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The London School of Economics And The “Libya Gift”

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Below is the minutes of a meeting at the London School of Economics which discussed taking money from Gaddafi’s Libya. A copy of this is on the web, I put it here as a matter of public record.

“THE LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS AND POLITICAL SCIENCE

COUNCIL

20 October 2009

MINUTES

A meeting of the Council was held on Tuesday, 20 October 2009 in BOX, 5th Floor, Tower 3

PRESENT: Sir Anthony Battishill (in the Chair), Ms Vivina Berla, Professor Chris Brown, Ms Angela Camber, Ms Shami Chakrabarti, Ms Bronwyn Curtis, Mr Alan Elias, Mr Aled Dilwyn Fisher, Mr Tim Frost, Professor George Gaskell, Professor Janet Hartley, Ms Kate Jenkins, Professor Paul Kelly, Dr David Lane, Ms Anne Lapping, Professor Robin Mansell, Professor David Marsden, Professor Eileen Munro, Professor George Philip, Mr Brian Smith, Professor Sarah Worthington.

BY INVITATION: Mr Mike Bragg (Staff Consultative Council), Mr Roger Mountford (Nominated Officer, LSE Enterprise).

IN ATTENDANCE: Ms Jenny Bone, Ms Barbara Bush, Mr Adrian Hall, Professor David Held (until Minute No. 21), Ms Fiona Kirk, Ms Jayne Rose, Ms Jean Sykes, Mr Wayne Tatlow.

APOLOGIES: Mr Stephen Barclay, Howard Davies, Mr Richard Goeltz (North American Advisory Board), Mr Mario Francescotti, Ms Sophie de la Hunt, Mr Wol Kolade, Professor Richard Sennett, Mr Peter Sutherland.

IN MEMORIAM

10. Council stood as a mark of respect for Professor Antoine Faure-Grimaud of the Department of Finance who died on 6 July 2009 at the age of 41.

WELCOME

11. The Chairman welcomed Ms Bronwyn Curtis to her first meeting of the Council.

THE CHAIRMAN

12. REPORTED, by the Secretary and Director of Administration: that Mr Peter Sutherland was recovering from a period of ill health. Mr Sutherland had retained a keen interest in the School during his period of recuperation and had been kept abreast of School developments. He hoped to return to the School later in the Michaelmas Term.

13. RESOLVED: that the Secretary and Director of Administration would convey to the Chairman the best wishes of the Council.

MINUTES OF THE MEETING HELD ON 21 SEPTEMBER 2009

14. RECEIVED: the minutes of the meeting of Council held on 21 September 2009.

15. RESOLVED: that the minutes be approved as a correct record.

MATTERS ARISING

Donation for the Centre for Global Governance

16. RECEIVED: paper CL/2, “Libya Gift”, comprising introductory remarks from the Director, a letter from Professor Fred Halliday entitled “LSE and the Qaddafi Foundation: A Dissenting Note”, and a collection of media reports on links between the LSE and Libya.

17. REPORTED: that Council had decided on 23 June 2009 to accept a donation of £1.5m over 5 years from the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation for the LSE Centre for the Study of Global Governance. Since that time, there had been widespread condemnation of Libya’s handling of the return of Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi and the Director had received a letter from Emeritus Professor Fred Halliday which counselled against acceptance of the donation. Accordingly, the Council had been given the opportunity to consider whether, in the light of events over the summer, LSE’s links with Libya had attracted negative publicity to the School, or might do so in future and, if so, whether that was sufficient to warrant reconsideration of the gift.

18. REPORTED, by Professor David Held (Co-Director, Centre for the Study of Global Governance): that the decision to accept the gift was a matter for the LSE/ Council; that the Foundation was a UN accredited NGO; that the gift was funded by private sector organisations (in construction and engineering); that the gift was unrestricted and had no conditions on use; that a public signing ceremony had been undertaken, and that a u-turn at this juncture might affect the School’s relations with Libya and cause personal embarrassment to the Chairman of the Foundation, Dr Saif al-Islam Gaddafi; that the views espoused by Professor Halliday were not necessarily shared by all in the academic community; that, having trawled traditional media and the blogosphere, no evidence had been found that LSE’s links with Libya had attracted criticism, despite the ‘storm’ created by the Al-Megrahi affair; and that it was important to engage with the Middle East and North Africa.

