fundamental issues about a report on carnage in Aleppo which the NGO twisted to fit into the narratives of the power blocs that are desperate for regime change in Syria. The article cannot be reproduced in full here but its subheadings are as follows: Amnesty ignores external interference in Syria; Amnesty approves the violation of international customary law; Amnesty relies on witnesses who are biased and possibly paid and coached; Amnesty relies on dubious data from a biased source; Amnesty ignores important background information; Amnesty ignores important current information; Amnesty echoes allegations which are unverified and probably false; and Amnesty fails to recognize what keeps the conflict going. There is no record that AI has been able to explain away these glaring shortcomings and biased in its reporting on Syria.
In Nigeria, there is proof that AI mostly based its reports on anecdotal evidence, hearsay and interview with subjects, whose identities and affiliations it has no way of verifying. This leaves the possibility that those it has access to are from the propaganda arm of the terrorist. If Amnesty claims it was able to visit territories under terrorists’ occupation to gather facts first hand then it must be able to elaborate the relationship it has with Boko Haram to get cover for its staff that are ordinarily targets for a group that abhors anything western.
If the authorities in Nigeria look closely enough, they will see more similarities than dissimilarities in the way AI treated the Syrian report and how its tried to indict its Army. This observation fits into the concerns of those who had argued that AI lent itself as a propaganda tool for destabilizing countries whose leaders stood in the way of big businesses. The facts are manipulated to highlight ‘abuses by government forces’ of such countries while the terrorists they are fighting are able to scale up their attacks using the cover provided by the NGO.
It will be misleading to suggest that AI runs this international blackmail ring alone. It is tied in with major international media networks and NGOs that are strategic for amplifying the indictments it want to cripple the targeted nations. Part of the strategy is to build key expressions, phrases, sentences and entire paragraphs into the executive summaries of its reports to nudge the pliant media networks, their editors and correspondents in the direction it wants. This narrative is then amplified even by the indigenous media because they lack the resources to investigate the stories on the same scale as the global network and also because they have bought into the lie that AI is the best thing to have happened to human right expression on earth.
The indigenous media of non-western countries may be sucked into the lies of Amnesty International but it is the officials, especially those responsible for intelligence gathering that must rouse themselves to defend the sovereignty of their countries. Before granting any further audience to AI for instance, the Nigerian Army should establish what roles it played in the 1991 Iraqi Invasion which got a boost because AI was quick to corroborate the stories that Iraqi troops were throwing babies out of incubators in Kuwait to steal medical devices (it turned out their key witness was the daughter of the Kuwaiti Ambassador put to the task by a PR firm). They should verify what role Amnesty International played in getting coalition approval for the no-fly zone that was to be the beginning of Libya’s descent into chaos, it provided fuel for the propaganda that brought cataclysm to Afghanistan and the list of countries that can point accusing fingers at AI for their woes is as long as the number of countries currently fighting one war or the other.
This raises the question of what Amnesty International wants in Nigeria. On the surface, the NGO will insist it is doing its work to promote human rights. The local staff resident in the countries AI is reporting are sold the same story and they even have the conviction that they are furthering improvement to the lot of humanity particularly for populations that are at risk because of crisis situations. The reality is however that these staff are corralled into writing reports that suit what the senior officials at international level want.
The Nigerian Army, also the Federal Government of Nigeria, may want to, with the benefit of hindsight, find out the relationship between the timing of AI reports and the refusal of other countries to sells arms to it to fight the insurgency. There is also the relationship between the release of AI reports and the scaling up of attacks by Boko Haram. It could take things a bit further to see how much co-ordination exists between AI and the media networks in the run-up to the release of its reports.
The case against Amnesty International does not imply that there were no abuses, which would naturally occur with a military operation of the scale Nigeria has going on to rout the Boko Haram fighters in the country. It is a positive sign that General Buratai has confirmed that those indicted have either been punished or would be punished with an Army Human Rights Desk set up to make citizen and NGO reporting easier. The Army and the Nigerian government may be able to succeed where other countries faltered and that is if they are quick to realize that they do not need a neo-colonialist contraption to tell them what constitute human rights. They will certainly do better improving on in-country capacity to prevent abuses from occurring as they try to stamp out the Boko Haram insurgency. But for the time being, they should summon the courage to ask Amnesty International what its end game is in Nigeria.
Desita Todorova is an international commentator on diplomatic and military affairs based in the United Kingdom.