Human rights are for all

Amnesty International is being accused in a media article today of putting the human rights of some people above those of others. This is not, and has never been, true. Implicit in the accusation, is the view that we should choose those whose rights we promote. We reject this view utterly. Amnesty International campaigns for all internationally recognised human rights for all people – it is not about their views, their political opinions, their actions – it’s about upholding the universality of human rights: these are the inalienable rights of all human beings. As part and parcel of promoting human rights, we also have a long history of demanding that those who perpetrate human rights abuses be brought to justice – whoever they may be.  We make this call because victims deserve to see justice done, to know that the harm done to them has been exposed and to seek reparations. 

Whenever Amnesty International accuses governments or other actors of committing human rights violations – based on our research – they typically make one of two defences.  Either the violation never happened, for example, denying the existence of secret detention facilities or that the victim got what he or she “deserved.”

When the US government defended its detention of people it suspected as terrorists in Guantánamo Bay, then President Bush famously described the detainees as the “worst of the worst.”  Translation – these men got what they deserved.  They got years of detention, torture and ill-treatment, solitary confinement, complete isolation from the world and of course, no means to defend themselves against the charge of being the “worst of the worst”.  

Amnesty International responded to President Bush’s claims by calling on the US authorities to either try them in a court of law in proceedings that met international standards for fair trial or release them.  In a tacit acknowledgement that they got it wrong, the US authorities have released more than 500 detainees without bringing charges.

One of those who was released without charge, and has never been convicted of terrorist-related offences, is Moazzam Begg. Following his release in 2005, Amnesty International met him to discuss his experiences. Moazzam Begg’s account is consistent with the testimony of other detainees about human rights violations. He has since spoken at Amnesty International events describing his experiences and highlighting the plight of detainees who remain in Guantánamo and the need for accountability for human rights violations. 

A European tour is currently underway as part of a campaign to encourage more EU countries to accept former Guantánamo detainees. 

The tour was initiated by Reprieve and the Centre for Constitutional Rights but a number of Amnesty International national sections are hosting the tour in different European countries.

Tomorrow, Moazzam Begg will speaking alongside Amnesty International, speaking specifically on behalf of those detainees in need of protection in a third country.

Today, Amnesty International is being criticised for speaking alongside him and for being “soft” on the Taleban, when our record is one of unreserved opposition to their abuses over the years. 

Interestingly, the US and other governments that have violated human rights standards in the name of countering terrorism justify those violations by saying that our security can only be protected by violating the rights of others.  Mr Begg is one of the people that the US government defined as “other.” 

But there is no place for the “other” in human rights because to argue that some people are more ‘deserving’ than others of having their rights protected is to argue that some beings are less than human.

Widney Brown, Senior Director for International Law and Policy, Amnesty International – International Secretariat.

Posted in International Organizations, Security with Human Rights | 99 Comments

  1. G P Knarich says:

    In your own words:

    Whenever Amnesty International accuses governments or other actors of committing human rights violations – based on our research – they typically make one of two defences. Either the violation never happened, for example, denying the existence of secret detention facilities or that the victim got what he or she “deserved.”

    You have addressed Ms Gita Sahgal’s right to freedom of expression and opinion with suspension? Oh yes, it is probably what she deserved!!!! Shame on AI for invoking actions that they decree when acted out by others!!

  2. Jolene Tan says:

    There are some clear red flags: Moazzam Begg and Cage Prisoners’ connections to Anwar Al-Awlaki; the campaigning by them for convicted prisoners (some of whom express fascist views) without any clear and unambiguous distinction between the abuses committed against them and instances of their rightful detention; Moazzam Begg’s record of admiration for the Taliban, to the extent of bringing his family, including women, to live under their regime; Asim Qureshi’s speech at the Hizb ut-Tahrir rally. At the very least, these raise serious questions about their suitability as an organisation with whom to work so closely and promote so extensively. There is no argument that you should advocate for their rights: the argument is whether you should give their politics an additional patina of credibility by positioning them as partners in human rights work.

    If it is correct, as Gita Sahgal has said, that this partnership has occurred in the face of negative recommendations by your internal experts, and that there has been an issue with internal accountability about the decision-making process in AI, your response is highly disappointing. I have supported Amnesty for some years now and will reconsider my donations in light of how this is handled.

    Please do not obfuscate the issue. This is not about your other work on the Taliban, or who deserves human rights (short answer: everyone. Long answer: still everyone). This is about the effects of this particular partnership and whether you have given due consideration to its implications.

  3. Magdi Amer says:

    It is still there some more action needed by the human rights organization .this what everyone the world expects ,but the shortage of the fund in these organizations makes them sometimes be veiwed as if they are negative in some cases .But also I ask the Amnesty International and the UNO to give the same area and time to the issues which are similar or have the same similarity

  4. Pingback: Widney Brown speaks to the BBC regarding Gita Sahgal and human rights (with transcript) « Earwicga

  5. Leo Schmitz says:

    as per usual, people can’t keep diffrent issues seperate. The fact that Mr Begg is an misogynist or not is completely and utterly unrelated to his personal human rights furthermore it’s of no interest and only becomes an issue if you lift it out of its context like Gita Shagal has done. Even the worst people have a right to not be arbitrarily imprisoned without charges being brought against them. It is also quite astonashing that people are refering to these people as terrorists even when they have never been charged with anything and after a long and probably illeagel detention has been released.