19. IN DISCUSSION the following points were made:

(a) that there were concerns about the reputational risk of rejecting the gift, having accepted it in the summer;
(b) that with the exception of Professor Halliday, no member of the School community had queried the decision to accept the Libyan donation, although this might reflect the timing of the original discussion near the end of the Summer Term and the publication of the relevant Council minutes in September;
(c) that in future more information should be provided to Council about controversial potential donations, more time allowed for consideration, and Council should benefit from a “devil’s advocate” approach when considering the arguments;
(d) that in future the totality of the School’s relationship with a country should be overseen to enable early identification of potential reputational risk;
(e) that LSE Enterprise had experience of working with the Libyan state, delivering executive education. They had operated with complete independence and their work had been positively received by others, including the School’s supporters in the United States;
(f) that some individual members of the North American Advisory Board had indicated that acceptance of the donation would not affect the extent to which US alumni would financially support the School;
(g) that although Professor Held had joined the Board of Trustees of the Foundation after acceptance by Council of the donation to the Centre for Global Governance in June 2009, concerns remained about the perceived conflict of interest.

20. REPORTED, by Professor David Held:

(a) that due diligence work and research had been undertaken to establish the credentials of the Foundation. The donation had been extensively debated within the Development Committee before it reached the Council for decision;
(b) that the Foundation was created in order to be to be an exemplary NGO within North Africa. Its support for democracy and human rights had at times placed it at odds with the Libyan State, but it had enjoyed some success in areas such as penal reform;
(c) that the Foundation raised funds on a project-by-project basis, with the money coming from private sector companies, rather than the Libyan government;
(d) that, following the Council meeting on 23 June 2009, Professor Held had been invited to join the Board of the Foundation in an individual capacity. Upon the advice of Council, Professor Held would be willing to resign that position;
(e) that the donation from the Foundation represented less than 20% of the operating costs of the Centre for Global Governance, with the remainder coming from a diverse range of other sources.

21. REPORTED, by the LSESU General Secretary: support for discussion of controversial major donations at Council.

Professor Held left the meeting.

22. RESOLVED:

(a) on balance, that the decision of 23 June 2009 to accept the gift would stand;
(b) that in order to avoid the potential for conflicts of interest and reputational risk, colleagues should not usually serve on the boards of organisations from which they or their units were receiving gifts. The Director would be asked to consider the implications of, and as appropriate promulgate, this policy decision. In this context, Council accepted Professor Held’s offer to stand down as a Board member of the Gaddafi Foundation;
(c) that the totality of the School’s relationship with, and work in Libya needed to be carefully monitored and handled to avoid misunderstanding of the School’s position;
(d) that when presenting to Council on controversial potential donations, the arguments should include a “devil’s advocate” element. Council should be given sufficient time to weigh all of the arguments, and to have the opportunity to reflect before reaching a decision;
(e) that the Secretary and Director of Administration would write to Professor Halliday to inform him of the outcome of discussions at Council.

REPORT ON BEHALF OF THE DIRECTOR

23. REPORTED, by the Pro-Director (Planning and Resources):

Student Recruitment
(a) that the School had “over-recruited” by 280 students, but remained within the HEFCE +/- 5% tolerance band. Departments which had over-recruited by more than 5% of their admission target would receive compensation. Consideration would be given as to how over-recruitment of Home/EU undergraduate students can be avoided in future years.

Points-Based Visa System
(b) that the School’s efforts to mitigate the impact of the introduction of the points-based visa system had proved effective, with relatively few students affected and no significant impact on conversion rates.

Pay Negotiations
(c) that the Universities and Colleges Employers Association’s latest offer of 0.5% had been accepted by Unison, but rejected by the UCU, Unite, EIS – ULA and the GMB. It was likely that all parties would enter into arbitration through ACAS.

Public Sector Finance
(d) that a briefing would be arranged for Heads of Academic Departments, Service Leaders, Departmental Managers, APRC and members of Council, to explain the deteriorating public spending environment and how this might affect the School in future years. The School would need to develop contingency plans to ensure that it would be able to continue to support teaching, research, service improvement and estate development, regardless of any decrease in public funding.

24. REPORTED, by the Pro-Director (Research and External Relations):

THE World Rankings
(a) that the LSE had been rated 67th in the THE World University Rankings and 5th in the world as a specialist social sciences institution. The School’s position in the global ranking had been adversely affected by a change in the weightings for international staff and students, resulting in a marked drop in ranking from 2007. The publishers had acknowledged weaknesses in league table methodology and had entered a dialogue with the School about more suitable measures.

Peking Summer School
(b) that the 6th LSE-Peking University Summer School in Beijing had attracted 240 students from 40 countries.

