Amnesty International SG pushes for human rights across borders

Jana Ismail

Senior Staff Writer


Secretary General of Amnesty International, Salil Shetty, discussed the importance of human rights and how Amnesty International pushes for it on Wednesday, April 12, during a conference hosted by the Issam Fares Institute.

Before giving the floor to Shetty, Director of IFI and former Lebanese Minister, Tarek Mitri, introduced him as the 8th Secretary General of Amnesty International.

Since the beginning of his term in 2009, Shetty has worked on spreading the presence of Amnesty International across all borders through decentralizing the organization.

Many regional offices opened during his term, including the one in Beirut.

Mitri said it is important that Amnesty International is “not perceived as a Western organization but truly international.”

After praising the Lebanese and their resilience, Shetty opened the discussion by asking two questions: what difference can human rights make and what difference can we make.

First, Shetty talked about the demonization, repression and conflict present around the world. He also discussed how other parts of the world are now experiencing things that the Arab World has long been experiencing.

Shetty then criticized the “spread of rhetoric that dehumanizes and demonizes other on the bases of their identity” that the world has recently seen, giving the example of Trump and Erdogan, who exemplify the recent trend of leaders who use hate-filled rhetoric to spread negativity. In these times of conflict, the world is witnessing an onslaught on human rights.  

Second, Shetty described the global refugee crisis as the “greatest man made human disaster” and highlighted the plight of the refugees, who are abandoned and the “asylum seekers who find themselves in a limbo.”

Following that, the Amnesty International SG criticized the failure of the international community to rescue the refugees and help fight against human rights violations.

On the contrary, many countries such as the US and the UK continue to sell arms to countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, who commit atrocious human rights breaches. Shetty also condemned some UN Security Council members’ support of such countries.

Shetty believes that all countries should be held accountable because many major countries shamelessly prioritize trade and profit over the lives of innocent civilians.

As a result, doable actions that could prevent countless of atrocities – such as an arms embargo on Assad – are not applied, Shetty continued.

For those reasons, human rights are now needed more than ever, according to the Secretary General. The questions asked in the title of the conference are almost rhetorical, said Shetty.

On a more positive note, people have a major asset nowadays, and that is, the appropriate tools to demand change. But nothing matters more than people standing together.

“Human rights framework alone is lifeless, without people standing together and demanding justice,” said Shetty.

After emphasizing the importance of human rights with all that’s happening in the world, the speaker talked about the various areas of Amnesty International’s work: shining light on abuses, calling out governments and fighting for justice.

Moreover, the lecturer also tackled the subject of transitional justice, taking the example of the families of the Lebanese civil war victims, who continue to demand justice 27 years after the end of the war. The Lebanese government has the responsibility to take action and bring justice to these families, praising those who are continuously demanding justice.

“It bends the arch of history a little more towards justice,” added Shetty.

The activist didn’t limit his talk to the present, but also talked about the human rights violations of the future, with the main one being the use of drones and robots to commit crimes.

“When Artificial Intelligence kills, who can be held accountable?” asked Shetty.

On another note, Shetty talked about the history of Amnesty International, crediting the people’s power for everything the organization has been able to accomplish, especially since Amnesty International isn’t related to any political movement.

“It’s a movement of people for the people,” said Shetty.

The human rights activist concluded his lecture by encouraging the audience to join the petition they started against the United States’ Travel-related Executive Order.

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