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World: Amnesty Report Goes 'Too Far'

Eugeniusz Smolar, director of the Center for International Relations in Warsaw (Courtesy Photo) May 23, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Amnesty International, in its annual report --> released today, accused governments around the world of using what it called the “politics of fear” to crush human rights. Amnesty singled out the U.S. administration for special criticism, saying it had “globalized” rights abuses with its war on terror.

But not everyone agrees with that interpretation. Among those who take a more nuanced view is Eugeniusz Smolar, president of the Center For International Relations in Warsaw. Smolar, a respected political commentator, was imprisoned by the Polish communist authorities in 1968 after protesting the invasion of Czechoslovakia. He later emigrated to the West and headed the Polish section of the BBC, remaining active in his support of Eastern Europe dissidents before returning to his homeland. He spoke to RFE/RL correspondent Jeremy Bransten.

RFE/RL: You have been critical of Amnesty International and the path the organization has taken recently. Can you explain why?

Eugeniusz Smolar: I think that Amnesty International, in the last 10 years, went the wrong way. It was a global organization, which took care of human rights violations in every country, under every regime. And it became "anti-Western" in the last 10 years or 15 years. And I saw it coming, because I was cooperating with Amnesty International in the 1980s, when helping with the Czech and Slovak Charter 77 movement or the Workers' Defense Committee in Poland. Now it became much more difficult to show Amnesty International the problems, for instance, in Russia.

RFE/RL: What is your reaction to this year’s report and Amnesty’s accusation that the United States-led war on terror is responsible for a global “human rights meltdown?”

Amnesty International has become "anti-Western" in the past decade, Smolar says.

Smolar: It's going much, much too far. But the point I would make and I was making recently in Washington is that the United States, with its allies, with Poland and other countries, could achieve the same result without going too far and without provoking others to follow the very dangerous road, where human rights do not count and where we try to say that our torture is good but their torture is bad. This cannot happen. There is only one tradition of defending human rights and it must be total, it must be overwhelming.

RFE/RL: So despite your criticism of Amnesty, you also fault the U.S. administration’s approach?

Smolar: The U.S. military has farmed out some of the duties toward the prisoners from Afghanistan or from Iraq to regimes in the Middle East that did not have this hesitation about using torture as a means of extracting the necessary information. And since it became publicly known, it could be given as an example for behavior which could be accepted by the international community. So I don't blame the United States, but I'm saying that by the power of example, some of the governments could feel free to use methods which they wouldn't feel free to use if they would be censored by Washington. But now Washington is not in a position to criticize any government because it can be accused of several mishandlings of prisoners itself.

RFE/RL: Does Amnesty, in your opinion, exaggerate when it accuses the U.S. administration of turning the world into a “global battlefield?”

Smolar: I don't think so. I just returned from Washington and spoke to people in the know and even if the so-called neoconservatives are not that visible, there is this phraseology, starting with the "war on terror," which we hardly accept in Europe or phraseology like "Islamofascist," which is used widely in Washington, especially in conservative think tanks, which gives a feeling that we are facing a truly global strife, like during the Cold War with an aggressive Soviet Union.

In Europe, there is a much more down-to-earth approach to terrorism. It is a matter for the intelligence services, for the police, a matter of building social cohesion, which would eliminate some of the elements of Islamic youths’ dissatisfaction with modern life in Western Europe. So how can you put into one basket some Al-Qaeda or Taliban forces with dissatisfied youths in some of the cities in Great Britain [although] the result is the same: some acts of terror. But the sources of that are not necessarily the same. So I believe there is an ideological approach, not in America, but in this administration, which to many people in Europe is not helpful.

RFE/RL: Despite the criticism, many believe the United States is still a force for good in the world, with all of the foreign aid it provides and support for democratic initiatives and civil society. Do you share that view?

Smolar: No doubt about it. The whole tradition of U.S. foreign policy, starting with Jimmy Carter and Reagan and Clinton and George W. Bush -- the tradition is there. The only thing, I believe, is that one must once and for all forget about the shortcuts and involve something which is invaluable, and which is not being used, which is the "soft power" of the United States -- not only the "hard power" -- not only the army and using force, but also the incredible cultural attraction of the United States of America, the American dream, which is still there, but it needs to be shown for all to see. And I believe that America, as a result of the Iraq war, is very much only being perceived as ready-to-shoot cowboy.

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