LSE Cities
(c) that Deutsche Bank had provided an endowment of £1million per year for the next five years to fund LSE Cities, an international centre for urban excellence.

Yrjo Jahnsson Award in Economics 2009
(d) that Professor John Van Reenen, Director of the LSE Centre for Economic Performance had been awarded Europe’s most prestigious prize for economic researchers. Professor Van Reenen shared the award with Fabrizio Zilibotti of the University of Zurich, an alumnus of the LSE.

Postgraduate Education
(e) that the Pro-Director (Research and External Relations) had been invited to contribute to the Government review of postgraduate education.

25. REPORTED, by the Chief Information Officer:

IBSS
(a) that arrangements were being made to secure the financial sustainability of the International Bibliography of the Social Sciences, following the withdrawal of funding by the ESRC. Any future arrangement would provide for continued access for LSE users, free of charge, in perpetuity.

26. REPORTED, by the Secretary and Director of Administration:

Human Resources Advisory Group
(a) that the Secretary and the Director of Human Resources would bring forward to Council a report about reviving the committee of Council responsible for advising on HR strategy.

27. REPORTED, by the Pro-Director (Teaching and Learning):

Student Loans Company
(b) that relatively few students had been affected by late loan payments and that the School had been proactive in promoting services to assist any students still awaiting loans.

Black to the Future
(c) that the second LSE “Black to the Future” conference had attracted 380 participants. The aim of the event was to inspire young black Londoners to aim for the top in the world of education.

Orientation
(d) that the new student orientation arrangements appeared to have been successful and feedback was being sought from students.

SUPPORTING PALESTINIAN STUDENTS AND YOUNG ACADEMICS

28. REPORTED, by the Pro-Director (Teaching and Learning):

(a) that the School had for some time been considering ways in which it might assist in meeting the needs identified in a Universities UK report of March 2008 for staff development for young academics in Palestinian universities. The report recommended the development of “virtual” links between Palestinian universities and higher education institutions in the UK. In June, with the assistance of the British Council, Mr Steve Ryan of the LSE Centre for Learning Technology travelled to Al Quds Open University to deliver a seminar on the assistance that LSE might provide, such as online seminars on topics such as the use of IT in teaching and research methodology. The capacity-building programme would be rolled out during 2009/10 and a delegation from Al Quds would visit the UK later this year. It was hoped that Al Quds would disseminate the knowledge made available by the LSE to other Palestinian universities, in order to provide broader benefit.

(b) that the School was exploring the possibility of providing more formal staff development for young academics in Palestine (such as fee waivers). A number of discussions had taken place over the summer between the School, the Department of Business, Industry and Skills (BIS), the British Council and a number of other UK universities. The School had committed support in principle for a scheme of this nature, and an announcement was expected from the BIS early in the New Year. It was understood that any initiative would relate to the Palestinian territories broadly defined, including Gaza.

REPORT OF THE COUNCIL AWAYDAY 2009

29. RECEIVED: paper CL/3, report on the Council Awayday held on 21 September 2009.

30. REPORTED, by Professor David Marsden: that concerns had been raised by Academic Governors during the Awayday session on Research Performance and the Research Excellence Framework regarding: bibliometrics; research themes/ academic autonomy; and the danger of inhibiting truly ground-breaking research.

31. IN RESPONSE, the Pro-Director (Research and External Relations) reported that a paper had been circulated to all Heads of Department regarding preparations for the REF and that this would be debated in full at the Academic Board later in the term and would be the basis of further discussion within academic departments.

STRATEGIC PLAN

32. RECEIVED: paper CL/4, draft Strategic Plan Targets 2009-14.

33. REPORTED, by the Secretary and Director of Administration: that the targets were a “work in progress” and currently contained a mixture of quantitative targets and processes.

34. REPORTED, by Mr Mike Bragg (representative of the Staff Consultative Committee): concerns regarding the achievability of some of the targets for the development of IT Services; and concern that valuable data might be lost if the proposed staff survey were to be made more concise.

35. IN RESPONSE: the Secretary and Director of Administration reported that the staff survey, in its original format, was extremely long and that the time required to complete it would deter staff from responding. He would be reviewing the shortened version of the staff survey and would ensure that all key elements were retained.

36. RESOLVED: that Mr Bragg would discuss his concerns regarding the proposed IT Services targets with the Chief Information Officer outside of the meeting.

