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Posts Tagged ‘Gita Sahgal.

Amnesty And Oblivion.

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Gita Sahgal, the former Head of the Gender Unit at Amnesty International has a piece on OpenDemocracy which I think deserves reproducing in full as it raises many good points:

Salman Rushdie has said, ‘When people are told that they cannot freely re-examine the stories of themselves, and the stories within which they live, then tyranny is not very far away’. Forty nine years ago, this week, Peter Benenson struck a blow against tyranny by announcing the formation of a new organization to support forgotten prisoners who were jailed solely for their beliefs. 

This week, Amnesty International launches its Annual Report and starts year long preparations for a jamboree titled Amnesty@50.  From a small group of activists it has grown into a gigantic, global organization. And in many ways, has come to resemble the forces that it has done so much to oppose. Its record of handling one of the greatest challenges to its reputation suggests that it is entirely unable to examine the story of itself or the story of its times. So difficult is it for Amnesty International to provide a coherent account of what has happened over the last few months, that it has chosen to provide no account at all.

In his reports to the International Executive Committee circulated for ‘transparency’, the Interim Secretary General Claudio Cordone, has airbrushed out any mention of the  concerns that I forced Amnesty International to face when I went public with my complaint that the organisation has sanitized the reputation of Moazzam Begg, a former Guanatamo detainee. They have treated him as a human rights advocate, although he champions Anwar al Awlaki and al Timmimi.

Like all tryrants  – whether of the right and left, Amnesty International raised the spectre of an assault on human rights to avoid answering questions and  to imply that Amnesty International was under attack. This  helped  shut down internal debate or demands for accountability from its own  staff.  At first the managers suggested that Begg only expressed his experiences of detention; and that they did not promote his views  (suggesting that his views fell somewhat short of a belief in the universality of rights). Soon, they claimed that his views were indeed universalist but that he supported ‘defensive jihad.’ – which is, after all  waged to establish systematic discrimination.  Amnesty International felt that this view was not ‘antithetical to human rights. Although he published in a Muslim Brotherhood journal and  has associated with the Jamaat I Islami the senior leadership decided to endorse him as a human rights advocate, which they had refrained from doing before the crisis.

But at the AIUK AGM, Begg was not mentioned in reports of a European tour to advocate for the release of the remaining Guantanamo Bay detainees. Where they had previously had a picture of Begg at the door of Downing St with Kate Allen, this picture was dropped from the power point. No wonder, Amnesty is in a fix. They do not know whether they are valorizing Begg or dropping him.

I met Begg recently and told him that I thought that he had been true to his beliefs but that Amnesty had not been true to theirs. Nor has Amnesty International acknowledged their debt to Cageprisoners or the extent of their relationship with the organization. I intend to do the work that for them. Whatever my views on Begg or Cageprisoners, I do not think that a collective corporate amnesia is the right approach to take when finding a way forward.

Now they have announced an internal independent Review to discuss criteria for partnership. The reviewers have said that they are not investigating allegations against Begg, but only looking at procedures that were followed and to suggest criteria, in order that the organization can manage its reputational risk. Nor will they examine all available evidence, only any new evidence that might come to light. The problem is that no-one knows what evidence was examined, but there was plenty that was ignored.  Senior experts well known to Amnesty International were not consulted, even though at least one wrote to the Secretary General offering to give evidence at the time I was suspended. Could it be that the leadership would rather that their research and analysis looked shoddy and incompetent than admit I was right?

Most western human rights and civil liberties organizations have watched the unfolding crisis in a frozen and complicit silence. They say nothing because they too have committed similar errors of judgement, supporting proponents of radical Islam rather than simply defending their rights. Too often in Britain, entirely legitimate concerns about racism and the marginalization of Muslims are allied to the promotion of groups associated with the Jamaat I Islami and Muslim Brotherhood.

Their programmes of social control such as promotion of the hijab are supported quite uncritically. The actions of human rights advocates mirror those of governments from Chechnya to the UK. Recruit former insurgents or fundamentalists and subcontract them to provide surveillance and control over the mass of the population. Defeat one form of fundamentalism by supporting another.

Human rights groups have entirely ignored this story and as a result simply cannot tell the story of the times within which we live. There is a void, where there should be analysis of the organizational forms and ideological links of western Islamists. There is silence on ‘faith based initiatives as part of soft ‘counter-terrorism’ strategies. They cannot accuse governments without accusing themselves.

