Amnesty International Responds To Wikileaks Controversy
By Mary Shaw
20 December, 2010
Human rights group Amnesty International was mostly silent for quite a while after the Wikileaks scandal hit the fan. Initially, Amnesty had responded only to a handful of select revelations that corroborated its suspicions of human rights abuses, like the airstrikes on Yemen .
Now Amnesty has released a much broader Q&A on the whole Wikileaks matter and freedom of expression. Below are some key excerpts.
Would prosecution of Julian Assange for releasing US government documents be a violation of the right to freedom of expression?
According to Amnesty International, criminal proceedings aimed at punishing a private person for communicating evidence about human rights violations can never be justified. The same is true with respect to information on a wide range of other matters of public interest.
At the very least, a significant number of the documents released by Wikileaks appear to fall into these categories, so any prosecution based in whole or in part on those particular documents, would be incompatible with freedom of expression.
Would prosecution of employees of the US government who may have provided documents to Wikileaks be a violation of freedom of expression?
US soldier Private Bradley Manning is currently in detention facing charges that include the leaking of national defence information.
While employees of a government have the right to freedom of expression, they also have duties as an employee, so a government has more scope to impose restrictions on its employees than it would have for private individuals who receive or republish information.
However, Amnesty International would be concerned if a government were to seek to punish a person who, for reasons of conscience, released in a responsible manner information that they reasonably believed to be evidence of human rights violations that the government was attempting to keep secret in order to prevent the public learning the truth about the violations.
Is it legitimate for governments to seek to keep their diplomatic discussions and negotiations confidential when they perceive it to be in their national interest?
Governments can of course in general seek to keep their communications confidential by using technical means or by imposing duties on their employees; it is not, however, legitimate for governments to invoke broad concepts of national security or national interest in justification of concealing evidence of human rights abuses.
Is Amnesty International concerned about the potential for harm to individuals as a result of the leaked information?
Amnesty International has consistently called on Wikileaks to make every possible effort to ensure that individuals are not put at increased risk of violence or other human rights abuses as a result of, for instance, being identifiable as sources in the documents.
However, risks of this kind are not the same as the risk of public embarrassment or calls for accountability that public officials could face if documents expose their involvement in human rights abuses or other forms of misconduct.
The full Q&A can be found at:
Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views appear regularly in a variety of newspapers, magazines, and websites. Note that the ideas expressed here are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Amnesty International or any other organization with which she may be associated. E-mail: [email protected]