Amnesty loses face


Friday, August 10, 2001

Following a landmark libel case ruling, an investigative journalist has warned other reporters not to put their faith in human rights organisation Amnesty International as a reliable source of stories.

The warning was made by investigative journalist Greg Palast, following a libel case concerning an article originally published in UK Sunday broadsheet The Observer, in which certain allegations were made against the multinational mining company Barrick.

In part, Mr Palast based his allegations on an Amnesty International annual report which he considered to be a reliable source. As Amnesty originally made some of the allegations in question, Mr Palast expected the organisation to play a major role in the subsequent libel case. He was disappointed.

"There is no question that the great disappointment in this whole story is Amnesty International," Mr Palast told dotJournalism. "If people died in Tanzania they should be standing up shouting and screaming. If people didn't die, then they should be shouting about that too." After weighing up the available evidence, Mr Palast decided he would be safest citing the Amnesty research. "To be sued for citing an Amnesty International report is quite extraordinary,' he said. But more surprising, he said, was Amnesty's refusal to confirm or deny the allegations when the libel case was heard.

"Amnesty wants journalists to report their material. I would say to any journalist that they would be completely, utterly and absolutely insane to ever cite Amnesty again."

In response to these criticisms, Kamal Samari of Amnesty International told dotJournalism: "Mr Palast is entitled to his point of view. But Amnesty International has co-operated fully with the Observer's lawyers. Amnesty as you know is not a named party in these libel proceedings. It vigorously supports the right of journalists to express themselves freely, in a informed and impartial manner. It regrets any use of libel law to restrict the internationally recognised right of freedom of expression. And it still believes the Tanzanian government should carry out an impartial enquiry into the tragic events that happened there."

Amnesty added that it still has serious concerns about human rights abuses in Tanzania, specifically relating to killings by the security forces, torture and mistreatment in custody, arbitrary detention of opposition political activists and the continued imprisonment of at least two prisoners of conscience and the restriction of freedom of assembly, expression and association.

In response, Mr Palast told dotJournalism: "I've spent thousands of pounds of my own money in legal fees to prevent a statement in court that no one died in Tanzania. Not one word, not one document was provided by Amnesty."

Mr Palast has also been angered by Amnesty's lack of response to a letter from Barrick to human rights lawyer Tundu Lissu, which appears to imply that Amnesty had actually investigated the alleged killings and found no case to answer. The letter was made public by Mr Lissu and has been forwarded to Amnesty. In it, Barrick states: "The national and local governments have investigated, KMCL has investigated, and Amnesty International has investigated, and the conclusions have been the same - no one was killed in the course of the peaceful removal of artisanal miners by the government of Tanzania from the Bulyanhulu site in 1996."

After a reference to the Observer libel case, the letter urges Mr Lissu not to "repeat or republish in any way false allegations concerning the removal of artisanal miners" from the site.

Mr Palast said: "Amnesty has allowed Barrick to use its name without public objection. There have been several personal appeals by Bianca Jagger and others to Amnesty, begging Amnesty to make a public statement. Amnesty has remained silent."

colin.meek@which.net

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