Amnesty International’s fallacy

Conflict reporting that draws criticism from opposing parties is often assumed to be objective and balanced. The recent Amnesty International, AI, report on the Southern Cameroons crisis is a perfect example of how misleading such an assumption can be.It is by no means a dependable report just because it got the Yaounde regime’s ‘vuvuzela’ blaring so loud in protest as usual, while at the same time drawing salvos of censure from Southern Cameroonians.
If anything, this report seriously dents Amnesty’s image in the eyes of those who are looking up to it as a faithful watchdog on whose probity and integrity the world can count when it comes to conflict reporting and resolution.
This editorial would be far longer than that report itself if we were to itemise and comment on all its half-truths and omissions. Suffice it to say that if Amnesty International were a media outfit, a great part of this report would qualify for yellow – even armchair – journalism.
Whether all those truncated facts and all those errors of commission or omission were just the result of sloppiness or a deliberate act of misinformation, the report raises a crying need to set the record straight.
Let’s begin with the identities of the actors. In total superficiality the report echoes and amplifies Yaounde’s image of the conflict as being between the State of Cameroon and some band of secessionists. One would have expected AI’s reporter to dig up background information on this struggle. Such information, available at the UN if nowhere else, would have told AI that the parties to this conflict are two states, each of which had had an executive, a legislature and a judiciary, and one of which had made a sovereign decision to join a sister nation.
AI would thus have been able to qualify the present conflict appropriately as a reversal of that first decision – by seeking to relinquish and sunder a marriage that has proven faithless, loveless and hopeless after half a century of groaning. Amnesty would have helped the world to remember that Senegal and Gambia tried a union in the same circumstances and when it proved inconvenient, they were sensible enough to sunder it and remain good neighbours.
Coming to the nature of the conflict, it is most unhelpful on the part of AI to stop at saying there are acts of violence on both sides. Undeniable as this is, it is a half-truth. If AI had carried out a credible investigation it would have found out that there is no chicken-and-egg question as to who is responding to whose violence. Violence started, not the first day when somebody was killed, but the day the regime started trampling on the dignity of Southern Cameroonians in all those socio-political acts of marginalization that have been enumerated times without number since this crisis began. It increased when, over a period of more than 50 years the complaining partner was ignored or bullied into silence. The regime’s “what-can-you-do” attitude was sheer provocation and a call to another form of violence. With restraint, Southern Cameroonians responded with peaceful protests which gave the regime the pretext to crank up multiple forms of violence – arrests, rape, extra-judicial killings etc. Violence begets violence. When young people who have seen these bestialities visited on their kith and kin take up muskets and machetes and start fighting back – yes you can say there is violence on both sides, but one side is fending off an aggressor.
Even as an embedded reporter, AI would have seen that while the armed ‘restorationists’ direct their fire and fury at the instruments and agents of Government, the security forces are indiscriminate in their murderous repression. Soldiers or ‘restorationist’ fighters who are killed in combat will have died serving a country or a cause they believe in. But killings are reported every day of people who by their age and condition are manifestly non-combatant. Some are too young or too old to know anything about this conflict. One would expect all non-combatants suspected to aid or abet the insurgency to be arrested and tried, with due process respected, not summarily executed. Actions in the field show a level of impunity which the modern world cannot, must not, tolerate.
The report also indicated that both parties attack the civilian population. At this point one would challenge AI to actually go to the surviving towns and villages in Southern Cameroons and ask the frightened population who of the two forces they consider as the aggressor and who as their protector.
Amnesty is a well-known and respected human rights pressure group whose reports are expected to inform the international community’s conflict prevention and resolution action. The shortfalls of this report trigger three levels of alarm. The first is the beclouding impact it could have on the understanding of the Southern Cameroons conundrum by those who, over the years have come to rely on Amnesty’s probity. The second is the fear that this report bespeaks a break from that probity and a slump into unusual sloppiness. The third and highest level of alarm is the fear that Amnesty may have willingly allowed its reputation to be compromised by some interest one can’t put a finger on. This gets the more disturbing, knowing the Yaounde regime’s own reputation for undermining the credibility of whoever it does business with. Could AI also have been infected by the equivocation virus that has reduced the UN, the AU and the Commonwealth to shadows of themselves, or even quislings? If organisations like AI also start speaking with forked tongues, on whose account of anything can the world now rely?
