Colombo, Human Rights, Peace and Conflict

The Amnesty Campaign: Taking the Eye Off the Ball

A lot of heat and indeed anger has been generated by the Amnesty International campaign‚  – Sri Lanka: Play By the Rules – timed to coincide with and targeted at the Cricket World Cup in the Caribbean. Amnesty has made clear that the campaign is not targeted at the Sri Lankan cricket team and in response to criticisms of this nature made the point that the issue is not cricket but human rights and that all right thinking and mature adults will not mistake the campaign as in any way making a comment on or seeking to undermine our cricket team.

The criticisms against the Amnesty campaign come from a number of quarters – the government and political parties, local NGOs and from diaspora groups. They range from a full frontal attack on Amnesty and its bona fides as regards human rights protection in Sri Lanka – some include other international human rights organizations as well for good measure – to direct accusations that the intention of the campaign is to undermine our team’s performance at the World Cup. Others point out that the campaign is ill timed and strategically flawed; it is self defeating and impacts adversely on local and international efforts to strengthen human rights protection in Sri Lanka. Amnesty is castigated as being pro LTTE and neo-imperialistic, hypocritical and selective in that it has not launched such a campaign against the human rights record of other contestants in the World Cup like England for example. And, how about Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan ?

Clearly human rights is a sensitive issue at any time. Likewise, cricket a sacrosanct one in the public mind at all times and especially during a World Cup, given our promising performance. Sadly, in the public mind it certainly appears to be the case that the latter has much greater prominence and priority than the former. This is reinforced by the argument that the cricket team is a microcosm of what we should be and ought to be – a multi ethnic and religious group based on merit and performance and working together successfully as a team. It is something of which we can be justifiably proud of as a country.

The righteous outrage and criticisms of Amnesty aside, there is no questioning the deplorable situation in the country as far as human rights protection is concerned.‚  It is a situation that preceded the World Cup and sadly has every prospect of continuing beyond the 28th April final and beyond.‚  The work of international human rights organizations in highlighting this and in lobbying for strengthening human rights protection must be acknowledged, appreciated and supported. Likewise, the work of local groups. The Government of Sri Lanka posits the establishment of the Commission of Inquiry (COI) into egregious cases of human rights violations and the Independent International Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) to observe its work, as a key demonstration of its commitment to human rights protection. That it sought and received the views of Amnesty International in this process attests to the bona fides of such organizations in respect of human rights protection in Sri Lanka and indeed, of the standing in which the GOSL holds Amnesty when it comes to consultation as far any initiatives it chooses to make in this field. After all it was reported that President Rajapaksa no less, had discussions with the Secretary General of Amnesty International when he visited the UK in 2006.

The point about the Amnesty campaign is that it is in danger of being self defeating and of ricocheting on the efforts, both local and international, for human rights protection in Sri Lanka. Any campaign as a basic fundamental element of it, must have a clear and unequivocal message – one that cannot be confused or conflated with any other message and particularly one that is unintended and liable to detract from the original, intended message. The Amnesty campaign clearly falls short on this score. It opens itself to the interpretation, mischievous or otherwise, of undermining the cricket team and is additional fodder to the local, self proclaimed patriots who will no doubt garnish their rhetoric about traitors with reference to the Amnesty campaign.

There may well be the charge that local human rights organizations were aware of the campaign before it was launched or that they had a part to play in conceiving of it in these terms. As far as this columnist is aware this was not the case and consultation with locals is something that should be flagged as a sine qua non for the future. Amnesty may well make the point that this is an international campaign and meant for an international audience. It is not intended for a local audience or primarily for a local audience. Whilst this may be the case, the impact on popular perceptions locally and on the work of local groups cannot and should not be dismissed or ignored. Consultation and inclusiveness are surely good practices in any field and basic prerequisites for cooperation, collaboration and solidarity.