    It should be held true that human rights are for all, EVEN those who are ignorant.

  6. Ralph says:

    I have yet to hear one shred of evidence that Mr. Begg has used his association with Amnesty to promote any agenda other than respect for the humanr rights of all, including suspected terrorists. Nor have I heard one shred of evidence that Amnesty has endorsed any views of Mr. Begg or any other individual, for that matter, other than respect for universal human rights. As for canonizing Ms. Saghal, I hardly think so. She has a prominent position in an organization where she has some power to influence policy. If she disagrees with a decision, the principled choice is to continue to work internally to reverse that decision or resign in protest. It is not principled or admirable to go running to the media in an effort to harm Amnesty and expect no reprecussions because she disagrees with a policy decision. Everyone has a right to free speech, but nobody has a right to a specific job. This is not a whistleblower situation, as no one has alleged that Amnesty has done anything illegal. Ms. Saghal raises legitimate issues regarding Mr. Begg, but the manner she has gone about is unprofessional.

  7. Pingback: Defending Moazzam Begg and Amnesty International « moof

  8. MIRANDA says:

    I would like to raise our deepest concerns with regards to the recent suspension of Gita Sahgal, Head of the Gender Unit at the International Secretariat.
    I feel that Gita Sahgal has raised some important questions and we would like Amnesty International to give clear and transparent answers about their close association and collaboration with an organisation and individuals who are in support and act as apologists for Islamic fundamentalism.
    As an expert on human rights, women’s rights and religious extremism, with over thirty years of experience as an activist and researcher, Gita Sahgal is raising legitimate anxieties about how Amnesty International has come to collaborate with individuals that have publicly shown an affiliation with an extremist ideology based on discrimination.
    I do not dispute that everyone has a right to life without torture and a right to fair trial. Like Gita Sahgal, we completely abhor the illegal detention and torture at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere as part of the so-called “War on Terror”. However, the assumption that victims of human rights violations can automatically be considered human rights defenders is a very dangerous one.
    What Gita Sahgal has identified is too important to be dismissed as an internal matter. The fight against the use of torture should not be deployed to sanitise the position of individuals and organisations linked to religious fundamentalism, terror and discrimination. Such links are very damaging to Amnesty International’s name which can be used to provide a platform and legitimacy, for a cause which completely undermines its core commitment to human rights.
    It is Amnesty International’s duty to show transparency and clarify these questions for members and followers who wholeheartedly support and trust their work.

  9. Malik says:

    This is important – Global Petition to Amnesty International: Restoring the Integrity of Human Rights

    http://www.human-rights-for-all.org/spip.php?article15

  10. Eric Anderson says:

    This letter appears to me to completely miss the point. We can applaud AI’s efforts on Guantanamo, even, if you wish. But what we cannot tolerate is a marriage of organizations and allegiances with groups whose views or doctrines are explicitly antithetical to your cause. Please admit your “hasty” action and do what is right by reinstating Sahgal and reaffirming your standard.

  11. Cristina Cona says:

    The present development is just the latest and most unfortunate example of Amnesty’s seemingly inexorable slide away from its commitment to freedom of speech and prisoners of conscience (in case anyone has forgotten, these were the issues on which the organization was first set up) towards, on the one hand, intervention on a hotchpotch of politically-correct issues, some of which deviate quite widely from its original mandate, and on the other hand, an increasingly uncritical and subservient approach towards political Islam and sometimes Islamic fundamentalism. The adoption of Moazzam Begg as poster boy is but the last in a chain of slip-ups that include the disgraceful messing around the Amina Lawal case in 2003 (due, it seems, to the fear of antagonising local Muslims – as if in its long-forgotten, principled past Amnesty had ever felt the need substantially to tone down its campaigns in order to placate local extremists).

    Another one of the factors that have contributed to this sorry state of affairs is the organisation’s arrogance. This stems from the success of many of its campaigns over the years, and from the moral authority it has consequently created for itself. To criticise Amnesty has become a big no-no in respectable circles , and this, sadly, has allowed it to believe itself above criticism. I don’t know whether it’s the same in Britain, but in the country where I live (Belgium) Amnesty is notorious for not deigning to answer even well-meant criticism from sympathisers on certain PC issues (the same sympathisers, incidentally, whom they don’t hesitate to approach for financial help). In the long run, however, this contempt for the public could prove to be extremely counterproductive: by not listening to anybody and pursuing a more and more unprincipled agenda, they are going to be perceived more and more as out of touch, and lose most of the moral authority they now hold. The first to suffer will be, inevitably, the very people they are meant to help – the prisoners and victims of torture, who will have to rely on a discredited and (therefore) ineffective organization.

