Tuesday 9 June 2015

Human rights have been redefined in the image of the zeitgeist. ( or: What you need to tell chuggers for Amnesty)

Throughout the 1980s and early 90s when I was a student I was a fervent supporter of Amnesty International. I raised money for them, attended benefits and did all the usual studenty activities to raise funds and awareness for prisoners of conscience, victims of torture, and displaced persons suffering from human rights abuses. As I grew older and life became busier and more complicated, my involvement with Amnesty waned but I maintained an interest in what I believed to be a worthy organisation and I continued to support them financially.

Around the turn of the millennium, Amnesty's policy veered into murkier waters, broadening to include less easily defined economic, social and cultural "rights" including easy access to contraception. In 2007 Amnesty - not uncontroversially -  declared that abortion was a "human right".  Catholics (and anybody with an interest in that most basic of human rights, namely to be allowed to live from conception to natural death) found it impossible to support A.I. after this point. Unfortunately though, many people assuming that past practice would inform future policy, stuck with Amnesty and I am constantly surprised by those who insist that they support Amnesty because of the good that the organisation has done in the past rather than what they campaign for today. Don't. Just please don't. If you don't believe me, have a look at the cover page for UK Amnesty today:

There is a lack of logic here - abortion kills. Death is the ultimate violation of human rights. If we cannot protect our most vulnerable then whom can we protect?

Amnesty's own anti-death-penalty campaign page says "The death penalty is the ultimate denial of human rights, which is why we're working for an end to its use - everywhere." There is apparently a disconnect between this and what the "right" to abortion entails. 

Amnesty are also involved in lobbying to change the definition of marriage in Northern Ireland (and were instrumental in the 'Yes' campaign in the Republic of Ireland's referendum on same-sex "marriage"). The concept of human "rights" has been redefined in the image of the zeitgeist.

It is worth mentioning all of these because - even if you aren't an active supporter of Amnesty International, it is important to make sure that those who are understand what the organisation stands for now. It is even more important to make sure that those who are are collecting money and direct debits for A.I. are aware what they're collecting for. 

About a year ago I was approached by a chugger for Amnesty on a London street. Rather than politely saying "no thanks" or "I'm busy" I stopped and had a chat. He was a personable young man in his late teens or early 20s. I explained that I had been a big Amnesty supporter at his age, but that since then the organisation had changed its focus. When he asked what I meant, I used abortion as a key example. I said that if an organisation refused to protect the rights of the most vulnerable in our society, they had no business calling themselves a human rights organisation. The young man was horrified: he had no idea that abortion was a key pillar in Amnesty's policies. He thought it was all prisoners of conscience and anti-torture campaigns. Chuggers often don't know a lot about the organisations that they're collecting for, and this particular young black man, coming from a Christian background, was deeply uncomfortable to find out that he was collecting for an organisation that aggressively pushed for abortion to be considered a human right, and funded campaigns for the redefinition of marriage. It was a worthwhile five minutes, and we both left the conversation with something to think about. 

Sometimes the best thing to do in the face of evil is to be informed about the truth, and to speak it as clearly and charitably as possible.

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