The full extent of the impact and damage of this campaign is yet to be seen. One hopes that public discourse on human rights protection in Sri Lanka is not going to be irretrievably obscured and obfuscated by reference to the rights and wrongs of this campaign or that Sri Lankans will in any way be deterred from lending their voice to the urgent need for human rights protection in this country, by concerns about being unpatriotic that have been aroused by memories of this campaign.

The Amnesty campaign has been clumsily and insensitively conceived.‚  It as made an issue of itself in Sri Lanka and detracted attention from the issue in Sri Lanka it rightly sought to draw attention to.

We must win the World Cup, BUT, we must protect human rights in this country. One is a game; the other is about rights and duties, of matters of life and death.  It is what makes us a country before all else.

  • Correctly said. Human Rights are far more crucial and important than winning a cricket world cup. If one looks into this issue without any preoccupations about the Amnesty, is becomes crystal clear that it was NOT targeting cricketers or Sri Lankan victory.
    To be honest, this cricket ball campaign is a very creative idea. It’s so unfortunate that all the hate speech is now directed against those who raised their voices in order to defend human rights. And in the middle of this fuss, those who violate human rights at a disastrous scale have become prosecutors against HR activists.

  • cyberviews

    This is a cogent, balanced and timely analysis of the AI Campaign vis-a-vis the Cricket World Cup. To use cricketing metaphor – AI has bowled a full toss at the
    wolves (or lions) garbed in patriot clothing who will gain more mileage from the campaign than the victims and defenders of human rights it is direcly and vicariously meant to benefit. It is also clear that the seemingly confused and muddled nature of the message, has resulted in even the LTTE (a party named as a viloator of Human Rights by AI in this campaign), righteously calling for the extension of the campaign to a boycott along the lines of the anti apartheid campaign against South Africa. (If the impunity were to continue one would hope harsh measures to be meted out by the international community tartgetting all actors.)

    As Dr. Pakiasothy points out, the AI campaign is flawed in terms of its conception and application and the lack of consultation with local counterparts cited as a key reason for this. While one could consider this hubris or naivette on the part of AI, one would like to speculate that AI deliberately left the local human rights groups out to protect them from the ensuing flak. AI would obviously want to justify their campign on the grounds that the government, the LTTE and other non-state actors were hiding behind the euphoria of the World Cup, to continue with their continued violation of human rights and exposing civilian populations to untold suffering and hardship by creating a humanitarian crisis of major proportions. The nation’s obsession with cricket has no doubt provided this cover for governments, as very often depicted by cartoonists in relation to overnight gazetting of price hikes in the wake of circket victories, especially those that have ended in bail biting finishes. While some argue that the people should be allowed to indulge in this pastime as an outlet for the frustrations they encounter in their day to day lives, there are others who feel that this kind of displacement activity by the nation is akin to “Nero fidlling while Rome was burning”.

    I also believe, it is necessary to explode the myth that the Sri Lankan Cricket team epitomises the unity that one would want to see in the country. I see this as a superficial analogy that tries to mix sports with politics. It is true that on the cricket field one does not see the divisiveness one witnesses in the socio-political sphere, but this is natural since the clear goal of victory in a non hostile, entertainment based environment unites everybody to perform as a single unit.

    But at a different level, if one were to seek their views on the current religio-ethnic situation in the country, they would range from sheer apathy to nationlistic sentiments that one would see in the normal polity. In fact we have clear examples of the political positions of past cricketers who came into politics on the strength of their heroics in the cricketing arena. These positions did not in anyway reflect the kind of unity displayed on the cricket field. To that extent they are a microcosm of the rest of society and any other interpretation to me, is logically flawed in terms of conceptual categories.

    Finally, it is still not late for AI to consult with local, regional and international rights groups, to decide whether a course correction is necessary, though one must be aware that this has to be done in a way that AI’s position as a beacon for justice and fair play is not compromised. At the same time the atrocities, human rights violations, and the deepening humanitarian crisis must continue to be highlighted locally, regionally and internationally at every suitable opportunity, to deter such actions by the perpetrators.

