Sunday, February 07, 2010

Why not to support Amnesty International

Why stop supporting Amnesty? (according to Flesh is Grass)
They have suspended the head of their international secretariat’s gender union Gita Sahgal, ostensibly because of this interview with The Times [of London]. Sahgal objects to Amnesty’s involvement with the apologist for terror, Moazzam Begg, in the charity’s Counter Terror With Justice campaign [in Britain].
For the full posting at Flesh is Grass:  Defend Gita Sahgal from her employers - Amnesty International.

See the excellent comments by Terry Glavin: No Support For Amnesty International Until It Reinstates Gita Sahgal, Cuts Jihadist Ties.

There's also a Facebook group calling for Sahgal's reinstatement.

Harry's Place has a longer article by Lucy Lips - Amnesty in Cageprisoners Row: Dynamite! about the Times article on Sahgal.

They have also published Sahgal's letter of today, responding to Amnesty's suspension of her. It is worth repeating here:

Statement by Gita Sahgal
7 February 2010

This morning the Sunday Times published an article about Amnesty International’s association with groups that support the Taliban and promote Islamic Right ideas. In that article, I was quoted as raising concerns about Amnesty’s very high profile associations with Guantanamo-detainee Moazzam Begg. I felt that Amnesty International was risking its reputation by associating itself with Begg, who heads an organization, Cageprisoners, that actively promotes Islamic Right ideas and individuals.

Within a few hours of the article being published, Amnesty had suspended me from my job.

A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when a great organisation must ask: if it lies to itself, can it demand the truth of others? For in defending the torture standard, one of the strongest and most embedded in international human rights law, Amnesty International has sanitized the history and politics of the ex-Guantanamo detainee, Moazzam Begg and completely failed to recognize the nature of his organisation Cageprisoners.

The tragedy here is that the necessary defence of the torture standard has been inexcusably allied to the political legitimization of individuals and organisations belonging to the Islamic Right.

I have always opposed the illegal detention and torture of Muslim men at Guantanamo Bay and during the so-called War on Terror. I have been horrified and appalled by the treatment of people like Moazzam Begg and I have personally told him so. I have vocally opposed attempts by governments to justify ‘torture lite’.

The issue is not about Moazzam Begg’s freedom of opinion, nor about his right to propound his views: he already exercises these rights fully as he should. The issue is a fundamental one about the importance of the human rights movement maintaining an objective distance from groups and ideas that are committed to systematic discrimination and fundamentally undermine the universality of human rights. I have raised this issue because of my firm belief in human rights for all.

I sent two memos to my management asking a series of questions about what considerations were given to the nature of the relationship with Moazzam Begg and his organisation, Cageprisoners. I have received no answer to my questions. There has been a history of warnings within Amnesty that it is inadvisable to partner with Begg. Amnesty has created the impression that Begg is not only a victim of human rights violations but a defender of human rights. Many of my highly respected colleagues, each well-regarded in their area of expertise has said so. Each has been set aside.

As a result of my speaking to the Sunday Times, Amnesty International has announced that it has launched an internal inquiry. This is the moment to press for public answers, and to demonstrate that there is already a public demand including from Amnesty International members, to restore the integrity of the organisation and remind it of its fundamental principles.

I have been a human rights campaigner for over three decades, defending the rights of women and ethnic minorities, defending religious freedom and the rights of victims of torture, and campaigning against illegal detention and state repression. I have raised the issue of the association of Amnesty International with groups such as Begg’s consistently within the organisation. I have now been suspended for trying to do my job and staying faithful to Amnesty’s mission to protect and defend human rights universally and impartially.

And more on the recent history of Amnesty which seems to have led to their willingness to work with Islamists who support the Taliban, an article by Nick Cohen on Standpoint.


  1. Rebecca,

    My views about AI (and HRW) have changed much over the years. Perhaps, it is their taking sides (and the wrong side, at that) - rather than adopting a neutral stand - in the Arab Israeli dispute. Now I see that the group is confusing the protecting of liberties with tacit - or, in Marxian language, objective - support for those who favor a return to the Middle Ages.

    My view may also be impacted by having studied Nietzsche at great length. Under his formula, there are no rights; only privileges. By that, I think he means that rights can exist only under a government/political umbrella of some sort. Groups like AI and HRW have ignored this point entirely, seeing a Utopian world of rights - without regard to government - believed in by all right thinking people, which, evidently includes even advocates for 9th Century theocratic rule.

    There is the point that these groups also practice, when they turn their guns at Western behavior (bad or otherwise), a dismaying negation regarding the facts of life outside of the West. That removes entirely the context in which the West operates - and this is not intended as a defense of how Western countries behave but, instead, an observation of how these groups examine such issues - whereby, if the West is involved, non-Western barbarism becomes largely irrelevant. That is certainly the case regarding the Arab Israeli dispute where, in effect, AI's position is that Israel should be dismembered (e.g. because AI supports the "right of return").

    In my humble view, if both AI and HRW vanished, the world would not be harmed one bit. In fact, it might do a lot to advance the cause of human rights. And, there are groups which really are dedicated to human rights but who do not act as advocates for the Middle Ages.

    Which is to say, it is good to see the dirty linen of AI exposed, just as it was good to read Robert Bernstein's blast against HRW.

    I still consider myself liberal. I do not, however, believe - and this would apply to the US Constitution as well - that liberalism is or should be a suicide pact. And, I think that groups that assist Medievalist revivals are no friends of human rights.

  2. On the whole, communicating with one's employer via a newspaper is not a sound plan if one genuinely wants to carry on working for that employer; certainly Employment Tribunals tend to see it that way.

    Equally, genuine whistleblowers usually want as many people as possible to be aware of the problem that they are blowing the whistle on. Providing an exclusive interview to one newspaper is not a good way of doing that.

    Of course there may be some perfectly valid reason why Ms Sahgal chose to speak only to the Sunday Times; for example, it may be that they were the only newspaper prepared to indemnify her against one or more potential libel actions as a result of her claims...