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Forum Post: Pussy Riot and Amnesty International The Decline of Political Protest

Posted 2 years ago on Aug. 28, 2012, 11:52 p.m. EST by ShubeLMorgan2 (1088) from New York, NY
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http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/08/28/the-decline-of-political-protest/

by DIANA JOHNSTONE Paris.

Once upon a time there was an organization called Amnesty International which was dedicated to defending prisoners of conscience all over the world. Its action was marked by two principles that contributed to its success: neutrality and discretion. In the context of the Cold War, the early AI made a point of balancing its campaigns between prisoners from each of three ideological regions: the capitalist West, the communist East and the developing South. The campaigns remained discreet, avoiding ideological polemics and focusing on the legal and physical conditions of captives. Their aim was not to use the prisoners as an excuse to rant against an “enemy” government, but to persuade governments to cease persecuting non-violent dissidents. It strove successfully to exercise a universal civilizing influence.

Since the end of the Cold War, the work of Amnesty International has become more complicated and more difficult. Back in the early days, most of the “prisoners of conscience” were held either in the Soviet bloc or in the US satellite dictatorships in Latin America, which facilitated symmetry without unduly offending the U.S superpower. But especially since the Bush administration’s reaction to September 11, 2001, the United States has increasingly become the world’s most notorious jailer. This has brought an organization whose core is Anglo-American under conflicting pressures. While it has protested against such flagrant abuses as Guantanamo and the abusive jailing of Bradley Manning, it appears to be under pressure to “balance” such punctual criticism by blanket denunciations of governments targeted for regime change by the United States. In the case of U.S.-backed “color revolutions”, human rights organizations such as AI and Human Rights Watch are enlisted not to defend specific political prisoners, but rather to denounce general abuses which may or may not be seriously documented. The United States has increasingly managed to take control of AI for its own foreign policy campaigns.

A milestone in this takeover came last January, when the talented State Department official Suzanne Nossel was named as executive director of Amnesty International USA. As Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations, Ms Nossel played a role in drafting the United Nations Human Rights Council resolution on Libya. That resolution, based on exaggeratedly alarmist reports, served to justify the UN resolution which led to the NATO bombing campaign that overthrew the Gaddafi regime. Credited with coining the expression “smart power”, taken up by Hillary Clinton as a policy slogan, Ms Nossel has won international recognition for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, thereby positioning the United States as a vanguard of human rights against the world’s many traditional societies, especially those whose regimes U.S. “smart power” wishes to embarrass, isolate, or even overthrow.

In its new phase, AI, like Human Rights Watch and other Western “humanitarian” organizations, has ceased to make any distinction between genuine repression of dissident thinkers and the sort of repression that is triggered by deliberate provocation, that is, by actions whose sole purpose is precisely to provoke repression, in order to accuse a targeted regime of being repressive. The Serbian group “Otpor” pioneered this sort of action, following teachings of Gene Sharp. Actions which anywhere in the world would be considered disorderly conduct are elevated to the level of Victor Hugo eloquently defying Napoleon III.

Neither the quality of dissidence nor its context seem to matter. And nobody stops to ponder seriously how to deal with provocateurs who deliberately break the law in order to be arrested. Should the law be suspended especially for them? Or what? Arresting them falls into a trap, but not arresting them would arouse complaints from indignant citizens who dislike such exhibitionism. It is a real dilemma.

Amnesty International has devoted extraordinary attention to the Pussy Riot case, while totally ignoring, for instance, the threat of U.S. prosecution that led Julian Assange to seek political asylum.

What is most notable about this attention, and the attention of the Western media in general, is its tone. The tone is by no means a diplomatic appeal intended to persuade authorities to free the women in question. Rather, it is a tone of provovation.

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