  • Liz Phillipson

    I support the Amnesty Campaign.

    When a country is out of bounds on human rights then it should not be able to comfortably enjoy other aspects of international interaction. There are numerous cases of governments who have been unresponsive on the human rights front being squeezed in other areas. Somethimes this is necessary to get the point across. Yes, it is disappointing for the competitors, but if it makes them understand the human rights situation in their country better, then perhaps they can use their influence positively.

    When there was an international campaign to stop the South African cricket tours during the apartheid regime, people also tried to say it was not cricket. However, the cultural and sporting boycotts contributed to ending aparthied in South Africa. What is more some of those affected by the South African boycotts began to change their political attitudes.

    Sri Lanka is not apartheid South Africa but neither was this a cricketing ban. It is a campaign which simply uses the opportunity to highlight a very serious problem. It has certainly stirred up a controversy and the Sri Lankan Government is in danger of being allowed to divert attention from its responsibility to uphold human rights by suggesting that Amnesty International, a reputable and mature human rights organisation, is doing something wrong. Amnesty is doing its job – drawing attention to a deteriorating human rights situation in any way it can. Can we all use our energy to direct attention to the Sri Lankan Governments responsiblity to uphold human rights?

    The human rights situation in Sri Lanka deserves greater attention and Amnesty should be applauded and supported.

  • Kalidasa

    This is not the first time that AI has been bashed by the Sri Lanka government. Its reports are often criticised but the facts remain – Over the last twenty years and more Sri Lanka has developed an appalling human rights record. Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims have been victims of this at the hands of the State and non State Actors such as the LTTE, JVP (in the late 1980’s), Karuna faction etc. AI in its various reports refers to all of these killings, tortures and disappearances. Rather than criticising the messenger (AI) for publicising them Sri Lanka should try and address them.
    Today, sport is inextricably linked with politics, diplomacy and business. This may be unfortunate – but it is the reality and this applies not simply to Sri Lanka.
    South Africa also reacted when its sportsman were banned from international sports (cricket, rugby) during the Apartheid era and when sports were used to highlight the situation in that country. In fact it was one of many factors that compelled the South African government to change its policies.
    Using the World cup to target Sri Lanka’s Human Rights record is fair game. Sure it uses the international attention on Sri Lanka to highlights the human rights abuses that take place in Sri Lanka by the Government, the LTTE and the splinter group of the LTTE (Karuna Faction). Since these facts are not contested why should it not be given more publicity with the hope that “naming and shaming” will bring change.
    It does NOT target the cricketers who I think epitomise the only real advance that Sri Lanka has made since Independence. The team is chosen on the basis of merit, and they pull together as a team and work hard at excelling and so they shine. Pity that Sri Lanka has not always prioritized merit, team work and hard work in other sectors (education, health, public services) which have been in steady decline.
    I think it is superficial and even fake to see the cricket team as symbolic of Sri Lanka’s “multi-ethnic harmony.” In reality that is under deep strain at the present time. What the cricket team does prove is that if merit is the basis of selection, hard work is the focus of a team / party / company/ ministry – what ever, you can achieve much and perhaps harmony and trust MAY follow.
    It is a sad state that sport and prestige is valued more than human lives. Surely all Sri Lankans must acknowledge that Sri Lanka has a deep rooted conflict. that must be addressed. Think of all the “would be cricket champions” that the country must be losing through this conflict – that if anything will encourage Sri Lanka to nurture the human lives on which its fate will rest – both on the field and off.

  • aiyo

    I liked Dr Saravanamuttu’s article and the sensible succeeding comments. I too support the AI campaign.

    Sadly, in most countries international sport and politics are generally inextricably mixed, especially when patriotism creeps in. It is encouraging that we have a multi-ethnic side doing so well in the World Cup. However, we should remember the squad draws principally on the resources of strong clubs outside the North and East, where this sport, and many others, are under-resourced. This reduces the opportunity for participation from the margins. In other words, cricket, when looked at in depth, reflects the general make up of most of Sri Lanka’s institutions.

