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    A statement by Gita Sahgal

    by Rumbold on 9th February, 2010 at 9:12 pm    

    Gita Sahgal, a senior figure in Amnesty International, was suspended by that organisation following comments made by her to the Sunday Times. This concerned Amnesty’s continued support for Mozzam Begg and his Cage Prisoners’ group, a controversial organisation which Ms. Sahgal felt should be treated with caution. Here’s what she had to say on the matter:

    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.

            Post to del.icio.us

    Filed in: Civil liberties, Terrorism

    34 Comments below   |  

    Reactions: Twitter, blogs
    1. pickles

      Blog post:: A statement by Gita Sahgal http://bit.ly/9K7mc5

    2. Sarah Raphael

      RT @pickledpolitics: Blog post:: A statement by Gita Sahgal http://bit.ly/9K7mc5

    1. Shamit — on 9th February, 2010 at 11:48 pm  

      Good post Rumbold.

    2. A.C. — on 10th February, 2010 at 1:10 am  

      I have written to Amnesty withdrawing my support until Ms Sahgal is reinstated and their association with Cageprisoners terminated. Don’t think I’m the only one to do so.

    3. A.C. — on 10th February, 2010 at 1:16 am  

      P.S. Rumbold once again it is left to your good self to bring the biggest topics to this blog.

    4. Bill Corr — on 10th February, 2010 at 4:55 am  

      Notice how Begg and his gang can switch hats quickly?

      One the one hand they are pitiable oppressed Muslims of poor immigreant origins enduring poverty, racism and the horrors of Islamophobia and on the other they are the fearless proud vanguard of tomorrow’s conquerors.

      Stir that mixture into a bucket of self-hating White Liberal Guilt and wait for results!

      Is this the same Begg who wrote the Urdu edition if ‘Benefit Fraud Made Easy’ I wonder.

    5. Boyo — on 10th February, 2010 at 7:39 am  

      The relative silence of PP on this speaks volumes. Tbh i’m not convinced this is a 100 per cent open-shut case - NGO internal politics can make Afghanistan itself feel like a cake walk - but it does expose the contradictions inherent in the left-orthodoxy which Sunny et al personify.

    6. Boyo — on 10th February, 2010 at 7:50 am  

      Indeed it is symptomatic, IMHO of a “new” post 1989 orthodoxy which has failed, and i’m not just talking about multi-culturalism etc. The whole choice agenda, which is Thatcher’s baby embraced by NewLab, needs to be re-examined (during Labour’s wilderness years) and we should try to see if it is not possible to go, ahem, back to basics. You know, class, equality, nationalisation, all that. In a generation of Labour we still have an unelected house of lords and greater educational inequality than for 50 years.

    7. cjcjc — on 10th February, 2010 at 8:31 am  

      I emailed LibCon two days ago suggesting they cover this story.

      But given the sympathies of the “Progressive” London types I guess that was never going to happen…

      Anyway better a late PP than never.

    8. Paul Moloney — on 10th February, 2010 at 10:47 am  

      It’s amazing how many white defenders of Begg have thrown out the accusation on blogs and discussions that Gita’s stance is due to racism. And somehow, that the head of Amnesty’s gender unit and a member of Southall Black Sisters is some kind of closet right-wingers who’s been hiding her beliefs all these years just to target Begg.


    9. PDF — on 10th February, 2010 at 11:34 am  

      Good to see at least one blogger on this site was willing to cover this huge story.

    10. joe90 — on 10th February, 2010 at 12:37 pm  

      Gita sahgal cocked it up and now pays the piper. The problem with sahgal is that she is lazy and doesn’t verify her facts before calling every tom dick and harry an extremist or fanatic. Now i see lawsuits are heading towards the Time’s for defamation marvellous.

      Oh and the ever so unbiased The Spectator is calling her brave lol, pathetic!

    11. cjcjc — on 10th February, 2010 at 3:07 pm  

      Which lawsuits?

    12. Joe 92 — on 10th February, 2010 at 3:49 pm  

      @Joe90 - if that’s how you feel about it Sunny then have the guts to put your own post up and say so.

