Defend Gita Sahgal (from her employers, Amnesty International)

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 unit 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.

Update: Stroppyblog has Gita Sahgal’s statement. From it:

“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.”.

It makes me really angry these days that it takes centre or right journalism* to expose fundamentalist Islamism in British institutions – Guardian, Independent where were you? True to form, The Times does a bad job of exposing Begg – for them it is enough to be campaigning for the rights of suspected terrorists – as if suspected terrorists weren’t due their human rights.

More on Begg and his associates at CagePrisoners, working to present properly convicted murderers as ‘prisoners of conscience’.

One thing Begg is not is a human rights advocate. To be a human rights advocate entails universalism. Begg is simply partial to jihadis. Sahgal:

“As a former Guantanamo detainee it was legitimate to hear his experiences, but as a supporter of the Taliban it was absolutely wrong to legitimise him as a partner”.

Modernity pulls this quote from the post of Faisal’s I link to below:

“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.”

Amnesty has no business hosting Begg. In fact, it’s disgusting. This statement released by Amnesty’s Widney Brown is an inadequate response to the main criticism. The main criticism has nothing to do with whether terror suspects have rights – they do, and they need advocates. It has everything to do with whom Amnesty recruits for this advocacy.

Nick Cohen / Martin Bright (my emphasis):

The Sunday Times blew the lid on Amnesty International’s relationship with former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg and his organisation Cage Prisoners, who act as apologists for the Islamist totalitarianism. Amnesty responded by suspending Gita Sahgal, presumably because they believe she dared to speak to the press. She is the head of the gender unit at Amnesty International’s international secretariat, and has been campaigning on women’s issues for decades. She is rightly sick of the lazy alliance betweenthe supposedly liberal human rights world and the decidedly illiberal world of radical Islamists. She has therefore blown the whistle on the disgraceful arrangement between her own organisation and Begg, who has visited Downing Street as a guest of Amnesty, but refuses to condemn the Taliban.

Begg is now an integral part of an Amnesty campaign entitled Counter Terror with Justice. In an email to her colleagues at Amnesty on January 30 she wrote: “I believe the campaign fundamentally damages Amnesty International’s integrity and, more importantly, constitutes a threat to human rights.” she wrote. “To be appearing on platforms with Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban, whom we treat as a human rights defender, is a gross error of judgment.”

It is difficult to make a stand on these issues and keep one’s friends on the left and in the human rights community as she is now finding. She has been deeply frustrated by the way the British liberal intelligentsia gives house-room to right-wing Islamists. She was one of the first people in Britain to warn of the dangers of the politics of Jamaat-i-Islami, the south Asian blood-brothers of the Muslim Brotherhood. She was instrumental in the making of a Channel 4 documentary on alleged Bangladeshi war criminals who had found safe haven in Britain (We can’t say more or Carter-Ruck will sue us).

It is Gita Sahgal who should be the darling of the human rights establishment, not Moazzam Begg.

Like I say, Amnesty is one of the most serious and rigorous human rights agencies we have. But this will not stand. And it’s not entirely out of the blue. They host Chomsky, apologist for atrocities which don’t fit with his world-view. They give inexplicable prominence to Israel in their mag (which we get because we give to them, and this is why I write). I’m getting the general impression they are the latest progressive organisation subject to colonisation by the post-Left. Get it together, Amnesty. Reprieve, whom I gave a largish wodge of money last year, are implicated too. Fuck this shit.

Update: More from Faisal at The Spittoon, Stroppy, Alec, Terry Glavin, links out from Harry’s Place. Join the Facebook group whose members are trying to figure out what to do next.

Update 2: Over on Harry’s Place, Rosie‘s comment is right, I think:

“Yeah – people have been saying, “cancel your subscription” or “threaten to cancel unless Gita is re-instated”. I’m loath to do that unless I know that Amnesty is totally compromised. If 95% of what they do is what they should be doing, and 5% is monkeying around with the likes of Begg, well that’s 95% good work. You get the same about the BBC. A dim-witted, biassed programme gets made and everyone starts howling that the BBC should be carved up and the pieces handed over to Rupert Murdoch.”