37. IN DISCUSSION:

(a) it was suggested that the target for uptake of Houghton Street Online should be more ambitious;
(b) the alignment of activities with the Strategic Plan was welcomed;
(c) that it would be useful to specify the rationale for each of the selected targets.

38. RESOLVED:

(a) that the Director of Development and Alumni Relations would review the target relating to Houghton Street Online;
(b) that Council members would email comments on the proposed targets to the Secretary and Director of Administration within a fortnight of the meeting.

REMUNERATION COMMITTEE

39. RECEIVED: paper CL/5, a report on policy issues arising from the meeting of the Remuneration Committee held on 15 July 2009.

40. REPORTED: that the Remuneration Committee had established four sub-groups to consider individual cases and bring forth recommendations, which allowed the main Committee to focus on substantive policy issues and strategic decisions. The main Committee would set the parameters for decision-making by the sub-groups, in order to ensure consistency in application and appropriate controls on expenditure. In the current session, the Committee would be considering the issue of equal pay.

COURT OF GOVERNORS

41. RECEIVED: the unconfirmed minutes of the meeting of the Court of Governors held on 2 July 2009.

42. REPORTED, by the Secretary and Director of Administration: that at the suggestion of the Council, the Court would be briefed on issues relating to the promotion by Government of STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) at the expense of the social sciences, arts and humanities. It was hoped that members of the Court would be willing to lobby policy-makers on this key issue.

43. REPORTED, by the General Secretary of the LSE Students’ Union: that the restructuring of the Union had been successfully completed and that financial irregularities in previous years were being addressed by the Sabbatical Officers and the new management. Financial and back office services would be outsourced to Charity Business, a specialist provider, with the objective of improving management accounts and ensuring compliance with the Statement of Recommended Practice (SORP) for accounting and reporting by charities.

ANNUAL REPORTS OF THE SECRETARY AND DIRECTOR OF ADMINISTRATION AND THE DIRECTOR OF FINANCE AND FACILITIES

44. RECEIVED: papers CL/7 and CL/8, the annual reports of the Secretary and Director of Administration and Director of Finance and Facilities.

45. REPORTED: by the Secretary and Director of Administration: the role of the Triumvirate under the auspices of the Academic Planning and Resources Committee in approving and resourcing Service Development Plans for the support services and ensuring that these meet the needs of the academic community.

46. RESOLVED:

(a) to commend the outstanding achievements of the professional support services staff over the past year and the plans of the services for the coming year;
(b) to request a substantive discussion within Council about these reports on at least a biennial basis, commencing 2010/11.

HEFCE ASSURANCE REVIEW

47. RECEIVED: paper CL/9, a report on the 2009 HEFCE Assurance Visit.

48. RESOLVED: to note the content of the report.

LEGAL COMPLIANCE

49. RECEIVED: paper CL/10, a report on recent legislative and regulatory developments.

50. RESOLVED: to note the content of the report.

NOTICE OF THE COURT MEETING OF 10 DECEMBER 2009

51. RECEIVED: paper CL/11, the notice of the Court meeting of 10 December 2009.

52. RESOLVED: to approve the draft calling notice for the meeting of the Court of Governors to be held on 10 December 2009, subject to any amendments made by the Director.

RELEASE OF PAPERS

53. RESOLVED: that the agenda and papers of the meeting of Council held on 20 October 2009 be released to the intranet and made available to the public upon request, with the exception of the following items:

(a) Minute 5 of the minutes of the meeting of Council held on 21 September 2009 (estate strategy) on grounds of commercial sensitivity;
(b) Paper CL/2, donation to the Centre for Global Governance – publication to be delayed until follow up action has been completed;
(c) Paper CL/6, unconfirmed minutes of the meeting of the Court of Governors held on 2 July 2009 and CL/11, notice of the Court meeting to be held on 10 December 2009 – both intended for future publication;
(d) Paper CL/8, the annual report of the Director of Finance and Facilities, will be published save for extracts relating to potential property acquisitions (commercially sensitive) and identified or identifiable individuals (data protection).

ANY OTHER BUSINESS

Vice Chairman of the Court and Council

54. REPORTED, by the Secretary and Director of Administration: that on 10 December 2009, the Court would be asked by the Chairmanship and Vice-Chairmanship Selection Committee to approve the election of Ms Kate Jenkins as a Vice-Chairman of the Court and Council, succeeding Sir Anthony Battishill.

55. RESOLVED: to concur with the recommendation of the Chairmanship and Vice Chairmanship Selection Committee that Ms Jenkins be elected a Vice Chairman of the Court and Council.

