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Dereliction of duty

Amnesty International’s glib sloganeering saves no one

Another week, another tweet from Amnesty International putting its metaphorical foot in its metaphorical mouth. The organisation must have run out of red hearts to signify Valentine’s Day, because it decided to opt for big red flags instead, posting the message “love is a human right” on its Twitter account.

This was neatly delivered in the form of the time-honoured “roses are red” poem, notwithstanding that whoever handles Amnesty’s social media accounts clearly didn’t understand the need for a poem to follow any semblance of metering.

This could be viewed as an innocent tweet celebrating the unmatched joy of finding someone with whom you can spend so much time that you inevitably grow to hate all of their horrible little habits, while they grow to hate all of yours and more. But Amnesty has form for tweeting out social justice proclamations so ill-thought out, and with such regularity, that you end up wondering if you’ve stumbled on a real-life crossover between Groundhog Day and April Fool’s.

It inculcates the idea that one person is owed love from another

The idea of love as a human right brings with it deeply troubling implications. First and foremost, it advances the idea that any one person could be owed love from another. Our cultural conversation has, in recent years, rightly focused on giving appropriate respect for people’s emotional and sexual boundaries, rejecting excuses for the cliché “doddery old pervert” to leer and grope at women’s bodies. Amnesty flies in the face of this by promoting the idea that “love” is something we can demand as our inherent right. If love is owed from one person to another, then there can be no respecting of boundaries.

Amnesty’s bizarre take on the intersection of what is and isn’t owed by and to a person, and the human rights issues arising therein, is a mast to which the organisation has already pinned its colours with its vacuous pontification on the issue of prostitution. In 2016, the organisation formally announced its support for the blanket decriminalisation of “consensual sex work”.

In doing so, it has lent its considerable clout to the position that we should prioritise the right of an individual to purchase sexual access to the inside of a (usually impoverished and destitute) woman’s body, over the right of that same woman to live free of violence, abuse and exploitation. Amnesty has a reputation as campaigning for human rights. By weighing in on this issue, the organisation has favoured the “human right” of punters to act upon their thirst for power over a woman or child who is reliant upon those same punters to survive.

Amnesty prioritises meaningless soundbites over tangible action

In recent years Amnesty has also waded into the so-called “Gender Wars”, with a particular penchant for trotting out the go-to corporate equality catchphrase: “trans rights are human rights”. This glib sloganeering demonstrates just how vapid Amnesty’s brand of commercialised and social media-centric campaigning has become. Take, for instance, a separate tweet in which the organisation declares:

“GOOD NEWS Israel has become the 27th country to ban the cruel and destructive practice of ‘conversion therapy’. Other governments must follow suit — nobody needs converting.”

Notably, Amnesty opted for the use of “nobody” versus “no body” — given the fact that it seems very much in favour of converting people’s bodies when their physical anatomy doesn’t match up with the gendered roles expected of — and imposed upon — them.

While entire chapters could be dedicated to listing the ways in which Amnesty prioritises meaningless soundbites over tangible action, it is far from the only organisation guilty of such behaviour. This human rights-lite approach to campaigning is a symptom of a deeper problem: the insidious corporatisation and commercialisation of human rights as point of public interest.

Too many organisations have bought into their own hype, and their involvement in the sector represents a watering down of difficult and contentious moral positionality in favour of increasing turnover year-on-year. Uninspired but digestible mantras, such as “sex work is work” and “trans women are women”, signify a retreat into only the most blandly palatable campaigning, for fear of rocking the political boat.

It is a dereliction of duty by such organisations when they prioritise social media identity and corporate growth over a commitment to upholding the rights of the most vulnerable, the most impoverished and the most in need. If Amnesty really do care about the human rights of those they claim to serve, it’s high time that it recognises that bending to the whim of corporate donors and social media cancellation mobs is the worst possible way to do this.

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