Update 3: Moazzam Begg responds; Harry’s Place responds to his response. More on CagePrisoners’ mixed messages – where’s the credibility in saying you love human rights if you also promote and associate with jihadis?

Update 4: Sahgal and supporters have a site – Human Rights for All.

Update 5: Gita Sahgal on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme and Newswire, 9th Feb.

*This is not about left and right. Anybody who doesn’t burn with anger at the double insult of Amnesty’s appalling choice of representative and its treatment of its employee is under a delusion. I just checked – I’m not right of centre, I’m here – still here:

27 thoughts on “Defend Gita Sahgal (from her employers, Amnesty International)

  1. Pingback: Amnesty International And Gita Sahgal. « ModernityBlog

  2. Great post. I’m a member of Amnesty and I’m loath to give up my subscription as I don’t know who else does their work. But they’re like the Red Cross. They have to appear impartial and without a specifically political agenda otherwise they are useless. They’ve been around for what – 40 years? – and their strength is that they have been able to unite those on the right, left or centre, who care about mistreatment of prisoners of conscience. If they turn into yet another confused body somehow thinking theocracy supporters are “progressive” it would be a tragedy.

  3. Great post, Flesh, and I respect what Rosie says. But I can’t entirely agree about not withholding subscriptions – even if this is just 5% of what Amnesty does, it’s a very influential 5%, and it’s liable to eat away at the foundations of the rest of their activities. AI might turn into just another pressure group which regards the West and Israel as the real locus of the world’s troubles. The Secretary-General’s remarks about Guantanamo being the Gulag of our times is indicative of that tendency.The only pressure I can bring to bear on Amnesty is to tell them that I’m withholding my subs until they re-instate Saghal. I’m beginning to think that that might be the right thing to do.

    • As somebody who feels her time has been badly squandered by entryists in recent years I can warmly sympathise with Amnesty members who don’t want to waste another moment arguing.

      But there is a course of action which lies between ending the funding and doing nothing.

      Some ideas:

      Letter writing campaign
      Contact the celebrity endorsers
      Reduce the monthly amount – throttle the funding rather than stopping it completely.

      Demands: reinstate Gita Sahgal; remunerate any lost pay.
      Timeframe: 14 days max

      • I say goodbye to Amnesty International. I am ashamed that I was a member of an organization that works for Taliban in the name of human rights.
        I wish to associate with a group that sincerely promotes human rights unlike those supporting Taliban ideology, even if there are only a few members. Can anybody suggest one?

  4. What a pity Gita didn’t feel able to raise this issue direct with Moazzam Begg, if she had instead of briefing against him, she would have discovered that he’s a great supporter of women and a promoter of their rights.
    There is a campaign underway to demonise him and I would have thought, coming from such an excellent human rights background, Gita would have stopped and asked questions first from the man himself instead of joining in the witch-hunt.
    I am a committed feminist and a Muslim as well as being a patron of Cageprisoners which is an excellent organisation and resource used and respected by international lawyers, human rights organisations and activists.
    The very last thing Cageprisoners wants to do is silence her – she should now take the opportunity to meet with Moazzam Begg and air her concerns – real or imagined – to him face-to-face. I am sure he would welcome the opportunity for some real transparency.
    But at the moment he is the victim in all of this not the person who went briefing the media with wild allegations … allegations which I note are now repeated in this forum without any reference to facts. Are we dispensing with the whole concept of innocent until proven otherwise?
    The US and the UK have had a chance to charge him but they didn’t – ask yourself why? Or are we opting for trial by media these days?
    Moazzam has, at last, been able to give his initial response through the Cageprisoners website – if you want to make a more informed judgment I suggest you go to

  5. The Times did a bad job of covering AI’s alliance with a terrorist propaganda front because ‘its not on the left’? Check out the principle of ‘universalism’ in human rights. If you want to support it, support it! There are far too many self-preening individuals on the Left who think they are ‘morally superior’ for being on the Left and render themselves anything but!