    This handicap, not surprisingly, also affects most of the energetic and well-meaning human rights institutions as well. They do not have a representation on the margins and, so, cannot always be guaranteed to speak for those directly affected by Government/TMVP and LTTE human rights abuses at the present time. It is difficult to hear crticisms of the AI campaign from those margins. One might even venture to speculate that AI, which has strong contacts with community activists built up over the years, may have consulted them and not the national activisits who are now questioning the campaign. It’s just a thought.

    It certainly is regrettable that national human rights organisations have received another volley of brickbats because of the AI campaign. Those activitists seldom get the recognition they deserve. However, the critics of the human rights activitists are not likely to desist from using any opportunities for abuse. In other words, what we’re hearing now are mostly the same old moans from the same old suspects. It’s likely that the human rights community will weather the storm.

    Finally, the idignation that the AI campaign has stirred up amongst friend and foe alike may well be an indication that the campaign is right on the mark. Hmmm…

  • punitham

    hmmm… very good replies…….
    Please remember LTTE supports AI campaign:

  • Santhi

    A very good contribution By Dr. Saravanamuthu Since GOSL is bocking
    Aminist International visiting the country
    obviously they feel guilty and should not make a big cry

  • Santhi

    Good contribution by Dr Sara

  • marsal

    The posting The Amnesty Campaign: Taking the Eye Off the Ball strikes me as a thoughtful and (generally) measured contribution to the ongoing debate.

    Below a couple of thoughts additional to and/or building on some of the responses already posted:

    1. Sara’s point about the desirability of consultation with relevant local stakeholders before launching high-profile international Human Rights (or indeed any other issue-based) campaigns is well taken in a general sense. That said, Kalinda reminds us that it is precisely with a view to protecting ‘local’ HR organizations and others from the political flack likely to result from such international campaigns that AI generally (i.e. not just in Sri Lanka) keeps them out of the picture – officially at least. This strikes me as an entirely apposite comment on the current AI Sri Lanka campaign.

    AI arguably should – and hopefully in this instance has – undertaken quiet/background consultations with key national HR organizations before launching a campaign whose aim is clearly to put a particular country’s (in this instance Sri Lanka’s) HR record in the international spotlight.

    Any such consultations can hardly be conducted in public, however, and indeed may even reveal differing attitudes/judgements regarding the advisability/ political impact of such a campaign (and judging by the debate on the current posting, this would certainly seem to be the case here.)

    ‘Consultation’ comes in many shapes and sizes and is, ultimately no more or less than what it says it is: consultation, not domestic veto or an invitation to political paralysis.

    2. For all the loud protestations from several quarters within SL that the AI campaign will result in (as yet unspecified) backlashes against the do-mestic HR community and others, what is the actual evidence of – or for – this assertion so far? Articles in the media, strident official statements? Certainly, but that’s hardly a new phenomenon.

    3. Overall, it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that a big part of what we’re witnessing in response to AI’s World Cup Cricket-directed campaign to raise awareness of current HR abuses in Sri Lanka is an outburst of re-flex/traditional Sinhalese nationalism, dressed up in the somewhat awk-ward disguise of deference to local cricketing sensitivities.

    As Kalin points out in her post, no one seems to be questioning the fact that in the con-text of the current escalation of fighting, the country is experiencing a dis-turbing increase, both quantatively and qualitatively speaking, in extra-judicial killings, disappearances and other serious HR abuses, and that these are being perpetrated with aplomb by all sides in the conflict. As I understand it, the main point of the AI campaign is to use the peg of a high-profile international sporting event to highlight precisely this fact. Isn’t that something that both domestic and international supporters of human rights should essentially be applauding and supporting, and ‘with-out fear or favour’?

