Human Rights,  International

Amnesty’s Awful Ad

I’ve just got an email from Amnesty International appealing for money to run their new advert on the side of bus shelters in New York. The email describes the advert as “hard hitting”. This is the advert:

More Die In Darfur

I think the advert is a total waste of money. It isn’t hard hitting, it’s hard to understand. It says absolutely nothing, fails to inform people of any facts, context and doesn’t tell them what they need to do. It points the finger at an abstract entity (“UN Member States”) as if a person waiting for a bus has any influence at all in that arena.

It claims that these UN Member States “delay” – but the advert gives no clue about what the delay is, much less what’s causing it.

In the small-print it says “300,000 dead. Demand action” – but demand action from whom? And what action? Who is supposed to do what? Where? How? We aren’t told. Under that is a request to text “darfur” to 90999. But why? Is this a petition? A premium rate fund-raising number?

The accompanying email explains that the idea is to put these on bus shelters around the UN building in New York. Do ambassadors take the bus? Apparently it’s targeted at them. But the “300,000 dead. Demand action” call seems addressed at us, the people, not our representatives, further adding confusion as to who is supposed to be asking who to what.

The email explains:

“While governments delay, all sides of the conflict continue to commit unspeakable abuses–rape, murder, forced displacement–against the civilian population of Darfur. Recently, Sudanese security forces attacked a refugee camp in South Darfur, killing an estimated 47 displaced persons—including women and children. This tragic loss is a chilling reminder of the consequences of inaction.”

Couldn’t that be on the poster?

It also says:

“Please help us take this hard-hitting message to UN member states who have failed to deliver on promises made 15 months ago to provide peacekeepers, helicopters, and other critical resources to help end the mass killings in Darfur.”

Couldn’t that be on the poster instead of a meaningless map of Africa?

This advert is a waste of space, and since Manhattan ad-space costs, a waste of money. I simply cannot believe that this advert was audience-tested or put through any focus group screening.

But, crap advert aside, the very legitimate questions remain:

  • Where are the peacekeepers?
  • Where are the helicopters?
  • Where are the resources?

In fact, what the hell has the UN been doing about Darfur in the last 15 months?

If you think I’m wrong about the general crappyness of this advert and you want to sponsor it, you can do so here. Apparently, your donation “will support vital efforts by Amnesty International to protect the still-vulnerable people of Darfur, and defend human rights wherever they are threatened around the world.” I wish, apart form paying $6000 a week for this ridiculous advert, it was explained how money raised could help.

After all, Amnesty International has identified lack of resources as the key problem. And they’re not short of ideas about what is lacking and what is needed. They submitted a very thorough proposal to the UN back in February, and there’s a huge amount of material on their website on the region. So, if effective media is beyond their grasp, perhaps a way for people to donate directly towards resourcing what needs to be done would be a good alternative. But something tells me that money for helicopters isn’t really the issue.

Perhaps it is the case that the proverbial elephant in the room is the lack of political will on the part of the UN Security Council to do anything at this stage. And no amount of money is going to change that. For example, in September, David Lanz, a researcher with the United Nations Mission in Sudan submitted a detailed report. In his introduction he noted:

“On the morning of 14 July 2008, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), submitted a request to the judges of the pre-trial chamber to issue an arrest warrant against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. Later in the day, Moreno-Ocampo held a press conference, where he presented evidence alleging that al-Bashir had committed genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur. Human rights activists saluted his courage and praised his move as a milestone in fighting impunity and deterring crimes in the future. Arab and African heads of states rallied behind Al-Bashir, castigating Moreno-Ocampo’s decision as an attack on the principle of sovereignty or, more bluntly, as an act of Western neo-imperialism.”

This reaction, he says, “stands as a microcosm for the international response to the Darfur crisis: there is a lot of noise and there are many actors with good intentions, but their interests and strategies differ so starkly that their combined voices appear incoherent and ultimately cancel each other out.”

Lanz’s analysis lists the various tensions and contradictions in some detail, but one – tough one – stands out.

“The establishment of war crimes tribunals since the end of the Cold War has provoked a debate about whether the pursuit of justice in times of war hinders efforts to make peace between warring parties. In 1996, an anonymous writer in the Human Rights Quarterly famously criticised the role of the human rights community and the The Hague tribunal for the former Yugoslavia: “thousands of people are dead who should have been alive – because moralists were in the quest of the perfect peace.” The writer also added: “if one wanted peace, then one had to accept the principle that whatever the parties could agree to freely was acceptable to the peace negotiators.” This anonymous statement seems exaggerated, but it does reveal a tension between peace and justice, between providing warring parties with incentives to stop fighting and trying them in war crimes courts. The genocide charges against Sudanese President al-Bashir raise similar questions and have sparked heated debates. Some observers fear that al-Bashir and his ruling clique now have nothing to lose and will expel peacekeepers and humanitarians and escalate violence against civilians in Darfur.”

He also notes that “the [ICC] indictments divide the international community, Arab and African states being predominantly critical, while the West supports the ICC.”

Arguably, this division is what is paralysing a unified international response through the UN. I urge people to read the rest of David Lanz’s report. Whether one agrees with all his conclusions or not, one is certainly left with the feeling that coughing up for some bus shelter ads ain’t gonna do the trick.

It is perhaps in recognition of these paralysing contradictions that the Amnesty poster doesn’t really specify who is being asked to do something, or what they’re being asked to do, or what we’re supposed to do except recoil in horror and hope Mastercard will make it better.