    Wherever this story had come from on the democratic spectrum it merits unqualified applause, as does the principled stand by the left-wing feminist Gita Sehgal.

    Surely her suspension for defending the principles of AI calls for ‘self-suspension’ of members in solidarity so they can start truly campaigning for human rights instead of propping up the obscene farce that Amnesty International has now become?

    • My ineptly-made point is that some causes should unite the political spectrum. Climate change is one – the left need to stop acting as if it’s *their* defining cause because their political opponents will be tempted to define themselves in opposition. Resisting the encroachment of jihadism into institutions is another. I wrote my post when the centre right appeared to own this story – this is no longer the case, though. I needn’t have worried.

      Self-suspension – I’m going to wait (in fact that would be something I’d have to negotiate with the old man – our donation is in his name). Gita Sahgal isn’t calling for it. She probably is still a donor herself.

  6. It’s showing how some of the left (and also on the right side, but less) got corrupted. Their intentions are good. But they are being misled by the likes of Begg. Amnesty should stay impartial, focus on real human rights issues, do not mingl/associate with or support human rights abusers or supporters of human rights abusers. Back to the core business, Amnesty.

    And while you’re at it. Please distinguish the severity of human rights violations. That you get more info from country X then from Y doesn’t make country X worse than Y. Nor is chopping of legs and arms after theft, child soldiers and executing political opponents less of a human rights abuse then imprisonment without a trial. Priorities. Amnesty. Priorities.

  7. I used to support AI but stopped after Irene Khan said Gitmo “has become the gulag of our times.” Yeah, a place operated by a totalitarian form of government where tens of millions were detained and millions died is the same as a place operated by a democratic republic where under a 1000 were detained.

    Rosie writes:

    “They have to appear impartial and without a specifically political agenda otherwise they are useless.”

    Exactly. Due to the reason mentioned above, they are useless.

  8. Please see:

    Hatred and Another Agenda: A Response by Moazzam Begg


    The Problem with Gita, by Fahad Ansari

    • To Begg I’d respond that it’s one thing for government and NGO officials to dialogue with misogynist and genocidal extremists, and quite another to normalise the relationship in public. I also disagree that he is Britain’s most famous Taliban supporter, but very little rides on this. Coming from the pro-Shariah lobby as he does, Begg’s disparagement of what he calls a ‘pro-war lobby’ is hollow – he is pro-war himself, only in support of the salafi jihadis. When he decisively turns from this, I will change my view of him. Meanwhile, he is right that there is anti-Muslim feeling in Britain, and CagePrisoners has certainly worked for human rights. It has also worked against human rights, offering moral and political support for salafi jihadis beyond their entitlement to their human rights. It’s possible to do both at once – but organisations which do both at once are not serious human rights organisations, and do not deserve our partnership. You simply cannot be a single-issue human rights organisation with a sharia agenda – – and expect to be taken seriously. And yet Amnesty and Reprieve have taken such an organisation seriously.

      And to call Gita Saghal Islamophobic, as Fahad Ansari does, is a cheap and desperate charge he fails to substantiate. The fact that he doesn’t even *try* to substantiate it – simply asserts it – signals how unserious and irresponsible CagePrisoners is.

      I’ll reiterate: if somebody says they would feel “profoundly unsafe” talking to you, the correct response is to ask them to tell you what you could do to make them feel safe. Not to rubbish their fears.

      CagePrisoners looked bad before – now I’m convinced it really is the pits.

  9. Pingback: Why not to support Amnesty International |

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  11. How can we support Gita Sahgal? I did write an e-mail of protest to Amnesty International. How do we let her know that she is not alone?

  12. Just went to a meeting/debate with Gita and am completly behind her . She is to put simply is taling about what a lot of us found inconsistent with amnesties policy. She is a warm but determined person who is standing up . I even gave her some healing hugs today

  13. Pingback: January 2012 COMMENTS by members to media and blogs etc « australiansforsyria

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