    As Liz Philipson observes in her post:

    “the Sri Lankan Government is in danger of being allowed to divert atten-tion from its responsibility to uphold human rights by suggesting that Am-nesty International, a reputable and mature human rights organisation, is doing something wrong. Amnesty is doing its job – drawing attention to a deteriorating human rights situation in any way it can. Can we all use our energy to direct attention to the Sri Lankan Governments responsiblity to uphold human rights? The human rights situation in Sri Lanka deserves greater attention and Amnesty should be applauded and supported.”

    To which ‘amen’ – however uncomfortable it (hopefully) makes life for the GoSL, LTTE, Karuna faction et al.

  • SH

    Details of the AI petition can be found here:

    An outline of the petition is as follows:

    The Sri Lankan government, LTTE and other armed groups commit to allowing independent human rights monitors into their country to make sure they “play by the rules”. These monitors will:

    • document and investigate the increasing number of abuses being committed by the Sri Lanka security forces, LTTE and other armed groups

    • publicize their findings

    • identify the perpetrators so that they can be brought to justice.

    Their presence will have a direct impact on the lives of ordinary Sri Lankans as all parties to the conflict will be less likely to commit human rights violations while the world is watching.

    Protect civilians in Sri Lanka now

    Amnesty International will deliver signed cricket balls to the government and the LTTE, urging them to invite independent human rights monitors into the country immediately. Every signature counts!

  • sumane

    it was starnge. iwas the first to comment on sara’s piece. but it is not published. any reasons?

  • Sumane,

    The last comment I have from you reg. the AI issue is for the earlier post (see here). Did not get one for Sara’s post, but as I’ve noted elsewhere, the Spam filter on this site sometimes takes down legitimate comments. Because of the sheer volume of spam comments this site gets daily, I don’t have time anymore to go through the list in detail. Please re-submit your comments.



  • Amnesty International issued a Press Release on 12th April on this issue as follows.


    AI Index: ASA 37/010/2007 (Public)
    News Service No: 070
    12 April 2007

    Sri Lanka: Human rights is the issue, not cricket
    The distortion in Sri Lanka of Amnesty International’s campaign “Play by the Rules” is a ploy to distract attention from the increasingly desperate plight of hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankan people.

    “We are concerned at abuses by all parties to the conflict — civilians are killed, abducted and forcibly disappeared every day at the hands of government forces, Tamil Tigers, the Karuna faction and other armed groups,” said Purna Sen, Asia Pacific Director at Amnesty International. “Let us be clear — no side in this conflict has anything to be complacent about. On the contrary, all parties are breaching international law by failing to protect civilians.”

    Increasing abductions, illegal killings and child recruitment in Sri Lanka are all going on unchecked and victims do not receive justice. The intensified fighting over the last year has forced over 300,000 people to flee their homes. At least 1000 people have been forcibly disappeared since the beginning of 2006.

    “The situation in Sri Lanka has become so desperate for local people that urgent action is needed. Civilians desperately need better protection and a key goal of our campaign is to press for independent human rights monitors to investigate human rights abuses and identify the perpetrators, so they can be brought to justice,” said Purna Sen.

    “Through our campaign we are drawing attention to the increasing human rights abuses committed against civilians by the Sri Lankan government, the Tamil Tigers, the Karuna faction and other armed groups. The lives of hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans are being affected — our campaign is about these people, not the Sri Lankan cricket team.”

    “The Sri Lankan government is failing in its responsibility to protect civilians; there have been over 4000 deaths since early 2006 while this government has been in power. Reported accusations that Amnesty International has ‘tarnished the country’s image’ do not bear scrutiny — the authorities need to look closer to home,” continued Purna Sen.

    “The Tamil Tigers have killed hundreds of civilians in summary executions and indiscriminate bomb attacks. They are continuing to forcibly recruit child soldiers and have even prevented civilians from fleeing the fighting in the North and East.”

