Sunday, February 07, 2010

Amnesty, reinstate Gita Sahgal

Official site to support Gita , Human Rights for all. Please go over there to add support, discuss etc, rather than here.

Below is a statement by Gita (pictured on the left at last years 20th anniversary of WAF) :

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.

Link to The Times article .

Link to the statement by Amnesty .

To be fair to all parties in this,and to allow a proper debate, below is Moazzam Begg's response to the Sunday Times article, a letter he has written :

The Sunday Times

Dear Mr. Kerbaj,

Your Article: ‘Amnesty International is ‘damaged’ by Taliban link’

I was shocked and extremely disappointed to see your article in today's Sunday Times make no reference at all to the questions you so ardently sought to have answered (as mentioned below) and, that I explained to you in some detail in our telephone conversation yesterday.

Your headline makes a serious accusation: that it proves to expose a tangible link between Amnesty and the Taliban. Can I ask exactly who in the Taliban you are referring to that is either linked to Amnesty or me?

It seems very odd that your article, which is entirely about Amnesty's relationships with me, carries very little in the way of responses from me which you so clearly went out of your way to seek. Why is that?

When asked about the nature of my relationship with Amnesty you make no mention of my response: that I work very closely with them and that it stretches back to the time that Amnesty worked with my father when I was in Guantanamo.

I told you clearly that if you wanted to know my (and Cageprisoners') views about Awlaki to refer to the article that is on our website: in which you could have quoted, had you wished, the following:

"Cageprisoners never has and never will support the ideology of killing innocent civilians, whether by suicide bombers or B52s, whether that’s authorised by Awlaki or by Obama. Neither will we be forced into determining a person’s guilt outside a recognised court of law." This article also deals with any concerns about the recent Christmas day plot - something you asked us about.

When asked specifically about the Taliban I told you my view: that I have advocated for engagement and dialogue with the Taliban well before our own government took the official position of doing the same - only last week - although, I did not say, like the government, we should be giving them lots of money in order to do so.

I also clearly told you, though you deliberately chose to ignore, that I had actually witnessed what I believe were human rights abuses under the Taliban and have detailed them in my book, from which you conveniently and selectively quote. I added that the US administration had perpetrated severe human rights abuses against me for years but that didn’t mean I opposed dialogue with them. I even told you that Cageprisoners and I have initiated pioneering steps in that regard by organising tours all around the UK with former US guards from Guantanamo and men who were once imprisoned there. Cagreprisoners is the only organisation to have done so. (One of these soldiers, upon in response to your article sent this message to me: They are attacking you and your causes...don’t forget you have real support by some of us ex-Soldiers who have seen the light... I expect he too will be accused by your likes of being brainwashed by me). Instead, you simply say, without qualification, 'He defended his support for the Taliban....’

Had you - and Ms Sahgal no doubt - done your homework properly you'd have discovered also that I was involved in the building of, setting up and running of a school for girls in Kabul during the time of the Taliban, but of course, that wouldn't have sat well with the agenda and nature of your heavily biased and poorly researched article.

In relation to MS. Sahgal, I told you - and you were fully aware - that I appeared on a BBC Radio 4 show, Hecklers, alongside her, Tariq Ramadan, Lord Nazir Ahmed, Tahmina Saleem (ISB) and Daud Abdullah (MCB). I told you that her analysis of the situation on this programme was so poor and skewed that she referred to all of us as 'partners of the government in the war against terror' until I reminded I was sitting on the panel.

I told you too that I have never since spoken to Ms. Sahgal and that if she had any concerns about my work she has never put them to me and that I found it most odd that she found it more appropriate to discuss this in the media first. Again, had you done your research properly you'd have made some reference to our first meeting on Radio 4 where I iterated that the way to solve conflicts can be found in the Northern Ireland model (engaging with 'terrorists). I have engaged in several such initiatives, some of them hosted by Amnesty, asking people to look at this episode as a place to find solutions. Bizarrely, Ms. Sahgal, through her argument, seemed to reject this view. Whilst it gives me no personal pleasure to hear of the suspension of Ms. Sahgal for holding her view the newspapers were not the right place to air them without first putting them to Cageprisoners or me.

You had also interviewed my colleague, Asim Qureshi, but again failed to mention anything thing he said to you in relation to the work of Cageprisoners and our relationship with Amnesty International.

To conclude, I believe your article, is written in a style clearly designed, intentionally or by negligence, to damage our relationship with human rights organisations and discredit the work we do in advocating for the rights of those who have suffered terrible human rights abuses. As such, I have referred your article to your editor and the Press Complaints Commission as a formal and major complaint and, to my lawyers to pursue legal action.

Moazzam Begg


Cageprisoners Ltd

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