Friday, June 09, 2006

Amnesty and "full spectrum rights"

I liked Amnesty International so much I bought the T-shirt. Their particular strengths, I always thought, were that they focused on rights that could be properly described as 'human' and not social and economic - and also their willingness to criticise governments consistently, whether democracies or not.

Since 2005, Amnesty has been having a 'rethink' - which seems to entail a broadening of Amnesty's concerns to include so-called 'soft' social and economic rights - such as access to medical treatment, housing and so forth.

This re-working of their position has included a shift towards a more politicized position - seen, for example, in their position regarding Guantanamo Bay.

While I thought Amnesty's description of Gitmo as the 'gulag of our time' was completely absurd, this in itself didn't cause me to reconsider my membership because exaggeration notwithstanding, Amnesty's position in relation to Guantanamo is the correct one.

But not so with the general shift in their position. My own view is that while 'social' rights such as access to housing and medical treatment are highly desirable, you simply cannot say these are rights that one has purely by virtue of one's humanity because social rights of these kind presuppose the existence of a certain kind of society.

The shift towards an advocacy of these types of 'human rights' pushes Amnesty into the fold of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the framers of which somehow managed to convince themselves that a nomadic tribesman had the right to join a trade union and have paid leave of absence from work.

I believe this to be a ridiculous position - an inflation of the concept of human rights that damages the principle. Amnesty's controversial adoption of the right to an abortion under the banner of human rights is an example of this. Abortion is not a human but a civil right, since it requires the existence of medical personnel able and willing to carry out such a procedure. Indeed, abortion on demand would presuppose an obligation by such medical personnel.

And there's a more melancholy reason for wondering where Amnesty are going with all this. 'Human rights' are being inflated beyond the point where even 'rights-based' people might reasonably be expected to agree. As for myself, I'm being asked to accept that economic, social, and civil rights have miraculously become 'human'. This, a position I find difficult to accept at the best of times, becomes impossible when it also requires me to believe that the ever-expanding scope of 'human rights' does not apply to the unborn child. According to Amnesty, these have no rights - not even the right to life. The only conclusion one can draw is that Amnesty International's official position now is that the unborn child is not human. It is for this reason I'm having a 'rethink' of my own.

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