Mission Creep Causes Amnesty International to Lose Focus

Amnesty International started with the laudable but modest aim of supporting and if possible obtaining the release of prisoners of conscience. It would not defend those who had advocated, incited, or perpetrated violence, which is why it would not continue to defend Nelson Mandela once he avowed his leadership of Umkhonto we Sizwe.

But charities have their bureaucratic imperatives to grow, and they do so by moral imperialism. Here is the statement of purpose that I took from one Amnesty website:

Our purpose is to protect individuals wherever justice, fairness, freedom and truth are denied.

There is not much danger, then, of Amnesty working itself out of a job.

There were two examples of this moral imperialism in action reported in the British Medical Journal for April 10. The first concerned a report by Amnesty on the maternal mortality rate in the United States, which it said had doubled from 6.6 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1987 to 13.3 in 2006. This is five times the rate in Greece; moreover the rate of "women of color" was four times that of the rest of the population. "This," said the report, "is not just a public health emergency -- it is a human rights crisis."

Now it is obvious that a rise in deaths of 6 or 7 per 100,000 live births is a very bad thing, though whether the words "emergency" and "crisis" are the best ones to describe it is a matter of judgment. But why is it a very bad thing?

Is it a bad thing because there is a disparity between "women of color" and others? Clearly not: for if it were, it would be a problem that could be solved by the simple expedient of increasing the maternal mortality of those others, a solution too horrible to contemplate.