Amnesty International issued a statement two days ago when it decided it was no longer “appropriate” to work with Cage.
Further to our statement below, Amnesty International UK’s Director Kate Allen today said:
“Amnesty no longer considers it appropriate to share a public platform with Cage and will not engage in coalitions of which Cage is a member.
“Recent comments made by Cage representatives have been completely unacceptable, at odds with human rights principles and serve to undermine the work of NGOs, including Amnesty International.”
She continued: “We had engaged with Cage together with several other organisations on the specific issue of UK complicity in torture abroad, on which they had particular expertise.
“At the time that Gita Sahgal left Amnesty International, we commissioned an independent external review into our work with Cage and Moazzam Begg which concluded that it was reasonable for Amnesty to campaign with Cage and Moazzam Begg in his capacity as a former detainee at Guantanamo Bay.”
Now that’s a very strange thing to have done. Why did they need to commission an independent external review on Cage and Begg? Why couldn’t they review their work with Cage themselves? Isn’t that what they do? Look at prisoners of conscience, and the issues that they’re conscientious about, and evaluate them?
I would hope they do. I would hope they wouldn’t work with, say, perps involved in the genocide in Rwanda. I would hope they would know how to defend those people’s rights to due process and a fair trial and humane prison conditions, without actually collaborating with them. I would hope they would know how to defend their rights without sharing platforms with them or signing petitions with them.
Hitchens wrote about the intersection of Amnesty and Cage in February 2010.
Amnesty International has just suspended one of its senior officers, a woman named Gita Sahgal who until recently headed the organization’s “gender unit.” It’s fairly easy to summarize her concern in her own words. “To be appearing on platforms with Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban, whom we treat as a human rights defender,” she wrote, “is a gross error of judgment.” One might think that to be an uncontroversial statement, but it led to her immediate suspension.
The background is also distressingly easy to summarize. Moazzem Begg, a British citizen, was arrested in Pakistan after fleeing Afghanistan in the aftermath of the intervention in 2001. He was imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay and then released. He has since become the moving spirit in a separate organization calling itselfCageprisoners. Begg does not deny his past as an Islamist activist, which took him to Afghanistan in the first place. He does not withdraw from his statement that the Taliban was the best government available to Afghanistan. Cageprisoners has another senior member named Asim Qureshi, who speaks in defense of jihad at rallies sponsored by the extremist group Hizb-ut Tahrir (banned in many Muslim countries). Cageprisoners also defends men like Abu Hamza, leader of the mosque that sheltered Richard “Shoe Bomber” Reid among many other violent and criminal characters who have been convicted in open court of heinous offenses that have nothing at all to do with freedom of expression. Yet Amnesty International includes Begg in delegations that petition the British government about human rights. For Saghal to say that Cageprisoners has a program that goes “way beyond being a prisoners’ rights organization” is to say the very least of it. But that’s all she had to say in order to be suspended from her job. As I write this, she is experiencing some difficulty in getting a lawyer to represent her. Such is—so far—the prestige of Amnesty International. “Although it is said that we must defend everybody no matter what they’ve done,” she comments, “it appears that if you’re a secular, atheist, Asian British woman, you don’t deserve a defense from our civil rights firms.”
That may well change, and I hope it does. But Sahgal has it slightly wrong. Amnesty International was not set up to defend everybody, no matter what they did. No organization in the world could hope to do that. IRA bombers and Khmer Rouge killers and Gens. Pinochet and Videla were not Amnesty prisoners when they eventually faced the bar of the court. The entire raison d’être of the noble foundation was to defend and protect those who were made to suffer for their views. In theory, I suppose, this could include the view that women should be chattel, homosexuals and Jews and Hindus marked for slaughter, and all the rest of the lovely jihadist canon. But—see above—Cageprisoners defends those who have gone slightly further than merely advocating such things. It’s well-nigh incredible that Amnesty should give a platform to people who are shady on this question and absolutely disgraceful that it should suspend a renowned employee who gave voice to her deep and sincere misgivings.
And yet they couldn’t see that for themselves, they had to get an independent external review into their work with Cage and Moazzam Begg, and they luckily commissioned it from people who found it copacetic.
Human rights organizations shouldn’t work with people who despise human rights. They should defend their rights against government mistreatment if they choose to, but they should not work with them.
This isn’t all that complicated.