John Dalhuisen Switches Tactics, Not Sides

Just a year ago, John Dalhuisen was the director of Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia division, and was saying things like this about the deal to stop illegal migration into Europe from Turkey:

Today marks a dark day in the history of refugee protection: one in which Europe’s leaders attempted to buy themselves out of their international obligations, heedless of the cost in human misery,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe.

And this:

“European governments have not just been fully aware of these abuses; by actively supporting the Libyan authorities in stopping sea crossings and containing people in Libya, they are complicit in these crimes….  You will see us in court.”

But shortly after issuing these rhetorical broadsides, Dalhuisen joined the very organization that created the Turkey deal, the European Stability Initiative. And today, an interview with him appeared in German in the FAZ in which he explains why he left Amnesty.

Although he takes pains to stress his former colleagues are admirable, hard-working people whose hearts are in the right place, he faults them for rigidly adhering to a no-compromises, maximalist rhetoric about human rights and migration which leaves no room for compromise and risks a massive political backlash (my translation):

It was the migration debate which spurred Dalhuisen to reflect on the question of whether the human-rights movement had grasped the scale of the challenge it faced — and whether Amnesty was still the right place for him. “Many Europeans have been unnerved by the arrival of a large number of migrants in the past years. Nobody should ignore this fundamental fact. Yet the human-rights movement tends to do just that.”…

Dalhuisen…believes that Amnesty and Western liberals share a risky conviction of the irreversibility of human-rights achievements. He is surprised by the untroubled self-confidence with which many supporters of open borders — and these include Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, and Doctors without Borders, whose demands would create de facto open borders — take the right to asylum for granted, as if it were somehow immune from any interference by political forces. They seem to treat the Geneva Convention on Refugees or the asylum articles of European constitutions as written in stone, a sort of law of nature. But this is simply not the case. The law of gravity cannot be abolished, but the Geneva Convention can, and so can the asylum rights guaranteed by national constitutions. Humans can destroy what they once created….

Dalhuisen’s complaints can be illustrated by a thought experiment: Imagine what Europe’s parliaments would look like today if European politicians had given in to all the demands of human-rights organizations during the past three years. If Macedonia, Hungary, Bulgaria, and other states had built no fences. If the EU had not signed the agreement with Turkey. If “safe and legal migration routes” had been created, as demanded by Doctors Without Borders, among other groups. If the stream of more than one million people per year not only continued, but perhaps even increased. If European reality had become a sort of endless loop of summer 2015. How would the elections have gone in France, Germany, or Italy?

“In that situation,” Dalhuisen suggests, “established parties who could not offer any solution to control immigration would have been swept away by the first party which could.”…

“It is a…political reality, that citizens in Europe want to see borders brought under control, and if necessary will elect parties which promise to meet this demand. The question, as a human-right activist, is whether I accept this reality and attempt, under these circumstances, to achieve the best possible conditions for protecting refugees — in the hope that some political actors will adopt these policies? Or do I insist on my perfect solution, without any concessions?” Dalhuisen thinks the path of compromise is correct because, in contrast to maximum demands, it offers a possibility of success. But established human-rights groups reject this view. They want to see the EU-Turkey agreement abolished, immediately. But what would happen after that? “Many human-rights activists tend to overlook the suffering imposed on the people they are especially interested in protecting by their own unwillingness to compromise.”…

He no longer wants to be a part [of the mainstream human-rights movement], because he did not join the human-rights movement to take comfort in the purity of his ideals, but rather to implement as many of them as possible. “Amnesty International and the human-rights movement have done an enormous amount of good in general. But if they don’t adapt to the challenges of our time, they will sink into obscurity, while human-rights treaties which took decades to achieve will be swept away.”

If large majorities of voters want X to happen, but lawyers and activists claim that X is prohibited under existing laws, then voters will change the laws to get X. That’s a feature, not a bug, of how democracy works. Kudos to Dalhuisen for making these arguments publicly. Presumably he will soon publish something in English.

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