Tag Archives: Amnesty International

Human Rights in War

A new report by Amnesty International contends that Russia may have committed war crimes when it launched an airstrike on a market in Syria last week. According to the report, Russia may have killed as many as 200 civilians since it began using its air power to strike rebel forces in Syria last November. Amnesty International accuses Russia of using cluster munitions—bombs that carry dozens of bomblets—during its airstrikes. Amnesty avoids calling Russian attacks purposeful, suggesting that targets may have been based on faulty intelligence.

Russia responded, stating that the report was “groundless” and “full of lies,” and denies they have used cluster munitions in Syria. The Russian government also pointed out that US airstrikes have also resulted in civilian casualties, most notably in Afghanistan, where a US airstrike accidentally targeted a medical facility run by the non-governmental organization Doctors Without Borders, killing at least 19 people.

Yet the legality of Russia’s actions in Syria are less than clear. The Convention on Cluster Munitions prohibits the use, transfer, and stockpile of cluster bombs by countries that have ratified the convention. While 107 countries have ratified the agreement, countries that have the largest stockpile of such weapons—including Russia, China, the United States, Israel, Pakistan, India, and Brazil—have refused to do so and are thus not subject to the agreement’s provisions. Similarly, the Rome Statute and Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions prohibit the deliberate or indiscriminate targeting of civilians in war. But making the case that Russia deliberately targeted civilians—rather than aiming for a military target but accidentally striking civilians—is a difficult claim to substantiate, and one that Amnesty did not make in the report.

What do you think? Has Russia violated international humanitarian law during its airstrikes in Syria? Has the United States violated international humanitarian law in Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan? And if so, what can be or should be done to prevent such violations by Russia or the United States in the future?

Freedom of Expression in Saudi Arabia

The Saudi government appeared to give in to international pressure yesterday after it announced it would delay the next round of 50 lashes for Raif Badawi. Badawi is a blogger who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and ten years imprisonment for insulting Islam. His sentence provoked sharp criticism from the global community. Amnesty International has led a campaign to draw attention to the sentence, and a number of states have condemned it. Yesterday, the Saudi government announced it would “delay” the second round of 50 lashes for medical reasons, and the Saudi Supreme Court announced it would “review” the decision.

Badawi’s case raises a number of important questions, both centering on liberal notions of freedom of expression and more broadly on the effectiveness of public pressure on state behavior. What do you think? Should liberal notions of freedom of expression constrain governmental behavior? Do claims that the decision here is intended to protect religious freedom mitigate concerns over freedom of expression? Why? And do you think that international pressure, such as that brought by Amnesty International, can be effective in changing the behavior of the Saudi government in the longer term? Do states care about international public opinion? Why?

International Relations and the Olympics, Part 2: Censorship and Human Rights

Along with promises to improve environmental quality (discussed yesterday), the Chinese government also promised to improve its human rights record and afford more open access to the international media.  Ahead of the opening of the games, a number of human rights organizations have complained that China has not kept its promises in these areas. 

Since January, human rights organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have complained that the international community had not pressured China enough.  Some even called for a boycott of the games.  Speaking in January Human Rights Watch’s Asia Advocacy Director, Sophie Richardson commented,

The preparation for the Olympics are having an overall negative impact on human rights developments in China.  In recent months, the government has increased censorship, cracked down on human rights defenders and put the brakes on growing social demands for better rights protections, all in the name of painting a picture of economic success ahead of the games… The whole world is watching China in the run-up to the Games, and heavy-handed tactics to suppress independent voices will create precisely the image Beijing does not want.  China runs a serious risk of tarnishing its reputation and the legacy of the Games.

More recently, China has come under fire from international journalists recently arrived to cover the games.  According to a story carried in Business Week, the International Olympic Committee had promised journalists unfettered access to the internet while covering the games.  But late last week, journalists found that they could not access a number of websites, including sites belonging to Amnesty International and Tibetan and Taiwanese groups critical of the of the Chinese government.  The nongovernmental agency Reporters Without Borders has criticized the censorship and has advised reporters on how to bypass firewalls and encrypt communications.

Should the Olympic Games be political?  According to the International Olympic Committee’s Charter, the six Fundamental Principles of Olympism include:

The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.


Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.

The connection between non-discrimination, human rights, and sports is longstanding.  South Africa was prohibited from participating in international sporting events during much of the Apartheid period.  Boycotts have common.  Including demands for improving human rights as a condition for hosting the Games seems like a logical extension of the Olympic Principles.