    13. douglas clark — on 10th February, 2010 at 4:02 pm  

      cjcjc @ 11,

      I can only assume that it is based on this:

      …..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

      See here: http://tinyurl.com/yhbze7l

      Scroll down to the end.

    14. huron — on 10th February, 2010 at 4:07 pm  

      As someone who used to work at Amnesty’s International Secretariat, (IS - where Gita Sahgal works), I can recognise a perspective to this story that is perhaps lost in the media narrative.

      AI is a very cautious, slow moving machine. There is a large amount of process, consultation and internal dialogue involved in any decision taken - under the guise of maintaining AI’s reputation.

      So listening to Gita on Radio 4 this morning, it seems she is questioning how Cagedprisioners came to be associated with AI (in any capacity), without any documentation of the decision process. At least in theory we were supposed to follow vetting policy on anyone we worked with, down to, say, event caterers.

      Beyond this, there is another issue that may be indecipherable outside the IS. Whilst AI defends human rights victims, it also has a concept of Human Rights Defenders, HRDs, (who may or may not of also been victims of human rights abuses). http://www.amnesty.org/en/human-rights-defenders

      HRDs are meant to have impeccable backgrounds, and as such, there is a sort of an honour conveyed in being considered one by AI. The notion and distinction of being called an HRD may be lost on those outside of AI, (especially when AI bandies about opaque acronyms such as HRD!)

      If Gita thinks that AI is, either tacitly or overtly, implying that Cagedprisoners or Moazzam Beg are HRDs, I can see why this is causing a stir. Implying that they are HRDs is controversial in light of some of their associations or past statements. If the decision was taken internally to do so, it should have been decided through vigorous internal procedure, which would include definitively proof there were no connections between this group/individual and say the Taliban or other human rights violators. (These links may or may not exist). If the decision was not made consciously, but somehow AI has drifted into this type of association without due diligence, it is appropriate to ask how it happened from a governance perspective. If AI does not consider them to be HRDs, but is inadvertently seeming to, it should clarify its position.

      I am definitely with Gita on asking these questions and do believe that she should be reinstated. However, from a very pragmatic perspective I can also see why she was suspended for going to the media - that is also normal procedure.

      (*just to note, I haven’t spoken to anyone within AI about this issue - so this is entirely my interpretation alone).

    15. cjcjc — on 10th February, 2010 at 4:17 pm  

      I love the pomposity of “formal and major complaint”.
      Is that an official category?
      Does the PCC also accept informal and minor complaints?
      And I will eat my hat if there is any legal action against The Times.

    16. Sunny — on 10th February, 2010 at 4:44 pm  

      I will actually write about this now - though I find it amusing how many sad fuckwits come here to criticise me or do it on others blogs for not writing about things they think I should write about.

      Sunny write about this, sunny write about that! Why haven’t you written about that, you’re obviously a hiding something!! Sad, fucking people.

    17. David T — on 10th February, 2010 at 5:00 pm  

      Unless Begg has a lot of money, he isn’t going to bring legal action.

      No win no fee requires pretty good prospects of success.

    18. Rumbold — on 10th February, 2010 at 8:15 pm  

      Thanks everyone.

      I do think Sunny has a point. There is nothing wrong with readers, flagging up stories, in fact we encourage it, but the ‘why aren’t you talking about it’ can get a bit tiresome. I have a full-time job and so only have so much time to devote to PP. Since Sunny and I are the two main writers we can only cover so much.

    19. Boyo — on 10th February, 2010 at 10:40 pm  

      Heh Sunny. You set yourself up for it, quick enough to post on issues that fit your agenda. So as usual you resort to abuse, which says more about you than anyone else.

    20. Soso — on 11th February, 2010 at 6:48 pm  

      Gita had been pressuroing AI from the inside about this for about two years and got no where. Associating with Moazzam Beeg, whose ‘credentials’ as an unrepentant islamist are impeccable, have brought the entire organisation into disrepute. I used to donate to them occasionally, but they won’t get a cent out of me now. AI is a disgrace. How can an organisation dedicated to alieviating oppression and promoting human rights champion a man who would willing oppress and trample on human rights if it were to further the cause of radical Islam?

