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Irene Khan on Gita Sahgal, Amnesty & Poverty

February 22, 2010

Cross posted at Pickled Politics

Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International 2001-2009, was on Woman’s Hour this morning to discuss her book The Unheard Truth – Poverty and Human Rights in which Khan ‘advocates for awareness about what she sees as the indisputable link between the title’s two components. Khan states flatly, “Poverty is the world’s worst human rights crisis.”‘.  More details can be found here.

At the close of the interview Khan was asked about Gita Sahgal’s campaign against Amnesty International, specifically her claim  that Amnesty has shown a gross error in judgement in those it has chosen to work with in it’s campaign to close Guantanamo.  Gita Sahgal is specifically accusing Moazzam Begg of supporting the Taliban and has accused Amnesty of ignoring her complaints for years, which has led to absolutely no credibility across the world in being serious about treating the equality of women and the emancipation of women seriously’.

Khan had this to say:

I hired Gita and she worked with me for six years.  While I was there those concerns did not come to light.  She didn’t ever express them to me so I can’t comment on her specific case or what’s happened since I left.

Then when pushed she added the following:

There are two things, first is that when you’re an advocate for human rights you obviously have to have the voices of victims heard.  Victims are not paragons of virtue and Amnesty has to make very tough decisions  about who it works with, who it gives a platform to.  We’ve worked with the Catholic Church on the abolition of the death penalty, but we have been in opposition to the Catholic Church on sexual and reproductive rights for instance.  So you have to make those judgements.  Now, during my time I launched the campaign to close Guantanamo, but I also launched the campaign to stop  violence against women, because there’s a lot of talk about the Taliban, about terrorism – very little talk about sexual terror which probably takes many more victims every day in bedrooms, in battlefields, in back streets, in workplaces.  So I think it’s important to focus on both issues equally strongly.

So Irene Khan, boss of Gita Sahgal didn’t hear those concerns from the time she employed Sahgal to December 2009 when she left Amnesty.  Bit odd that, as Sahgal has been telling different stories in increasingly stronger tones:

Sahgal … decided to go public because she feels Amnesty has ignored her warnings for the past two years about the involvement of Begg in the charity’s Counter Terror With Justice campaign … “I believe the campaign fundamentally damages Amnesty International’s integrity and, more importantly, constitutes a threat to human rights,” Sahgal wrote in an email to the organisation’s leaders on January 30.
The Sunday Times 07/02/10

 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.
Statement following suspension 07/02/10
(one of which was on 30/01/10 as stated above)

the questions I raised with my organisation were how we had come to such a close relationship with Cageprisoners, when there has been as far as I can discover a weight of expert evidence within the organisation that would have advised against it and had advised against it
BBC Newshour 09/02/09
(So far, neither Sahgal or anybody else from Amnesty has produced any of this expert evidence or agreed with Sahgal’s assertions)

Well, I was not involved with building that relationship[between Moazzam Begg, Cageprisoners & Amnesty].  I advised very strongly against it on several occasions, for several years.  On  many many occasions at the level of the board of Amnesty International USA, on the level of extremely senior people in the UK, in the British section of Amnesty and had raised these issues internally, so  I did not build that relationship and I think that’s a question that you should ask to my superiors. 
Interview on CBC Radio 18/02/10
(It is inconceivable to think that Irene Khan, in her position as Secretary General, would have missed all these occasions of strong advice from Sahgal)

Even if we conveniently forget for a minute that Sahgal has produced no evidence and that nobody from Amnesty is supporting her claims – in fact quite the opposite, it is clear that even Sahgal’s own statements don’t marry up with each other, let alone marry with the recollections of her boss at Amnesty, Irene Khan.  Not surprising that Sahgal is garnering claims of smear merchant is it really?

H/T Lucy

Related: Amnesty, Moazzam Begg, Gita Sahgal – Link roundup

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 22, 2010 17:54

    Whoa!!! This is bloody huge!

    Can we cross-post it to PP?

  2. chicojack permalink
    February 22, 2010 22:11

    ”those concerns did not come to light ..She didn’t ever express them..”

    Irene Khan said it! Do I hear the creeking of floodgates? Let truth flow as tongues run bloodless…

  3. Lucy permalink
    February 26, 2010 06:23

    Hi,

    The latest on Gitagate…(I think) Wall Street Journal.
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704454304575081331766664948.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

    There’s an additional bit of content from what we have seen before, in her chat with journalist, Michael Weiss:

    “Especially galling for Ms. Sahgal is the fact that she only accepted her job after insisting to Widney Brown, senior director of International Law and Policy at Amnesty, that she be allowed to address the Begg alliance.

