Amnesty International’s violations of human rights extend beyond Gaza: Amnesty International is defending actions by Abdimalik Oldon, an engine of hatred who targeted children the mantle of “human rights defender.” Such knee-jerk reactions erode Amnesty International’s moral legitimacy and put innocent people in jeopardy, writes Michael Rubin
It beggars belief. Amnesty International defines its core values as the desire to form “a global community of human rights defenders based on the principles of international solidarity, effective action for the individual victim, global coverage, the universality and indivisibility of human rights, impartiality and independence, and democracy and mutual respect.”
It was in this spirit that Rami Aman, the founder of the Gaza Youth Committee, participated in a Zoom call with Israeli peace activists. Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2006, however, decrees that “establishing any activity or communication with the Israeli occupation under any excuse is a crime punishable by law, and is treason against our people.” Aman’s exercise of “international solidarity” and “the universality and indivisibility” initially passed unnoticed by Hamas authorities until Amnesty International “research consultant” and “worker” Hind Khoudary learned about the Zoom call and reported Aman to Hamas.
The militant group arrested Aman, and he has not been seen since. Initially, Amnesty did not react, but only under pressure from other human rights groups did it acknowledge its researcher’s role and terminate her affiliation with Amnesty. Even then, however, it took almost a month before Amnesty labeled Aman a prisoner of conscience. Had it not been for the tireless efforts of United Nations Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer, it is likely that Aman’s arrest would have gone unremarked and unpublicized, and Amnesty would still rely on a researcher more committed to a political narrative and her own deep-seated hatreds than any objective understanding of human rights.
Alas, it now appears that Khoudary was not alone in abusing Amnesty International affiliation to pursue illiberal and hateful agendas, nor is the problem limited to the divisive Arab-Israeli conflict.
In a world where there are seemingly too few good news stories, the Abaarso School is a happy exception. In short, financial analyst Jonathan Starr wanted to do more than make money on Wall Street and so, in 2009, founded the Abaarso School of Science & Technology on a rural plain outside of Hargeisa, Somaliland. On a strict merit basis, the grade 7-12 school opened its doors to students from Somaliland and Somalia. Some students were the first in their family to attend secondary school; others were orphans. Abaarso prioritized critical thinking, and, in a culture where teachers often beat students, it instead treated students with respect.
The results were spectacular. In just a few years, Abaarso alumni, both men and women, won scholarships to the world’s top universities: Harvard, Oxford, and MIT, among others. In 2017, Anderson Cooper profiled the school on CBS’s 60 Minutes. (A fuller overview of the school and its success can be read about in founder Jonathan Starr’s It Takes a School). What makes Abaarso especially valuable is how many of its alumni have now returned to Somalia and Somaliland to build additional schools and teacher training institutes along its model.
Somaliland may be an impoverished and unrecognized country, but the groundwork is being laid for it to become a country of first-world schools. The Abaarso case also shows how much can be achieved with very little money when the political will exists. Simply put, Abaarso has achieved more with a few hundred thousand dollars than Somalia as a country has achieved with almost a billion dollars in annual U.S. aid.
Somalia and Somaliland are both socially conservative Muslim societies. Abaarso respects local culture. Classes may be co-ed, but girls and boys are otherwise segregated in their boarding school facilities. While early on in its existence, some regional clergy launched whispering campaigns against the school, its full transparency as well as popular pushback from families whose children attended ultimately quieted the matter and silenced agitators who were acting more on rumor than fact. Somali journalist Abdimalik Oldon (Cabdimaalik Muuse Coldoon) has long been obsessed with the school, posting accusations against it more than 200 times.
In the Somali parallel to the “pizzagate” conspiracy, Oldon has not only argued repeatedly on his Facebook page that Abaarso is a den of impropriety, but he has also stolen photos of minors attending the school on more than 100 occasions and, without any basis, alleged homosexual behavior. In a conservative society, this is enough to end students’ education or even encourage vigilante violence. Oldon has also waged an anti-Semitic campaign, (falsely) accusing many of the teachers of being Jews and therefore corrupting Muslims. While most of Abaarso’s teachers are Muslim or Christian, the accusation is not only preposterous but runs counter to Somaliland’s generally tolerant political and religious culture.
Enter Amnesty International, which took up Oldon’s cause and defended him as a “social activist” and “advocate for human rights.” Authorities asked Amnesty how labeling false accusations of homosexuality, posting pictures of minors without their consent, and anti-Semitism constituted either social activism or human rights advocacy but received no reply.
In effect, Amnesty International is defending actions by Oldon, which are little different than those of Khoudary. While Somaliland’s leadership subsequently granted Oldon a pardon, blind acceptance of Amnesty pronouncements in effect granted an engine of hatred who targeted children the mantle of “human rights defender.” Amnesty’s leadership should be ashamed, but, as with the case of Khoudary, they appear more concerned with circling the wagons than with rooting out the rot that makes such pronouncements possible.
Such knee-jerk reactions erode Amnesty International’s moral legitimacy and put innocent people in jeopardy.
Arab politics, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Horn of Africa
Bio & Experience
Michael Rubin is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where he specializes in Iran, Turkey, and the broader Middle East.
A former Pentagon official, Dr. Rubin has lived in post-revolution Iran, Yemen, and both pre-and postwar Iraq. He also spent time with the Taliban before 9/11. For more than a decade, he taught classes at sea about the Horn of Africa and Middle East conflicts, culture, and terrorism, to deployed US Navy and Marine units.
Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).
Dr. Rubin has a Ph.D. and an MA in history from Yale University, where he also obtained a BS in biology.
- Foreign Military Studies Office: Contract Analyst, 2012–present
- Naval Postgraduate School: Senior Lecturer, 2007–21
- Middle East Quarterly: Editor, 2004–09
- Coalition Provisional Authority (Baghdad): Political Adviser, 2003–04
- Office of the Secretary of Defense: Staff Adviser, Iran and Iraq, 2002–04
- Council on Foreign Relations: International Affairs Fellow, 2002–03
- Hebrew University (Jerusalem): Fellow, The Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations, 2001–02
- Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs: Fellow, 2000–01
- Universities of Sulaymani, Salahuddin, and Duhok (Iraqi Kurdistan): Visiting Lecturer, 2000–01
- Yale University: Lecturer, Department of History, 1999–2000
- Iranian Studies: Assistant Editor, 1994–97
Ph.D. and MA in history; BS in biology, Yale University
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