 Even internal dissent is met with expulsion as Marieme Helie Lucas, the Algerian founder of Women Living Under Muslim Laws, has recently explained. And that  raises the question as to whether there is a long term determined programme of support within human rights organizations for the political programme of Islamists.

Those who make this allegation are immediately accused of supporting torture or arbitrary detention. Shadi Sadr, the courageous Iranian lawyer who has been sentenced in absentia to lashings and imprisonment, has pointed out that while Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have rushed to condemn the niqab ban in Europe, not a word has been heard against increasing dress code restrictions imposed by the State in Iran and accompanied by draconian punishments.

But it is the bland justification that Amnesty works with everybody including the Catholic Church which has seemed distinctly unwise. I expect that the Church might object to being put in the same category as supporters of Salafi Jihadi politics. In any case, Amnesty should have spoken out against the complicity, cover up and abuse of children by those exercising religious authority. In the event, they stayed shamefully silent. As one voice, the leaders stood with the Catholic establishment and ignored Catholic victims. 

As Amnesty trundles towards its 50th anniversary, I will be working with others to ensure that whether Amnesty is covering up or cleaning up, whether the review provides any answers, the hidden history of human rights will be put on record. Peter Benenson said that we work in Amnesty against oblivion.  If human rights organizations can no longer tell their own stories, others will do it for them.

 

Gita Sahgal is a former Head of the Gender Unit at Amnesty International. She left Amnesty International on April 9th 2010 due to ‘irreconcilable differences’. You can read her statement on leaving Amnesty International here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by modernityblog

26/05/2010 at 20:55

Compromised.

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Please read Flesh is Grass’s Amnesty International is compromised.

My previous coverage of Gita Sahgal and AI.

Written by modernityblog

12/04/2010 at 19:50

Gita Sahgal On CBC.

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CBC’s The Current had an interview with Gita Sahgal on the 18th Febuary 2010:

“Amnesty Controversy – Sahgal

We started this segment with a clip of Moazzam Begg. He’s the founder of a group called CagePrisoners and a former prisoner himself at the United States Military Prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Since his release from Guantanamo, Moazzam Begg has been a high profile defender of the rights of others who have been imprisoned or detained in Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. Among other things, he has worked with Amnesty International, one of the most widely respected human rights groups in the world.

And that is when Gita Saghal decided she had to draw a line. She was the head of Amnesty International’s Gender Unit until she was suspended from her post last week, after she publicly denounced Amnesty’s decision to work with Moazzam Begg and CagePrisoners. She argued that Moazzam Begg promotes extremist views that are incompatible with the defence of universal human rights and that the Amnesty’s reputation is tarnished by its association with him. Gita Saghal was in London, England.

Amnesty Controversy – Secretary General

For Amnesty International’s view of the situation, we were joined by Claudio Cordone. He is the organization’s interim Secretary General and he was in London, England.”

The MP3 of the programme is here.

Written by modernityblog

20/02/2010 at 02:53

WLUML Statement in Support of Gita Sahgal

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WLUML has issued a statement:

“The Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) international solidarity network expresses its solidarity with Gita Sahgal, a longstanding ally of the network who is active in various organisations, collectives, and movements committed to upholding universal human rights. As a feminist, anti-racist activist, filmmaker and researcher, Sahgal has devoted her career to exposing systematic discrimination and rights violations by state and non-state actors in Britain, South Asia and internationally. Much of this work has included rigorous research into transnational fundamentalist movements, and their intersections with human rights, especially those of women. In addition, Gita Sahgal is the Head of the Gender Unit at Amnesty International (AI).

WLUML has learned that she has repeatedly, and to no avail, raised internal inquiries into Amnesty International’s association with the organisation Cageprisoners, headed by Moazzam Begg, around the Counter Terror with Justice Campaign. British citizen Moazzam Begg was abducted in 2002 by American and Pakistani intelligence officers in Pakistan, to where he had fled from Afghanistan with his family soon after the US-led ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ bombing of the country began in retaliation for the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Begg was held first in Bagram detention facility and Kandahar, then detained in Guantánamo until he was released by the United States in 2005. Begg has never been charged with any terrorist-related offence or put on trial. In a book about his experiences, Enemy Combatant, co-authored with Victoria Brittain, he states that in 2001 he believed “the Taliban were better than anything Afghanistan has had in the past 25 years” and he is one of the current advocates of dialogue with the Taliban. Cageprisoners campaigns “to raise awareness of the plight of the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay and other detainees held as part of the War on Terror”. Amnesty International’s Counter Terror with Justice Campaign calls for an end to human rights abuses at Guantánamo and other locations, and for those detained there to be brought to justice, in fair trials that respect due process. Gita Sahgal’s concern about a lack of transparency in AI’s partnerships led to Sahgal’s decision to approach the Sunday Times newspaper media about this issue. This resulted in an article by Richard Kerbaj published on 7 February 2010, entitled “Amnesty International is ‘damaged’ by Taliban link: An official at the human rights charity deplores its work with a ‘jihadist’” in which Kerbaj reports Sahgal’s suggestions that the charity has mistakenly allied itself with Begg and his “jihadi” group. The same day, Sahgal was suspended from her position as Head of the Gender Unit.
Read the rest of this entry »

