December 5, 1998

Column 20

On October the 6th, Amnesty International kicked of a campaign in the United States. This campaign is aimed at bringing attention to the human rights abuses in the United States, by the various Federal, State and local governments. It has been a couple of months since this campaign began and there are a couple of disturbing things I have noticed, since the start of this campaign. Most disturbing is the American media has pretty much ignored this effort by Amnesty International. It has not been covered in the news or on talk shows much. At the beginning of the campaign there were a couple of brief segments on the Morning Talk Shows, and a couple of the legitimate News programs gave it a bit of attention, but it was brief and I doubt if the message reached many people. Maybe Amnesty International is going about it the wrong way and there isn't enough sex and violence to make it attractive to the News Media, so perhaps they could use that to get the News Media's attention. Maybe stage a couple of fistfights and throwing of chairs for the camera's. Maybe they can even link some sort of oral sex scandal to the campaign as well. That would interest the Media, probably.

I think a lot of people on Death Row are frustrated with the seeming lack of aggressiveness on the part of Amnesty International. I have to say, A-I reminded me of a hungry person, going to the back door of someone's house, hat in hand, head down and humbly asking for a handout. I told a friend about this frustration of mine and she said perhaps, with such a strong support for the Death Penalty in the USA, Amnesty International feels they have to be diplomatic and not heavy handed with Americans. That makes sense, after all, Americans love to criticize other countries for their Human Right's abuses of people, as well as the injustices in their respective countries, but when it comes to taking criticism itself, Americans (for the most part) become outraged that anyone would have the nerve to criticize them. My friend also had the impression that (in the USA) Amnesty International was focusing on the narrower agenda because it makes more sense to start with the things that have more chance of success, so maybe that is why Amnesty International is focusing (in the USA) more on fighting against the Death Penalty for children. At the end of this, I will include a copy of a letter one of the other guys, here on San Quentin's Death Row, wrote to Amnesty International (USA) to express his disappointments with their campaign. I agree with some of what he says, but I also try to look at it from A-I's point of view and figure they put some thought into this campaign. So I assume they are doing the best they can, considering the political climate and public's support for the Death Penalty in the USA. I will also put the URL for the Amnesty International Website, so you can check out their report, if you want to. (I hope you will do so)

Although it is easy to blame Amnesty International (for the lack of attention in the USA on the campaign), I don't think it is fair. I think the blame belongs with an American News Media, which seems to care more about peoples sex life, than about things of substance. I guess it reflects a lack of real reporting talent in our News Media, so to compensate for the lack of talent, they tend to go for the lowest common denominator, i.e.: sex and violence, rather than things of substance. To be fair, a few of the legitimate News programs (like Nightline) have tried to pay attention to these sorts of topics, but they are more of an aberration . . . News that has substance and makes you look at the topic in a way that makes you think. Unfortunately Americans seem to prefer the pseudo News shows that focus more on the fluff and sensational topics.

That's it for this one, a bit short, but I just wanted to talk about this campaign that A-I kicked off. Here is the URL for their website and also the letter that was written by one of the other guys here on SQ's Death Row.

Amnesty Internationals url http://www.rightsforall-usa.org/info/report


p.s. here is the letter I mentioned.

Douglas Scott Mickey
San Quentin State Prison
San Quentin, CA 94974
October 14, 1998

AIUSA Campaign Office
304 Pennsylvania Avenue, SE
Washington, D.C. 20003

I just received the Fall 1998 issue of Amnesty Action and have read the article on page #3 titled "RIGHTS FOR ALL: Launch of the USA Campaign". In this article A-I USA states "We will campaign on . . . the death penalty (specifically, the execution of juvenile offenders) . . . " Further on the article states "the execution of juvenile offenders are not lesser violations because they occur" In the United States. If, as this article suggests, the execution of juvenile offenders is the specific issue which A-I USA will campaign on, than I am deeply disturbed by A-I USA's limited awareness concerning the extent of the human rights violations connected with the death penalty in the United States. Although the execution of juvenile offenders in the United States is a tragic human rights violation:

1. Is the execution of mentally ill adults in the United States a lesser violation of human rights?

2. Is it a lesser violation of human rights if innocent adults are executed In the United States?

3. Is it a lesser violation of human rights if there is racial disproportionality amongst those adults who receive the death penalty in the United States?

4. Is it a lesser violation of human rights when there is blatant intercase disproportionality amongst those adults who receive the death sentence? (i.e., a prosecuting county sentences a person to life after being convicted of murdering 10 people while another person from the same county receives the death penalty for killing one or two people)

5. Is it a lesser violation of human rights when the fast majority of those Condemned to death in the United States are those who cannot afford to hire experienced attorneys; i.e., the poor and undereducated?

Along with over 400 other hopeful men on California's Death Row, I watched A-I USA launch its "Rights for All" campaign - not with a roar - with a whimper. After fifty years of fighting human rights violations in other parts of the world it seem that A-I USA should be more prepared than it is, for launching an effective campaign against human rights violations in the United States. Yet, the Amnesty Action article states ""the work on own country" rule is intended to present Amesty's impartiality . . . However A-I USA's record against human rights violations speaks for itself, and it says that for the past 90 years A-I USA has been anything but "impartial" when it comes to addressing human rights violations in the United States.

More over, the article states that the "work on own country" rule is intended to "protect activists by restricting their efforts on specific cases close to home". If the United States is such "a powerful symbol of freedom and democracy", as A-I USA claims, than why would A-I USA restrict the USA campaign efforts of its U.S. activists out of concern for their own protection? The docile launching of this so-called campaign gives the appearance that A-I USA might be more concerned about offending its American contributors and protecting the organization's funding by proud defenders of freedom and democracy.

In other words, A-I USA's "Rights for All" campaign is not being launched with a decisive voice of moral authority; rather, it seems to have its hat in its hand and speaks with a reluctant, apologetic voice--as though A-I USA's international membership put a gun to its head in order to get A-I USA to launch a token campaign against human rights violations in the USA.