Letter: AI fights for the 'disappeared'

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HAS AMNESTY International made human rights violations worse? ('Disappearing tricks', 5 December.) Having posed this provocative question, Caroline Moorehead left it unanswered. Let me do so now. The answer is NO.

The burden of these violations lies at the feet of governments, of armed political groups, and of the international community. It certainly does not lie at the feet of Amnesty International which, far from being composed of 'liberal, well-meaning Westerners', is an international organisation with members in every corner of the globe.

The article creates a false impression about the nature of Amnesty's work. Our work for prisoners of conscience is accompanied by equally active work against 'disappearances', such as our current international initiative 'The Lives Behind the Lies'. This campaign against political killings and disappearances is the largest we have mounted. It shows that behind the apparently overwhelming statistics lie real people with real lives shattered by these atrocities.

No one is more vocal on behalf of the 'disappeared' than Amnesty International. At the launch of this campaign, Amnesty warned that 'disappearances' and political killings will be the major human rights issue of the 1990s. We warned that the international community is failing to stop them, and that governments guilty of mass killings and 'disappearances' are repeatedly shielded by allies more concerned with strategic interests than human rights.

This shift in human rights violations is more to do with the changing world order to which Amnesty International is having to respond. There have been country-by-country changes, sometimes in response to domestic circumstances, sometimes resulting from the break- up of states or massive civil unrest such as witnessed in Bosnia or Somalia.

Amnesty International disagrees with Caroline Moorehead on one final point: the suggestion that nothing can be done to tackle 'disappearances'. A great deal can be done. International pressure on individual countries can lead to the 'disappeared' returning alive. For example, in Morocco in 1991 international pressure (which included a major Amnesty campaign) led to the release of almost 300 'disappeared', some after more than 18 years in secret detention.

Amnesty needs public support for its work, not misplaced criticism.

David Bull


Amnesty International,

London EC1