    “I told her, ‘If you don’t give me the power to clean up this Begg situation, I won’t take on the gender affairs assignment. Widney encouraged me to write a memo on it and even came past my office late one night while I was writing to discuss it. There was no internal resistance against this. So I was promoted with full support. Then, when the Sunday Times story broke, everything I uncovered was deemed ‘innuendo.'”
    ===================================
    Hmmmn. Why didn’t she say that before?
    ===================================

    In its entirety:

    • OPINION
    FEBRUARY 25, 2010, 7:23 P.M. ET
    Amnesty International and the Taliban
    A staffer dissents from celebrating a terror spokesman, and is suspended.
    By MICHAEL WEISS

    Until two weeks ago, Gita Sahgal led Amnesty International’s gender-affairs unit and was considered an exemplar of human-rights activism. Now she’s suspended from her job and in need of an attorney willing to confront a venerable nongovernmental organization that is celebrated by the likes of Bono and Al Pacino.

    What happened? Ms. Sahgal tried to get her Amnesty colleagues to cease their partnership with Moazzam Begg, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee who is, as Ms. Sahgal rightly describes him, “Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban.”

    Mr. Begg is a British citizen who was captured in Pakistan in 2001 as an enemy combatant and sent to Guantanamo. He was released without charge in 2005. Mr. Begg claims he was tortured and threatened with execution. He has since become a minor celebrity in the Western human-rights community.

    He is currently the director of Cageprisoners, a group that bills itself as an organization that exists “solely to raise awareness of the plight of prisoners . . . held as part of the War On Terror.” Amnesty describes Cageprisoners as a “leading human rights organization.” Yet one of its senior members, Asim Qureshi, spoke at a 2006 London rally sponsored by extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, which promotes the idea of a renascent Islamic caliphate. Mr. Qureshi took the occasion to glorify terrorism in Iraq, Chechnya, Afghanistan and Kashmir.

    Mr. Begg does not hide his own Islamist convictions. In his memoir, “Enemy Combatant,” he recalls his interrogation at Guantanamo, in which he credits his emigration to Afghanistan to his desire “to live in an Islamic state—one that was free from the corruption and despotism of the rest of the Muslim world.” The Taliban, Mr. Begg insists in his book, were “better than anything Afghanistan has had in the past twenty-five years.” Elsewhere he has cited and sold the works of the “charismatic scholar” Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, erstwhile mentor to Osama bin Laden.

    Despite all of this, Amnesty has provided Mr. Begg with numerous speaking platforms. He has toured Europe with Amnesty officials as part of a campaign to urge Western governments to offer safe haven to Gitmo detainees. A recent stop was 10 Downing Street, where they petitioned Prime Minister Gordon Brown to push for the release of Britons still held at the prison. Amnesty says it associates with Mr. Begg because he experienced first-hand the human-rights violations at Guantanamo.

    Enter Ms. Sahgal, a longtime Amnesty employee who believed that her organization’s support for Mr. Begg betrayed its core principles. She went public with her concerns in a Feb. 7 interview with London’s Sunday Times in which she called the collaboration “a gross error of judgment” that posed a serious threat to human rights and to Amnesty’s reputation. Amnesty suspended Ms. Sahgal from her job, claiming it didn’t want her opinion of Mr. Begg to be confused with its own.

    Amnesty continues to defend its affiliation with Mr. Begg and Cageprisoners. Last week, on a Canadian radio program, Amnesty’s interim Secretary General Claudio Cordone described Mr. Begg’s politics as benign, saying there was so far no evidence to suggest that the organization should severe ties with him.

    This is nonsense, says Ms. Sahgal via telephone in her home in London. “Amnesty has messaged him as a human-rights advocate . . . He was in Taliban Afghanistan. He was not a charity worker.”

    Especially galling for Ms. Sahgal is the fact that she only accepted her job after insisting to Widney Brown, senior director of International Law and Policy at Amnesty, that she be allowed to address the Begg alliance.

    “I told her, ‘If you don’t give me the power to clean up this Begg situation, I won’t take on the gender affairs assignment. Widney encouraged me to write a memo on it and even came past my office late one night while I was writing to discuss it. There was no internal resistance against this. So I was promoted with full support. Then, when the Sunday Times story broke, everything I uncovered was deemed ‘innuendo.'”

    For Ms. Sahgal, her case is not simply a minor lapse in judgment. She thinks the problem is systemic. “This is a very peculiarly ideological approach to human rights, which misses the point.”

    Novelist Salman Rushdie had harsher words. In a public statement, he said that Amnesty had “done its reputation incalculable damage” by allying with Mr. Begg. “It looks very much as if Amnesty’s leadership is suffering from a kind of moral bankruptcy, and has lost the ability to distinguish right from wrong.”

    Mr. Weiss is a contributing editor at Tablet Magazine and a blogger for The New Criterion.

Trackbacks

  1. Irene Khan on Gita Sahgal « Ten Percent
  2. Pickled Politics » Irene Khan challenges Gita Sahgal’s version of events on Amnesty

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