    “It is a small step for all parties to the conflict to agree to allow access to independent human rights monitors but it would make a huge difference to the lives of ordinary Sri Lankans.”

    “Cricket is a great game and the Sri Lankan people are rightly proud of their ethnically diverse national cricket team, which symbolises the best of Sri Lanka,” said Purna Sen. “But hundreds of thousands of people have had to flee the fighting to live in temporary shelter — and so are not able to live in safety let alone watch cricket.”

    Amnesty International emphasised that it was not calling for a boycott of the Sri Lankan cricket team or Sri Lankan sports overall and is not campaigning in any stadiums in the West Indies.

    Public Document
    For more information please call Amnesty International’s press office in London, UK, on +44 20 7413 5566
    Amnesty International, 1 Easton St., London WC1X 0DW. web:

    For latest human rights news view

  • SH

    The statement from the free media movement doesn’t sound very convincing. Especially as people have pointed out in some of these comments that displaced people in the North and East may not even be in a position to watch the cricket.

    I was wondering, if someone could outline what would have been a more effective way to achieve what Amnesty has set out to achieve through this campaign?

  • An interesting commentary on AI writ large can be found in The Economist of 22nd March 2007. The points brought up in this article about the enlarged mandate of AI as seen by those in charge of its global operations helps shed light on the campaign in the West Indies enumerated above.

  • punitham

    Diverting attention away from the real problem is precisely what successive Sri Lankan governments have been excellent at: their damage control exercises, most notably at UN sessions over the last 25/30 years, are pushing the solution further and further. Anybody should cringe at:

    Leo Kuper in Prevention of Genocide( 1985 ) commented on the failure of the United Nations Sub Commission on Human Rights to condemn the genocidal attack(July 1983) on the Tamil People:
    “….there were also political currents observable in the alignment of members, though I could not altogether fathom the geo political considerations involved. In the end a very mild resolution was passed calling for information from the Sri Lanka government and recommending that the commission examine the situation at the next meeting in the light of the information available. There was, however, only a bare majority for the resolution (10 for, 8 against and 4 abstaining). It is unfortunate that the United Nations did not take a firm stand at this stage… That even this mild resolution adopted on 5 September 1983, calling upon Sri Lanka to provide information was opposed by 8 states with another 4 abstaining is not without significance ….”

  • sumane

    I have not kept a copy of the brief note I wrote in response to Sara’s article on Amnesty International campaign, Sri Lanka- Play by the Rules. Let me begin with two points with which I am in basic agreement. There has been gross violation of human rights in Sri Lanka particularly in the Eastern province. When I say human rights I do not confine myself referring only to citizen rights. These violations should be condemned and steps should be taken to stop them asap. The second point with which I am in agreements is that the Amnesty International is an organization that stands for the protection of human rights in many countries. Let me also add: Had the Amnesty International or any other international human rights organizations launched a campaign targeting Sri Lankan Embassies, and International Fairs in which the Sri Lankan Government has made representations, I would have applauded and supported such campaigns.

    Can we say the same thing about this campaign? As Sara pointed out, according to the AI, “the campaign is not targeted at the Sri Lankan cricket team.” If we accept this “defensive” turn by the AI, the campaign is in itself illogical, irrational and would not produce intended results. I think on this point, Liz Phillipson is correct when she argued that AI has planned this campaign not to allow Sri Lanka to “comfortably enjoy other aspects (like sports) of international interaction”. Its main objective is to make the Sri Lankan cricket team embarrassed in the West Indies and create a psychological impact so that the team cannot fully participate in the game. AI would have expected that the resultant failure of the Sri Lankan cricket team would be viewed by the team members and the Sri Lankan fans as a result of the embarrassment caused by human rights violation of the Sri Lankan government. So a pressure will build up against the GoSL and its human rights violations. This is a logical agenda. If the AI or somebody else can convince me that it would work according to this blueprint, in spite of my sad feelings about the possible failure of the Sri Lankan cricket team, I would go with it.
    Let us consider the hypothetical case that it went on as it was planned. What would be the immediate reaction of the Sri Lankan team and the Sri Lankan people in general? Would it help in improving Sri Lankan human rights situation? Would it al least facilitate in building strong human right movements in Sri Lanka? I would answer both questions in negative. It would discredit the AI in Sri Lanka and the people who have sympathies with AI work. In this sense the campaign would be totally ineffective even destructive. (like Anti-War Front campaigns against the war in Sri Lanka)

