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Parting Thoughts from Amnesty's Schulz

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Parting Thoughts from Amnesty's Schulz

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Parting Thoughts from Amnesty's Schulz

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SCOTT SIMON, Host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Romania after the Ceausescu's, the troubles in Northern Ireland, Darfur under the threat of the Jonjuweed (ph), prisoner abuses from Egypt clear across the world to Guantanamo and back. These events make up just some of past 12 years of William Shulz's life and career as an advocate of human rights.

Now William Shulz is stepping down from his job as executive director of Amnesty International USA.

He joins us from the studios of Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland. Mr. Shulz, thanks very much for being with us.

WILLIAM SHULZ: It's a real pleasure.

SIMON: And let's give you a kind of exit interview, if we can. As you leave, what are some of the issues and places that concern you most?

SHULZ: Well, of course, at the top of list has to be Darfur. The United States itself has called it genocide. But unfortunately, despite the commitment of the United Nations to a significant increase in the number of forces on the ground there, not only, of course, has Sudan refused to allow those forces entry but it's been virtually impossible to get countries to commit troops to go into Darfur and to really make a difference there.

SIMON: I want to talk a bit about your career over the past 12 years. I want to ask you, in Liberia in 1997, Charles Taylor reportedly told you that he was very concerned about your health.

SHULZ: Yes, that was one of the most interesting developments in my 12 years, when Charles Taylor in effect threatened me with assassination. It's a complicated story but let's just say the news media had gotten Amnesty's position on Mr. Taylor's election in 1997 incorrect, had implied that we opposed his election when in fact we took no position on anybody's election anywhere in the world, any position. But we did believe that those accused of war crimes should be brought to justice. Charles Taylor didn't like that and he had Milit(ph) Buchanan, who was his right hand associate, inform some of my colleagues that I should watch my back, even in New York City.

SIMON: You agreed, I guess, with the characterization of someone with Amnesty International to using the world gulag. Or you likened the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay to the old Soviet gulags. And setting the aside the debate over that word, let me put to you an argument that some critics had at that time. That you and Amnesty have been more critical of a detention center that holds 490 people as we speak this week than it has sometimes been over the imprisonment of tens of thousands by the Taliban or Saddam Hussein. Or for that matter, sometimes of China.

SHULZ: You know every U.S. Administration, every president has used human rights the way a bad cook uses a spice. They've sprinkled on a little oregano here and there to cover up policies that are really, have other intentions and purposes. Human rights are based upon an agreement that you respect the international community, that you consult others, that the rules apply to every country alike, even the most powerful. That you respect international institutions like the United Nations and the International Criminal Court. And the difference here is that this administration has sought to undermine that fragile scaffolding upon which human rights are based. And Guantanamo is symbolic of that, in that it represents a rejection of the most, perhaps most respected human rights treaty in the world, the Geneva Conventions. And it has become symbolic of the United States' thumbing its nose at that international community.

SIMON: Does terrorism also destroy human rights?

SHULZ: Absolutely, absolutely. And I have to say, Scott, one of the things that I have criticized the human rights movement for is failing to utilize our resources to go after terrorists and those who support terrorists with the same kind of enthusiasm that we have gone after governments which have committed human rights violations in the course of their counter-terrorist efforts. It is a tremendous indictment of the world community and indeed of human rights organizations that we have today no agreed upon universally recognized definition of terrorism. No international treaty on terrorism.

SIMON: In all your years nosing into various situations in parts of the world, did you learn something that surprised you that stays with you about people who commit human rights crimes?

SHULZ: You know, I think I went into this job assuming that people who commit human rights crimes are just evil people. And what became very clear to me over the years is that, yes, well of course you've got a few sadists thrown in here and there into the torture chambers, that basically human rights violators are not born but made. I think maybe it tells us at least something that's slightly positive about human beings, that they aren't necessarily prone to these kinds of outrages, that social context, leadership, opportunity and political agenda often will lead people astray.

SIMON: William Shulz, who's leaving his post as executive director of Amnesty International after 12 years. Thanks very much for being with us.

SHULZ: Thank you, Scott.

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