There being no further business, the meeting of the Council concluded at 7.40pm.”

Remember, those present:

PRESENT: Sir Anthony Battishill (in the Chair), Ms Vivina Berla, Professor Chris Brown, Ms Angela Camber, Ms Shami Chakrabarti, Ms Bronwyn Curtis, Mr Alan Elias, Mr Aled Dilwyn Fisher, Mr Tim Frost, Professor George Gaskell, Professor Janet Hartley, Ms Kate Jenkins, Professor Paul Kelly, Dr David Lane, Ms Anne Lapping, Professor Robin Mansell, Professor David Marsden, Professor Eileen Munro, Professor George Philip, Mr Brian Smith, Professor Sarah Worthington.

Stable Door And The London School of Economics

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Weeks after the horse bolted, those connected to the Libyan regime are slowly trying to sever their connections:

“A Nobel prize-winning British scientist has resigned from the charity run by Muammar Gaddafi’s son that gave a £1.5m donation to the London School of Economics, and disclosed that the funding was awarded without the approval of board members.

The elite British university has been in turmoil over the donation, which last week led to the resignation of its director, Sir Howard Davies, and the launch of an independent inquiry into its links with Libya. Sir Richard Roberts, who was on the board of the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation, said the funding was given to the LSE without “any form of transparency or approval”.

The revelation underlines concerns that the Gaddafi foundation did not operate as a normal charity but was a vehicle for the Libyan dictator’s son Saif al-Islam.

The LSE council, its governing body, is facing scrutiny over its decision to approve the donation, granted in 2009. One of the LSE’s academics stood down from the board of the Gaddafi foundation in 2009 after a council meeting raised concern over a conflict of interests.

Roberts, an internationally renowned biochemist who won the Nobel prize for medicine in 1993, told the Guardian: “I never knew anything about that money before it appeared in the press. That was not done with any sort of clarity or transparency to the board.” “

Or does it all suggest that some of these supposedly smart people are not that smart at all, when it comes to rich dictators?

Over at the Beeb, they cover the Libyan Investment Authority with a choice quote:

“Like the rest of Gaddafi’s children, Saif lived a life of privilege and ease, although like his father he claimed to have no official position and denied having access large funds.

But now new evidence has emerged that despite his denials, Saif in fact controlled the multi-billion-pound Libyan sovereign wealth fund, the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA).

“I’ve seen the Godfather. This is the closest thing in real life,” commented a Libyan investment banker familiar with how the LIA was run.

“It is as if it is his own private farm. This was almost like a mafia operatiion.”

In the letters page of the Guardian there is an academic bun-fight on plagiarism, Saif Gaddafi and how to use Google:

“Lord Desai seems to be aggrieved because nobody told him as the PhD examiner of Saif Gaddafi that the candidate had committed plagiarism. But it is precisely the job of the examiner, as an expert in the field, to assess the originality of a doctoral thesis. So neither Desai, nor his co-examiner, nor Mr Gaddafi’s supervisors, did their jobs. Have none of them heard of Google? It’s not too hard these days to catch out the plagiariser.”

Fred Halliday On the LSE and Libya.

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OpenDemocracy has Fred Halliday’s memorandum to the London School of Economics from October 2009 concerning Libya and it is a good read:

“While it is formally the case that the QF [Qaddafi Foundation] is not part of the Libyan state, and is registered in Switzerland as an NGO, this is, in all practical senses, a legal fiction. The monies paid into the QF come from foreign businesses wishing to do business, i.e. receive contracts, for work in Libya, most evidently in the oil and gas industries. These monies are, in effect, a form of down payment, indeed of taxation, paid to the Libyan state, in anticipation of the award of contracts. The funds of the QF are, for this reason, to all intents and purposes, part of the Libyan state budget. ‘NGO status’, and recognition of such by UN bodies, means, in real terms, absolutely nothing. Mention has been made, in verbal and written submissions to the School and in correspondence to myself, of the membership of the QF’s advisory board: a somewhat closer examination of the most prominent politicians involved, and of their reputations and business dealings, should also give cause for some concern.

(ii) That the President of the QF [Qaddafi Foundation], and its effective director, is himself the son of the ruler, and, for all the informality of the Libyan political system (even the ‘Leader’, Colonel Qaddafi, has no formal position), in effect a senior official of that regime, confirms this analysis. In Arab states many of the most important positions have no official title, and kinship, and informal links, are more important than state function – and this, above all, in Libya. “

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