    Campaign is immoral due to two reasons. International cricket is not apolitical. There has been a continuous conflict between Australia, NZ and England on one side and India, Pakistan, West Indies and Sri Lanka on the other side. Imperialism and racism as well as ‘third worldism’ are operating in the muddy field of international cricket. In this context, does WHITE ball symbolize an unhidden agenda?

    Sara also mentioned about the absences. The question can be posed as to why the AI had not decided to target the cricket teams of other human right violator countries. Was it because of the magnitude of HR violations in Sri Lanka? Was it because that targeting one country makes the campaign effective?

    We should not come to a priori conclusion that everything the organizations like AI do are correct. Every actions should be subjected to critical review even the bonafides of the organization is solid. Pressure groups may be subjected to varying pressures including the pressure of “capital”. Civil society may sometimes be “uncivil”.

  • cyberviews

    This is in response to SH’s request for ideas on what would have been a more efective way for AI to conduct this campaign.

    Firstly, it has to be said that comments, critiques and advice provided with the benefit of hindsight cannot and should not claim a superior or even equal wisdom to that of the orginators of such judgments, decisions and actions. Hindsight is a powerful knowledge template that combines memory and learning, allowing actors and observers to review objectively past courses of action and, if they are wise (and perhaps humble) enough, to utilize such knowledge for better and effective judgements, decision and actions in the future. The humility factor on the part of the observers comes in at the point they provide their critique and feedback, especially where such initiatives are well intentioned responses in a given setting. (In this context, I find Sumane’s analogical remark about the Anti-War Front campaigns in Sri Lanka being “totally ineffective even destructive”, a nonhelpful application of hindsight that lacks the quality of humility. Many of us who attended the peace rallies- this includes many of the key figures in the civil society movement, did so, because it was the only credible act of resistance at the time. This was despite the concerns about the credentials and antecedent actions of the key organiser/s. We also did not have the beneifit of hindsight in terms of subsequent actions and behaviours of these actors, which I agree have not only brought to nought these efforts, but also helped strengthen the resistance to future efforts. I also find Sumane’s attempt to read into the AI campaign an ulterior motive of putting pressure on the GOSL regarding its human rights violations by bringing about a failure of the team through psychological means, or the insinuation about the symbolism behind the “white” ball, a bit convoluted and farfetched. It is also revelatory of a mindset and position that is subtly tilted towards those nationalistic, chauvinistic forces who see a conspiracy behind every bush. While I agree that we should not come to an apriori conclusion that everything that organizations like AI do are correct, I do not subscribe to the conspiratorial views concerning organizations like AI ).

    It is with these preambulatory thoughts that I like to address SH’s request, which challenges those providing the critique and and analysis, not to stop there but to provide altertnate and remeidial schemes using the benefit of hindsight.

    I like to make some sugestions in terms of general principles that an interantional organisation like AI must consider in formulating a campaign of action at the international level.

    1) The need for a more thorough problem analysis to identify: causal mechanisms and agents both active and sympathetic; the communities of concern and the direct and indirect beneficiaries; the parties needing to be influenced; the ciriteria of success with a view to clearly arriving at the goal and objectives of the campaign.

