Keepers of the Flame

Keepers of the Flame: Understanding Amnesty International

Stephen hopgood
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Keepers of the Flame
    Book Description:

    "If one organization is synonymous with keeping hope alive, even as a faint glimmer in the darkness of a prison, it is Amnesty International. Amnesty has been the light, and that light was truth-bearing witness to suffering hidden from the eyes of the world."-from Keepers of the Flame

    The first in-depth look at working life inside a major human rights organization, Keepers of the Flame charts the history of Amnesty International and the development of its nerve center, the International Secretariat, over forty-five years. Through interviews with staff members, archival research, and unprecedented access to Amnesty International's internal meetings, Stephen Hopgood provides an engrossing and enlightening account of day-to-day operations within the organization, larger decisions about the nature of its mission, and struggles over the implementation of that mission.

    An enduring feature of Amnesty's inner life, Hopgood finds, has been a recurrent struggle between the "keepers of the flame" who seek to preserve Amnesty's accumulated store of moral authority and reformers who hope to change, modernize, and use that moral authority in ways that its protectors fear may erode the organization's uniqueness. He also explores how this concept of moral authority affects the working lives of the servants of such an ideal and the ways in which it can undermine an institution's political authority over time. Hopgood argues that human-rights activism is a social practice best understood as a secular religion where internal conflict between sacred and profane-the mission and the practicalities of everyday operations-are both unavoidable and necessary.

    Keepers of the Flame is vital reading for anyone interested in Amnesty International, its accomplishments, agonies, obligations, fears, opportunities, and challenges-or, more broadly, in how humanitarian organizations accommodate the moral passions that energize volunteers and professional staff alike.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6984-8
    Subjects: Political Science, Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. preface and acknowledgments
    (pp. vi-xvi)
    Stephen Hopgood
    (pp. 1-21)

    an open letter lies on the large, rectangular wooden table in the library of the International Secretariat (IS) of Amnesty International (AI) in London. It is late July 2003. The letter, which has dozens of signatures on it, is addressed to the secretary general, Irene Khan, and her deputy, Kate Gilmore. It comes after a packed meeting at which many members of staff expressed fears about the way in which the work of the IS is being transformed. The letter claims there has been a “lost opportunity to use IS expertise and experience” and a failure to appreciate “the possible...

    (pp. 22-51)

    what should we expect working life inside the International Secretariat of Amnesty International to be like? Going through the front doors is a daunting enough experience on its own. The IS is based on Easton Street, a side road just off Rosebery Avenue in northeast central London. Amnesty owns and occupies most of both sides of Easton Street, the separate buildings joined high in the air by an enclosed bridge, in the center of which is a large circular window.¹ The older part of the building, a decaying former paint factory, is No. 1 Easton Street, which has been the...

    (pp. 52-72)

    amnesty began life at the height of the Cold War, with John Kennedy in the White House, Nikita Khrushchev in the Kremlin, and the vast energy released by decolonization racing like wildfire through the politics of the south. In 1961, the UN went to war in the Congo (and UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjoeld was killed in a plane crash), the Bay of Pigs was an unmitigated disaster for the United States, and Paris waited for a threatened airborne invasion by rebel French army units from Algeria. And, of course, the Berlin Wall was built, the conflict between East and West...

    (pp. 73-104)

    “wounds on the body [are the] authentic authority of Amnesty.” These perceptive words are those of a senior director in May 2003. Prisoners of conscience, torture victims, these are Amnesty’s moral bedrock. If words are required to tell their story, they serve only as a transmission mechanism. They themselves must be devoid of moral content because the use of emotive words is redolent of persuasion, and persuasion is a signal that authority does not exist. Human rights—as international covenants, as customary law, as rhetorical demands for behavioral change—are an argument and, as such, rely ultimately on persuasion. Their...

    (pp. 105-145)

    robert frost, the american poet, said that a liberal was someone who could not take his own side in an argument.¹ This is the essence of liberalism’s claim not to be just another sectarian doctrine but to be a kind of “higher-order impartiality.”² It is grounded in the kind of morality we have been considering—one that claims its stance is detached, objective, and universal (i.e., disinterested). This was Amnesty’s position: we express no opinion on the argument, but we stand for the principle that no one should be imprisoned, tortured, or killed just for engaging in it.

    This form...

    (pp. 146-176)

    witnessing built a large sum of symbolic capital for Amnesty. Yet, even as it was being amassed, the claim to anonymous detachment on which it depended was eroding. Under globalizing modernity, all established authorities—those that see no need to justify their presumption of authority—are vulnerable. Doubts about the existence of an enduring singular truth translate into a concern with who the speaker is on the basis that behind all claims to impartiality lie interests and identities. Who you are affects your authority as much as what you say in such a world. Character, as much as conduct, becomes...

    (pp. 177-203)

    what is it, I asked a long-standing IS senior manager, that the keepers of the flame are protecting? He replied:

    One is that we lose the focus on the individual. And the second is that we lose the focus on countries. And that we only identify a small group of countries to work on and we then try and do thematic work. But you can only really do thematic work through knowledge about what’s happening in countries. And the problem with thematic action or campaigns is that the recommendations you make to governments are not country focused. So in a...

    (pp. 204-223)

    the perils and promises of turning moral capital into political authority could hardly have been better demonstrated than in Amnesty’s 2005 broadside against the U.S. government. When it called Guantanamo a gulag, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld replied that “those who make such outlandish charges lose any claim to objectivity or seriousness.”¹ For most of my year’s fieldwork, the secretary general had “advocacy, not impartiality” written in red on the whiteboard in her office. The gulag taunt, and the decision to make it, was a calculated example of that advocacy. It clearly stung U.S. officials, forcing the Bush White House...

  12. abbreviations
    (pp. 224-225)
  13. notes
    (pp. 226-242)
  14. bibliography
    (pp. 243-245)
  15. index
    (pp. 246-250)