Amnesty International’s Suspension of Gita Sahgal
We are gravely concerned at the way in which Amnesty International has sought to address Gita Sahgal’s criticism of its close collaboration with the likes of Moazzam Begg. Clearly, it must be right for the Head of its Gender Unit to interrogate Amnesty International as to who it chooses to associate with without fear of being sacked?
We admire and respect the work of Amnesty International to get women’s human rights on the agenda and we support Amnesty International’s campaign to highlight the plight of those who have been tortured, detained without trial and denied due process. However we believe that Amnesty International’s stance is being rightly questioned by organisations like ours who struggle to ensure that the debate on the War on Terror and religious fundamentalism is not reduced to the logic of ‘either you are with us or you are against us’. We have sought to avoid such dead ends which fail to illuminate how and why human rights violations are perpetrated either by States such as the US, UK and Israel or by all religious fundamentalist movements that are on the rise around the world. As women’s organisations, we have fought against considerable odds, to ensure that women’s human rights and those of other marginalised groups and minorities around the world are universally accepted and addressed as such, especially in the face of violence and persecution by non-state actors, including all religious right wing forces who masquerade as anti-imperialist, development, human rights and anti-racist movements.
Failing to acknowledge concerns that Gita Sahgal and others have raised about those who sympathise with or have close connections with anti-democratic religious right forces in all religions including the Taliban, signals the view that Amnesty International is not concerned about the rights of women and sexual minorities or freedom of expression.
Amnesty International’s attempt to equate Gita Sahgal’s legitimate concerns with the demonisation of Guantanamo inmates as the ‘other’ by the neoconservatives and their allies in the West, in our view, amounts to a denial and abrogation of internal and external accountability. What we need is a proper debate, not a closing down of debate of these important issues.
When so called victims of the War on Terror advocate ‘engagement’ with combatants – perhaps necessary to achieve peace – why are they not challenged on the authoritarian social and political agenda that they support? We know from experience around the world, including post war Iraq that women’s rights are the first to be traded in such political settlements!
If human rights are universal and indivisible – a view which we believe we share with Amnesty International – then it becomes all the more incumbent upon us all to double check who we take on as our partners. If, like us, Amnesty International accepts that the question should not be about whether some are more deserving of human rights than others, then it needs to urgently review its collaboration with those who sympathise with all religious fundamentalist forces however difficult this may be. The time has come for all liberals working within the human rights arena to engage their critical faculties, not suspend or leave them behind for fear of being labelled Islamaphobic, anti-semitic or racist. There is another way of looking at human rights – one which does not trade women’s rights or those of other vulnerable minorities for either the right to security or for the right to manifest religious identity.
Southall Black Sisters
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“A Global Petition to Amnesty International: Restoring the Integrity of Human Rights”