    This should be done through consultation with key local, regional and international human rights organisations, who by being privy to knowledge from their particular perspectives will provide valuable inputs to the planning process.(I am aware of course ofthe need to protect local organizations and also the need to bring in the element of surprise in certain actions.)
    2) Adopting some form of game theory in understanding that in the given context how the spoilers, the media, the GOSL, the LTTE, other non-state actors , the international community and other organisations asscoiated with the action (e.g. ICC) would behave and tailoring the strategies to obtain maximum effect , with minimal energy displacement. Again the counsultative process mentioned earlier would be of great value in preventing some of the problems, that have resulted in the AI campaign coming surprisingly under criticism from even staunch defenders of human rights like FMM, and even having to make retractory statements in clarification which dilute the effectiveness of the campaign.
    3) Looking for possible collaboration and complementarity of actions to achieve greater effect – e.g talking to Human Rights Watch – who too are involved in international level action, e.g.the recent letters to the US Senate and the Vatican, which did not attratct the same reactionary emotive repsonses.

    The following are some specific actions I would suggest if I were to be part of these consultative brainstorming sessions referred to above. (Brainstorming exercises are meant to genrate creative thinking- hence all ideas are solicited however stupid they may be – and I would like these suggestions to be seen in that light!)

    1. Discuss with BBC the possibility of staging a debating programme on the lines of Tim Sebastian’s “Doha Debates” – speicific to the human problem in Asia
    A topic to deabte could be along the lines of the point made my Liz Phillipson: “Should a country with a poor record of human rights be allowed to comfortably enjoy other aspects (like sports) of international interaction?””
    2. Similarly the possibility of arranging a special progeamme on “Have your say” BBC, targetting Human Rights problems pertaining to conflict situations with AI and Human Rights Watch as commentators.

    3. Sumane’s idea regading a campaign targeting Sri Lankan Embassies, and International Fairs in which the Sri Lankan Government has made representations, is a good one.

    4. Establishing a presence at the Davos type summits to bring pressure on rich countries and businesses to play by the rules and ensure similar compliance on the part of the countries who are the recipients of their trade and aid.

    5. Lobby regional groupings like SAARC/Commowealth to incoporate stronger clauses into their charters concerning respect for human rights – seek collaboration with other bodies to do this e.g UN, ICJ etc.,

    6. Work though international trade union federations, to bring action through worker solidarity to reduce acts violative of human rights by states.

    7. Bringing regualtory mechanisms to ensure that countries with poor human rights records are restricted from doing trade with the rest of the world using a punitive scale of mild to harsh trade restrictions based on a suitable rating shceme.

    8. Using an international voting scehme, establish a set of awards on the lines of the Nobel Committee, for the worst human rights offenders in the world ensuring that it has prominent interantional media coverage. This should be done both at the county and at the interantional level.

    9. Set up a website like Cricinfo, providing various countywise statistics of human rights violators and violations with links to popular sites like Wikipedia.

    10. If these actions do not bring the desired result and the impunity continues, a more concerted effort to call for boycots (including sports boycots, conusmer boycots), trade sanctions and travel sanctions. (Consumer boycots of products manufactured using child labour or without respecting workers rights had a positive impact of reducing such misdemeanours in the garment industry.)

    I beileve now that I have given the lead that there will be other ideas in what could be a cyber brainstorming exercise that AI and other organizations could consider in their future interventions.

  • SH

    Cyberviews, thanks. This is what I was looking for. Think Sam asked a similar question in another post.

    This is probably not Amnesty’s role, but one area that may be important to address is educating people locally about the universal declaration of human rights, the basis for having it and the responsibilities of adhering to this. I dont think even the average person in affluent democratic countries such as Britain or the US is clear on this.

    Maybe work also has to be done on informing more people locally including non-English speaking groups about the role of organisations such as Amnesty. This leaves less room for governments etc to manipulate people.


    Thanks again. Will be reading with interest.

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  • SH

    Now that the world cup is over, I was wondering if it is still too early to make some coments on more effective ways amnesty could have carried out their campaign…or is human rights as transient as a game of cricket?

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