Amnesty International Gets a Taste of its Own Medicine: Vatican Calls on Catholics to Reject AI

by Julian Ku

The Vatican is calling on Catholics to stop supporting Amnesty International due to that group’s apparent shift to support for abortion rights. Whether the Vatican is right to do this is a question for another day (AI’s position on abortion seems unclear), but what I’m interested in is the ability of one NGO (the Vatican) to pressure another (Amnesty International).

We talk a lot on this blog about the growing power of non-governmental organizations to affect and shape public and private regulations around the world. But we’ve talked less about ways that NGOs are restricted by the same tactics that they use to pressure national governments. Surely, the existence of this kind of inter-NGO pressure is a healthy thing, isn’t it?

7 Responses

  1. Julian,

    I would not describe the Vatican as an NGO. It has attributes of both an organized religion and a sovereign state. But it’s not a non-governmental organization.

    That doesn’t change the main point of your post of course.


  2. Julian,

    I tend to think of the Vatican as a tertium quid, neither state nor NGO. (Non-state actor, maybe?) More important, I think the “taste of its own medicine” part understates an imporant difference. Amnesty is primarily about vindicating HRs held against governments, which continue to exercise a unique degree of authority over the individual (if not a monopoly) and, as a legal matter, are uniquely constrained by the rights held against them. So I think an organization that keeps governments on the straight and narrow is not opening itself up to every kind of counterstrike; to bring in another metaphor, I think there’s a difference, sauce-wise, between gooses and ganders. Finally, as to the sauce (apologies if you are a vegetarian). Not all kinds of pressure are the same, and there are lots of ways for NGOs (or non-states) to improve one another’s accountability without resorting to boycotts, even putting to one side some of the unique characteristics of religious issues.

  3. I guess the classification depends on how you break down the Vatican. I think Seyersted’s nomencalture is best. The Holy See itself is a non-territorial sovereign community.

  4. If you look at it with some historical perspective, as an institution (NGO, religious organization, state (when it was a full-fledged one and in its current sui generis condition), lobby, and corporation) the Vatican is perhaps the worst violator of human rights ever. Considering furthermore that, except for very specific and strategic cases, it refuses to repent for any of its violations, it’s actually a good thing for Amnesty Internation that the Holly See is no longer associated with them, not even indirectly.

  5. AI is fast becoming, not only illrelevant, but an illogical, powerless organization.

    A slap down from the Vatican, of course, will mean nothing to them and just more fodder for AI’s few remaining supporters.

    Also the Vatican’s hold on the world is fast being reduced at a time when it is going to be needed the most.

    Papa Ray

    West Texas


  6. randomopinion, unforutnately for AI, the Roman Catholic Church is always going to be attached to their history as Peter Benenson, their founder, was a Roman Catholic convert in 1958.

    It’s unfortunate that people on the left and the right (of which we have full view of in the comments) forget that there was a religious and spiritual impetus to AI with Benenson (a Catholic) and Eric Baker (a Quaker) and that churches were often used in their “appeal to amnesty” campaign in the early ’60s. The first lit Amnesty candle was in St. Matin-in-the-Fields, I believe.

  7. Non liquet,

    You’re signaling members of AI for their personal religious beliefs, implying that such beliefs have had a direct effect on the principles and actions of such NGO, one that considers its independence from any religious or political option one of its main foundations. Unless you can offer solid proof and an irrefutable link between one thing and the other, your claim is beyond frivolous, it’s practically libellous.

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