Written by modernityblog

18/02/2010 at 02:46

Southall Black Sisters Respond.

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Southall Black Sisters responds to Amnesty International’s suspension of Gita Sahgal following her criticism of the organisation for its close association with Moazaam Begg:

“We are gravely concerned at the way in which Amnesty International has sought to address Gita Sahgal’s criticism of its close collaboration with the likes of Moazzam Begg. Clearly, it must be right for the Head of its Gender Unit to interrogate Amnesty International as to who it chooses to associate with without fear of being sacked?

We admire and respect the work of Amnesty International to get women’s human rights on the agenda and we support Amnesty International’s campaign to highlight the plight of those who have been tortured, detained without trial and denied due process. However we believe that Amnesty International’s stance is being rightly questioned by organisations like ours who struggle to ensure that the debate on the War on Terror and religious fundamentalism is not reduced to the logic of ‘either you are with us or you are against us’. We have sought to avoid such dead ends which fail to illuminate how and why human rights violations are perpetrated either by States such as the US, UK and Israel or by all religious fundamentalist movements that are on the rise around the world. As women’s organisations, we have fought against considerable odds, to ensure that women’s human rights and those of other marginalised groups and minorities around the world are universally accepted and addressed as such, especially in the face of violence and persecution by non-state actors, including all religious right wing forces who masquerade as anti-imperialist, development, human rights and anti-racist movements.

Failing to acknowledge concerns that Gita Sahgal and others have raised about those who sympathise with or have close connections with anti-democratic religious right forces in all religions including the Taliban, signals the view that Amnesty International is not concerned about the rights of women and sexual minorities or freedom of expression.

Amnesty International’s attempt to equate Gita Sahgal’s legitimate concerns with the demonisation of Guantanamo inmates as the ‘other’ by the neoconservatives and their allies in the West, in our view, amounts to a denial and abrogation of internal and external accountability. What we need is a proper debate, not a closing down of debate of these important issues.

When so called victims of the War on Terror advocate ‘engagement’ with combatants – perhaps necessary to achieve peace – why are they not challenged on the authoritarian social and political agenda that they support? We know from experience around the world, including post war Iraq that women’s rights are the first to be traded in such political settlements!

If human rights are universal and indivisible – a view which we believe we share with Amnesty International – then it becomes all the more incumbent upon us all to double check who we take on as our partners. If, like us, Amnesty International accepts that the question should not be about whether some are more deserving of human rights than others, then it needs to urgently review its collaboration with those who sympathise with all religious fundamentalist forces however difficult this may be. The time has come for all liberals working within the human rights arena to engage their critical faculties, not suspend or leave them behind for fear of being labelled Islamaphobic, anti-semitic or racist. There is another way of looking at human rights – one which does not trade women’s rights or those of other vulnerable minorities for either the right to security or for the right to manifest religious identity.

Women Against Fundamentalism and Southall Black Sisters”

[My emphasis].

Written by modernityblog

12/02/2010 at 03:31

Keeping Up With Gita Sahgal And Amnesty International.

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When an event like this occurs it is often difficult to keep track of whose covering it and what are they saying.

Gita Sahgal has been incredibly brave, putting her own job on the line, how many people, in reality, would do that? Too few. Amnesty International’s despicable treatment of her and the wider implications need highlighting.

Thankfully there is a web site which is keeping track of these events, the media coverage and comments.

Please do visit Human Rights For All.

Update 1: The Women Against Fundamentalism site is here.

Update 2: Variant magazine’s interview with Gita Sahgal in 2002 can be found here.