      Unless AI reconsideres this outrageous decision, they will crash and burn, and will be left with only a rump of far left and islamist supporters. They’re finished in my books.

    21. douglas clark — on 11th February, 2010 at 7:08 pm  

      I have been a member of Amnesty International for a very long time, although it doesn’t feel much like it. Hurons’ post at 14 is, more or less, how I assumed it worked. However their seems to be a lack of democratic accountability to the membership. I have never been asked to vote for a board of management in the whole time I have been a member. They require a root and branch rethink on that and, perhaps also on the issue of association. There certainly appear to be questions to be asked of Moazzam Begg, and I, for one, would like straightforward answers rather than legal threats. If he did, in fact, establish and run a girls school in Afghanistan, something that has become a central tenet of his claims, there ought to be independent evidence.

    22. KB Player — on 11th February, 2010 at 8:06 pm  

      If someone says, Why don’t you blog on this, you should say, well, my current rate is £20 per hour, this post will take me an hour and a half - £30 and you’re on. It’s amazingly cheeky to come over and ask someone who volunteers their services WTF they haven’t done even more than they presently do. Do these people go to charity shops and ask the volunteer staff, WTF aren’t you working three days a week instead of two?

    23. Rumbold — on 11th February, 2010 at 8:26 pm  

      Thanks KB Player. Ultimately this blog is only as strong as the commentors beneath the line.

    24. douglas clark — on 11th February, 2010 at 8:28 pm  

      KB Player @ 22,

      Well said.

    25. douglas clark — on 11th February, 2010 at 11:38 pm  

      This is quite interesting:


      So it has fearlessly shot the messenger.

    26. douglas clark — on 11th February, 2010 at 11:50 pm  

      Ré my post at 21,

      I would, quite like Moazzam Begg to answer the case made by ‘jiasa’ on Comment is Free:

      It is impossible to tell how many times, in response to the thirteen articles that Moazzem Begg has written for CiF, he has been asked for a truthful account of why he was in Afghanistan at the time he was picked up by US security personnel.
      However in his letter posted on cageprisoners.com, he makes the claim:
      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.
      Well Ms Sahgal certainly wouldn’t have found that out by researching The Guardian articles written by Mr Begg. What she would have found however on 22 February 2009 in his article ”Guantánamo: the forgotten prisoner” is the statement about Shaker Aamer:
      “Since the early 90s, Shaker Aamer had resided in the UK, where he worked as a translator at a legal firm and later met his wife. In the summer of 2001, Aamer made the decision to live and work in Pakistan and Afghanistan, along with his wife and children, to undertake projects to support a girls’ school and build wells.”
      How strange that Mr Begg seems to have retrieved his memory and can now remember that he was also setting up a girls school in Taliban infested Afghanistan.
      So was this the same girls school or a different one?
      And what was it that prevented Mr Begg from informing all those who asked from the time of his first article in February 2006 to his last one in January 2010, that he was in Afghanistan setting this girls school. Could we have some more details and know whether it still exists? Perhaps a new article above the line?
      Mr Begg states at the end of his letter to The Times:
      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.
      Well let’s hope the matter comes to court so that it and the Press Complaints Commission get the answers from him that CiF posters have been denied for four years.

      I’d be interested in an answer rather than a legal threat, but, there you go.

    27. Arif — on 11th February, 2010 at 11:54 pm  

      From what I have read, Gita Sahgal is accusing Moazzam Begg of supporting “systematic discrimination” and of being the UK’s foremost supporter of the Taliban.

      This is what I take to be her reasoning for believing associating with Moazzam Begg undermines Amnesty International’s credibility.

      If she could spell out what form of discrimination she believes Moazzam Begg to advocate, and where he has done so, this would help me make a judgment.