Conflict reporting that draws criticism from opposing parties is often assumed to be objective and balanced. The recent Amnesty International, AI, report on the Southern Cameroons crisis is a perfect example of how misleading such an assumption can be.It is by no means a dependable report just because it got the Yaounde regime’s ‘vuvuzela’ blaring so loud in protest as usual, while at the same time drawing salvos of censure from Southern Cameroonians.
If anything, this report seriously dents Amnesty’s image in the eyes of those who are looking up to it as a faithful watchdog on whose probity and integrity the world can count when it comes to conflict reporting and resolution.
This editorial would be far longer than that report itself if we were to itemise and comment on all its half-truths and omissions. Suffice it to say that if Amnesty International were a media outfit, a great part of this report would qualify for yellow – even armchair – journalism.
Whether all those truncated facts and all those errors of commission or omission were just the result of sloppiness or a deliberate act of misinformation, the report raises a crying need to set the record straight.
Let’s begin with the identities of the actors. In total superficiality the report echoes and amplifies Yaounde’s image of the conflict as being between the State of Cameroon and some band of secessionists. One would have expected AI’s reporter to dig up background information on this struggle. Such information, available at the UN if nowhere else, would have told AI that the parties to this conflict are two states, each of which had had an executive, a legislature and a judiciary, and one of which had made a sovereign decision to join a sister nation.
AI would thus have been able to qualify the present conflict appropriately as a reversal of that first decision – by seeking to relinquish and sunder a marriage that has proven faithless, loveless and hopeless after half a century of groaning. Amnesty would have helped the world to remember that Senegal and Gambia tried a union in the same circumstances and when it proved inconvenient, they were sensible enough to sunder it and remain good neighbours.
Coming to the nature of the conflict, it is most unhelpful on the part of AI to stop at saying there are acts of violence on both sides. Undeniable as this is, it is a half-truth. If AI had carried out a credible investigation it would have found out that there is no chicken-and-egg question as to who is responding to whose violence. Violence started, not the first day when somebody was killed, but the day the regime started trampling on the dignity of Southern Cameroonians in all those socio-political acts of marginalization that have been enumerated times without number since this crisis began. It increased when, over a period of more than 50 years the complaining partner was ignored or bullied into silence. The regime’s “what-can-you-do” attitude was sheer provocation and a call to another form of violence. With restraint, Southern Cameroonians responded with peaceful protests which gave the regime the pretext to crank up multiple forms of violence – arrests, rape, extra-judicial killings etc. Violence begets violence. When young people who have seen these bestialities visited on their kith and kin take up muskets and machetes and start fighting back – yes you can say there is violence on both sides, but one side is fending off an aggressor.
Even as an embedded reporter, AI would have seen that while the armed ‘restorationists’ direct their fire and fury at the instruments and agents of Government, the security forces are indiscriminate in their murderous repression. Soldiers or ‘restorationist’ fighters who are killed in combat will have died serving a country or a cause they believe in. But killings are reported every day of people who by their age and condition are manifestly non-combatant. Some are too young or too old to know anything about this conflict. One would expect all non-combatants suspected to aid or abet the insurgency to be arrested and tried, with due process respected, not summarily executed. Actions in the field show a level of impunity which the modern world cannot, must not, tolerate.
The report also indicated that both parties attack the civilian population. At this point one would challenge AI to actually go to the surviving towns and villages in Southern Cameroons and ask the frightened population who of the two forces they consider as the aggressor and who as their protector.
Amnesty is a well-known and respected human rights pressure group whose reports are expected to inform the international community’s conflict prevention and resolution action. The shortfalls of this report trigger three levels of alarm. The first is the beclouding impact it could have on the understanding of the Southern Cameroons conundrum by those who, over the years have come to rely on Amnesty’s probity. The second is the fear that this report bespeaks a break from that probity and a slump into unusual sloppiness. The third and highest level of alarm is the fear that Amnesty may have willingly allowed its reputation to be compromised by some interest one can’t put a finger on. This gets the more disturbing, knowing the Yaounde regime’s own reputation for undermining the credibility of whoever it does business with. Could AI also have been infected by the equivocation virus that has reduced the UN, the AU and the Commonwealth to shadows of themselves, or even quislings? If organisations like AI also start speaking with forked tongues, on whose account of anything can the world now rely?

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