Update 3: Rahila Gupta has a good piece in the Guardian:

“Within hours of the article appearing she was suspended from her job by Amnesty for, as Gita says in her statement, “trying to do my job and staying faithful to Amnesty’s mission to protect and defend human rights universally and impartially”. And for some hours yesterday, negative posts on Amnesty’s website were being filtered out.

We welcome whistleblowers when they expose wrongdoing in government or the corporate sector. This is not, technically, a case of whistleblowing because none of these activities were hidden – it was a failure to join the dots on the part of Amnesty about which a senior member of staff went public on principle.

Why should the third sector be immune from internal critics? It is a significant player in Britain: more people work in this sector than in banking, it influences the direction of government policy and public opinion, and consequently it should be held accountable like any other organisation. These debates need to be had in public rather than behind closed doors. Amnesty’s attempt to shut down the debate by using the same tactics as their opponents is shameful.”

Update 4: I forget if I gave this out before, but a reminder doesn’t hurt, the Facebook group Amnesty International You Bloody Hypocrites Reinstate Gita Sahgal has, of 3 minutes ago, some 716 members.

Update 5: BBC World Service Radio : Newshour speaks to Gita Sahgal.

Update 6: Flesh is Grass has a good post with details of Ms. Sahgal on Radio 4.

Update 7: The Facebook group (see update 4) now has 823 members.

Written by modernityblog

09/02/2010 at 13:57

Gita Sahgal’s Full Statement.

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From the F Word:

“Amnesty International and Cageprisoners

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.”

Written by modernityblog

08/02/2010 at 13:38

Amnesty International And Gita Sahgal.

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Amnesty International do terrific work, but you get the impression sometimes that internally they’re playing games, games with people’s lives.

The appalling treatment of Gita Sahgal is one such example, Flesh is Grass highlights the issue:

“Amnesty International is one of the most serious and rigorous human rights agencies we have. I’m rooting for Amnesty.

I am deeply nervous about the way Amnesty is going.

They have suspended the head of their international secretariat’s gender union Gita Sahgal, ostensibly because of this interview with The Times. Sahgal objects to Amnesty’s involvement with the apologist for terror, Moazzam Begg, in the charity’s Counter Terror With Justice campaign.”

The Spittoon has more:

“Sahgal, a senior official at Amnesty International, has accused AI of legitimising the jihadist Moazzam Begg and his organisation Cage Prisoners. This is a hugely significant intervention which, we hope, will finally point much-needed spotlight on Amnesty’s continued patronisation of this known jihadist group and the activities of its directors.

Sahgal’s accusations are based on a fundamental point of principle, which is this: It is correct for Amnesty hold human rights positions on fair trial, torture, diplomatic assurances and work against renditions and the closure of Guantanamo Bay. However, these positions should also require us to hold salafi-jihadi groups and other religious absolutists accountable. Human rights abuses of torture, for example, should not be used to justify, legitimise and finally partner with proponents of violent jihad such as Moazzam Begg.”

Update 1: I’m still trying to make head or tails, of who said what and who believes what. This is not my subject area, so I am not terribly familiar with the various combatants, but David Aaronovitch adds some, How Amnesty chose the wrong poster-boy.

Update 2: I think this may have been the original contentious article at the Times.

Update 3: Paul Stott seems to know more than most on this topic, Amnesty International Begins To Wise Up To Moazzam Begg.

Update 4:Thanks to Stroppy for following events and highlighting how those people at Islamophobia Watch are now attacking women with the epithet of “nutty” and “cranks”.

You can’t get much lower politically than that, but I am sure the proprietors of Islamophobia Watch will try.

I think the comments by one of my readers, Leni, comes to the nub of the issue:

The abysmal treatment of women is unquestionably of paramount importance – one that is too often subsumed into a more general political perspective – in simple terms one of ‘don’t rock the boat’. I am trying to separate the women’s issue from all others. Without the genuine liberation of women and until attitudes towards them are fully freed from outmoded and repressive thinking societies cannot themselves be free – children continue to suffer and girls are often denied education and individual autonomy from early childhood.

Challenging repressive ideologies which trap women in a subservient position is to challenge the whole society and the foundations on which it is built. External pressure will not succeed until the women within have the courage and the backing of enough men to guarantee that women will not suffer even more.

Western women , in the early days , were imprisoned and force fed when necessary – they were not in danger of being killed or whipped.

It is tragic that Ms, Saghal has been silenced – or that an attempt to silence her has been made – by an organisation which supports the liberation of women. We have a long way to go.” [My emphasis]

Written by modernityblog

07/02/2010 at 21:40