      Moazzam Begg for his part seems very clear what his support for the Taliban consists of - which is support for dialogue with the Taliban, coupled with opposition to the human rights abuses they perpetrate. For me this seems a reasonable position for someone associated with AI to take.

    28. douglas clark — on 12th February, 2010 at 12:10 am  



      On two grounds.

      Firstly that you cannot expect respect on the basis that you have survived torture and, thus, your ideas for a caliphate, which incorporates murder as a means of state, as justified. That probably has a Latin phrase attached to it, but it boils down to my enemies enemy is not my friend.

      You have to be at least honest about your past. I am not, so far, convinced that he did build a girls school in Afghanistan. Have you evidence to the contrary?

    29. Arif — on 12th February, 2010 at 12:23 am  


      I think whether or not he supports a caliphate or some other form of Government shouldn’t come into consideration for Amnesty International. What matters is consistent support for human rights.

      I have no evidence that he was or was not building a girl’s school and never said he did so or did not do so.

      I don’t see how this is relevant to whether he supports human rights abuses or systematic discrimination.

    30. douglas clark — on 12th February, 2010 at 12:38 am  


      What matters is consistent support for human rights.


      So, how do you say this?

      I think whether or not he supports a caliphate or some other form of Government shouldn’t come into consideration for Amnesty International.

      True, as far as his release is concerned. Beyond that, not so much.

      A caliphate is a deliberately unequal, religiously based form of government with a godhead. You expect unbelievers like me to find that acceptable? Remember, I never gave up paying whilst we got him out of that hell-hole. And I never expected him to become a regular human being either. But that certainly doesn’t excuse him, nor you.

      You want to cut my head off?

    31. Arif — on 12th February, 2010 at 7:46 am  

      Douglas, I discussed my concerns about the status of human rights in a caliphate in this thread: http://www.pickledpolitics.com/archives/1072

      I have concerns about the status of human rights in any political project. I don’t assume a religiously inspired political project is necessarily inconsistent with human rights - in fact I find some inspiration in the political projects of, for example, Martin Luther King Jnr, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Abdul Khan Ghaffar Khan.

      I also respect some secular political projects, while others I find very problematic.

      In all projects, I will probably find things to worry me - even human rights discourse can be hijacked or be applied unfairly with prioritisation of some rights over others (a common argument within Amnesty International). But it is still a very valuable political project for me, and I see it as compatible with many others - just as Amnesty International argues for human rights improvements in all States regardless of their political orientations.

      In this case, Gita Sahgal is concerned about Amnesty’s internal procedures, which is a legitimate concern. Has there been due diligence in working with another organisation? It raises the importance of having such a process, so that it can be applied equally to all organisations Amnesty works with (as targeting only one or other group would appear to me to be prejudiced).

      The questions at the moment are if AI has such processes, and if it has followed them. Maybe a process could be developed as a simple process of asking some clear questions of the organisation based on the core principles of Amnesty - however it is not straightforward: some groups may take no position on the death penalty, so should Amnesty never share a campaign for women’s rights with them? Should Amnesty refuse to work with any group led by individuals have a past association with any State which abused human rights?

      I’m glad for Gita Sahgal to start such a discussion, and hope she can suggest what she would like to see as the process.

      Currently, I would like Amnesty to be clear to both Gita Sahgal and Moazzam Begg that Amnesty International will refuse to be drawn into any pro- or anti-Taliban political agenda. Its agenda is human rights for all.

    32. femminist — on 12th February, 2010 at 10:03 am  

      Arif, you are totally missing the point here. Cageprisoners and Moazzam Begg have publicly shown their links and support for the jihad, Talibans, fundamentalism, extremism …in complete contradiction with universal human rights and what Amnesty International stands for. Amnesty International have chosen to associate themselves with a radical fundamentalist group, have granted them a platform to promote themselves as human rights defenders and have legitimised/ sanitised the political position of individuals who support extremism/fundamentalism. This is utterly wrong.
      I would encourage all of those who support Gita to write to Amnesty and demand for transparency and clear answers to her legitimate questions.

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