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Amnesty International USA Statement re. Gita Sahgal’s ‘unease’ with Moazzam Begg

February 11, 2010

Amnesty International on its work with Moazzam Begg and Cageprisoners

11 February 2010

The comment below is by Amnesty International’s interim Secretary General Claudio Cordone.*

There has been a lot of controversy in the media surrounding Amnesty International’s work with Moazzam Begg and Cageprisoners, in light of statements by Gita Sahgal, a Amnesty International staff member.

Contrary to Gita Sahgal’s assertions to the media, she was not suspended from Amnesty International for raising these issues internally. In fact we actively welcome vigorous internal debate. Up to now we have maintained confidentiality in line with our policy but wanted to correct this misrepresentation. This is not a reflection on the organisation’s respect for her work as a women’s rights activist and does not undermine the work she has done over the last few years as the head of Amnesty International’s gender unit.

Our work with Moazzam Begg has focused exclusively on highlighting the human rights violations committed in Guantánamo Bay and the need for the US government to shut it down and either release or put on trial those who have been held there. Moazzam Begg was one of the first detainees released by the US without charge, and has never been charged with any terrorist-related offence or put on trial.

When President Obama promised to close Guantánamo, Amnesty International hoped that we could wind down our campaign and focus more broadly on human rights abuses related to security and terrorism. However, as that promise remains unmet, Amnesty International continues to work with Moazzam Begg and other former detainees to ask European governments to accommodate those who cannot be returned to their country of citizenship without risk of torture or ill-treatment.

In this complex and polarised world we at Amnesty International face the challenge of communicating clearly the scope of our work with individuals and groups. Amnesty International champions and continues to champion Moazzam Begg’s rights as a former detainee at Guantánamo. He speaks about his own views and experiences, not Amnesty International’s. And Moazzam Begg has never used a platform he shared with Amnesty to speak against the rights of others.

Amnesty International has a long history of demanding justice – in the case of our Counter Terror with Justice Campaign we called for both an end to human rights abuses at Guantánamo and other locations, and called for those detained there to be brought to justice, in fair trials that respected due process.

However, our work for justice and human rights spans a far wider range of issues than counter-terrorism and security. Amnesty International has done considerable research on the Taleban and campaigns to stop violence against women and to promote women’s equality. We continue to take a strong line against abuses by religiously-based insurgent groups and/or governments imposing religious strictures, Islamic or otherwise, in violation of human rights law. Sometimes the people whose rights we defend may not share each others views – but they all have human rights, and all human rights are worth defending.

Amnesty International Counter Terror with Justice Campaign

* Added to the Amnesty post after publication, therefore I have updated here accordingly.

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