It is easier to function in Norway than in other countries: Amnesty International
First of all we would like to thank Mr. John Peder Egenæs on behalf of The Oslo Times for accepting our invitation to share your candid views on Amnesty International and the present situation of human freedom and the AI’s efforts with regard to ensuring and striving for fundamental human rights in each and every country of the world we live in.
“While during an interview session with him, I found him a noble person who strife for peace and democracy. An intellectual with values of mannerism and ethics…” – Hatef Mokhtar – Chief Editor of The Oslo Times
It is indeed a privilege to have you on The Oslo Times panel of exclusive interviews and we feel truly proud in welcoming you here.
TOT: For a long time Amnesty International has been based in Norway. What are its most significant achievements?
John Peder Egenæs: It is difficult to state precisely what our most significant achievements have been. In the 49 year history of Amnesty International in Norway we have contributed to protect and support countless victims of human rights violations, we have also contributed to Amnesty International’s struggle against the death penalty which more than 100 countries has abolished in this period, and to the establishments and general ratification of such important mechanisms as The UN Convention Against Torture and the establishment of The International Criminal Court.
In addition to this we have been a central actor in the national human rights community growing steadily until we today have around 100.000 members and activists.
TOT: Has any government, other than the Norwegian, supported AI in a way that can be applauded as really remarkable? Please dilate on this.
John Peder Egenæs: First of all it is important to state that AI doesn’t accept government funding. This is an important principle for us in our work in staying independent of any government. Having said that governments, both those that in general support our cause and those who strongly oppose us, can’t ignore us. Amnesty’s position as a credible and important human rights movement is such that it is impossible to ignore our reports and actions.
Apart from that I don’t think we have, or even wish to have governments as our “sponsors” or long term allies, as this might be seen by others as if Amnesty is siding with one or the other government.
TOT: Is it easier for AI to function in Norway as compared to the other regions of the globe? If so, please elaborate.
John Peder Egenæs: It is of course a lot easier for Amnesty to function in Norway than in a lot of other countries. Some countries don’t even accept Amnesty in them, neither our researchers nor any national section.
TOT: It has been observed by many international relations experts as well as human rights activists that despite the AI’s best efforts the increase in violation and suppression of human rights is increasing or continuing in certain countries of the world. How will you explain this?
John Peder Egenæs: First of all I would like to point to the fact that since Amnesty was established in 1961 the general trend in the world is a larger acceptance of human rights as a force for good, and a growth in many state’s respect for human rights. I believe it is enough to point to the developments in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the greatly reduced number of military dictatorships in Latin America and Africa to mention a few examples. I am not claiming that these developments are results of Amnesty’s work. But I do believe that Amnesty and organizations like Amnesty have contributed to the fact that human rights can no longer be totally ignored by any state.
Having said that I am of course fully aware that in many states and regions human rights violations of the gravest nature are still the order of the day. That is why Amnesty and our members are working so hard to influence these situations both in the cases of individuals and in more systemic ways.
After having worked professionally with human rights for more than twenty years I have learnt that the “human rights revolution” does not bring changes over night. It is a long and laborious struggle. Still we can point to the fact that in general the trend is a development in the right direction.
TOT: Now we would like to know about the challenges that lie ahead for Amnesty International in its campaign for ensuring the implementation of the UN Universal Human Rights Charter all over the globe?
John Peder Egenæs: The challenge is the same as it always has been. To persuade the heads of state, the heads of large companies and the leaders of the international community that human rights is not a hindrance to development, stability or a luxury that only a few can afford. Rather than human rights is the path on which one must venture to establish real peace and prosperity. Along the way to this we need to protect and support as many individuals as possible.
TOT: Coming to the snags and obstacles that your organization faces in several parts of the world, we would be pleased if you can shed light on this in detail, for the sake of our readers.
John Peder Egenæs: There are of course a lot of “snags and obstacles”, as you put it. We have since our establishment been criticized for having different agendas. We have been called both communists, part of CIA conspiracies and anti religion, depending on the values of our opponent.
Today we are seeing that some authoritarian states are prospering economically and using this as an argument against fully respecting human rights, and we are witnessing a growing concern with armed groups that in some cases are being used to argue why human rights have to take the back seat to security. All of these developments are developments we have encountered before, but maybe with other actors than the ones we are seeing today. Still we have to keep arguing the opposite; namely that human rights in the long term is the only feasible way to create sustainable conditions for prosperity and security.
TOT: Now, coming to the most troubled spots in the world, you must be fully aware of the uprisings against the dictatorial regimes in Syria and Bahrain and even in Yemen. What are the AI’s most recent efforts in this regard and what are its future goals, objectives and prospects?
John Peder Egenæs: In the states that in one way or another have been influenced by the so called Arab Spring, Amnesty is actively pursuing different strategies. The strategies will vary with the situation in the country in question.
In Syria our role is to document in an independent way what is really going on as far as human rights and human rights violations are concerned. With this documentation we try to influence both the parties to the conflict, but maybe more importantly actors with influence on the same parties.
In a country like Egypt, which is more in transition than in open conflict, we are working with the local actors to try to make sure that the new political leaders will embed human rights in the laws and practices of the future.
TOT: Can’t the AI mull on the idea of forming an effective and neutral peace body comprising the Nobel Peace winners like Nelson Mandela, Suu Kyi, the three women who were awarded the prize in 2011 and others a group of influential world renowned champions espousing the cherished values of freedom and dignity of the human beings and the sanctity of guaranteeing fundamental human rights. Won’t the importance of the personalities on the international stage of modern day happenings, go a long way in achieving more for AI?
John Peder Egenæs: As far as I know several individuals of the kind you mention are already engaged in networks like the one you are describing. Amnesty cooperates with them relatively frequently from case to case. Our main task is to build a movement of individuals regardless of their background and make it as diverse and effective as possible.
TOT: There are other HR watchdog organizations too which have gained global importance now for instance the Human Rights Watch. Do you think the spurring growth of HR bodies worldwide will increase the significance of AI or decrease it?
John Peder Egenæs: I believe that the growth of the over all human rights movement in the world is a good thing. Unfortunately we all have more than enough to do. As far as the significance of Amnesty is concerned I believe that as long as the significance of human rights increases, the significance of Amnesty will increase. But we must be aware that we are not alone and that it is important to work with our colleagues in other NGO’s.
TOT: There is no doubt that AI supports all those people whose rights are oppressed and suppressed as well as supporting everyone in all parts of the world who happen to be prisoners of conscience. Yet the situation does not show any marked signs of getting better for the human rights activists. How will you explain this paradox?
John Peder Egenæs: I believe there is a connection between the importance and success of the human rights movement, and the risk for some human rights defenders. Seen from the vantage point of some of those in power human rights defenders have become more dangerous. This fact must inspire us who work with little risk to be even more vigilant and intelligent in our work to support, cooperate with and protect our colleagues.
TOT: Burmese anti-junta leader Aung San Suu Kyi came here to receive her Nobel Peace prize awarded to her two decades ago. What is your perception and reaction to her delay in receiving the coveted award more than 20 years after it was conferred on her?
John Peder Egenæs: The fact that Aung San Suu Kyi had to wait 21 years to give her Nobel Speech reflects poorly on the Government of Burma. But the fact that she finally was able to do so goes to my point that human rights work is for the patient, but it is an indication that we “win” in the end.