  12. Morris Shinderman says:

    Shame on Amnesty International for its treatment of Gita Sahgal. To give AI’s treasured imprimatur to an advocate of a system that is, on a good day, Medievalist in its beliefs (and enforces those beliefs with punishments such as amputations, stonings and beheadings) is a corruption of all of AI’s founding principles. AI should have used its resources to investigate human rights abuses by such as the Taliban, who Mr. Begg loves and advocates. Using Mr. Begg to advocate for the human rights of “others” is like using John wayne Gacy to advocate for the protection of children.

  13. Nick says:

    Amnesty International needs to appreciate the distinction between, on the one hand, advocating for the human rights of a human rights violator and, on the other hand, providing a platform for that once-victim to promote human rights violations. Many people have suffered human rights violations in Guatanamo Bay, and many of these no doubt committed or advocated human rights violations prior to their imprisonment. Presumably very few of these people have set up organizations like Cageprisoners and have the despicable associations that the group has. Then why share a platform with Moazzam Begg? It is enough do decry what was done to him with. Amnesty International has made a grave mistake in also giving him a platform to expound his hateful views.

  14. Martine Bellet says:

    I certainly would not dream of questioning Ms Sahgal’s commitment to human rights. I would just like to point out that, when I joined Amnesty, a long time ago, I was told that my membership did not allow me to speak publicly on behalf of Amnesty International unless authorized to do so -has this gone out of fashion? The way I see the present situation, this person was suspended (and not fired) not for disagreeing with AI’s policy, but for voicing her criticism in the press, which does not seem really “fair play”, if I may say so… But then I don’t know the whole story. And I’m not sure I want to know, either. Let’s get back to work!

  15. PH says:

    It must be noted, as well, that Cage Prisoners is also supporting terrorists who have been convicted after a fair trial, like Rachid Ramda. Plus, the article they published, “the problem with Gita”, is an unacceptable piece of misogynous bigotry, full of conspiracy theories and barely concealed threats.

    A huge difference exists between advocating a fair justice for all and supporting crime. By crossing this line, Amnesty International has lost any kind of credibility, and also betrayed the trust of its donors.

  16. Eric says:

    Thank you for once again justifying my belief that Amnesty International is a bunch of self rightious morons parading their so-called virtue for their own self satisfaction. Your moral masturbation will continue to lead more innocent people to be injured, incarcerated, or killed by the Taliban and other forces of violent stupidity. Gita Sahgal rightly pointed out that you were championing a person, though while he may not have directly commited terrorist acts, is such a relentless cheerleader pretty much deserved some kind of confinement.

  17. Lucy says:

    I couldn’t have said it better. I didn’t write this, but I endorse every word. This is from http://earwicga.wordpress.com/ Interview on CBC Radio, Canada on 18 February 2010 with Gita Sahgal and Claudio Cordone. After a spectacularly misinformed introduction and more smoke and mirrors from Gita Sahgal, Claudio Cordone explains why Sahgal was suspended following her “misrepresentations” in the media, how her allegations against Moazzam Begg and Cageprisoners have already been dealt with and how the evidence simply IS NOT there to sustain them. Sahgal is dealing in “sensationalism”.

    Take it away interim Secretary General of Amnesty International, Claudio Cordone:

    Well it’s a simple reason [for Sahgal's suspension], when Gita decided to go public with her criticism of Amnesty and in a context when there was all kinds of misrepresentations in the media, we had to make clear that she was no longer speaking on behalf of Amnesty while we were looking into the matter. The suspension is not a sanction, it’s not a punishment, it’s just a precautionary measure to make clear that Gita cannot speak on behalf of Amnesty while we look into the matter.

    Moazzam Begg is someone who’s been detained in Guantanamo. He speaks very eloquently about that experience, and at the moment we’re campaigning to the end of the detentions in Guantanamo, because they’re still continuing and he’s very good in that respect. And because of that he’s been on a speaking tour with us, so we’ve had other instances in which we’ve participated with him, and the key point is that this is something that we know about him and we work with him in that respect, and nothing, and I go back to what Gita was saying before, that has come up to make us believe that he does in fact have a violent of discriminating agenda. This is Gita’s point but every time we’ve looked for specifics we don’t get any specifics or we get sensationalisms.

    Of course and we look into all those [reports that Cageprisoners support jihadi views] but that’s the critical point in this debate. Are we supposed to act on the basis of accurate information, or just inuendos or generalisations? When Gita says, or others say, these guys are promoting extremist views, can someone please explain what are these views; look at their website, look at what they’ve been saying publicly, that’s the evidence on which we have to go about. But the sort of things that we’re getting are generalisations or sensationalising such as they’re promoting the rights of people who have reprehensible views, and when you look at that we can be accused of the same thing. We talk about Haled Sheik Mohamed, who as you know has taken credit for the 9/11 attacks. He’s been waterboarded, and we’re saying he shouldn’t have been waterboarded and he deserves a fair trial. Does this mean that we’re promoting his views which are as reprehensible as any views that include killing civillians and discrimination. Of course not.

    Of course [jihadi views would not be compatible with other human rights] , but that’s my point – in this case nothing has come up to prove that Moazzam Begg or Cageprisoners are in fact promoting violence, or are promoting discrimination. And every time, in the few times that Gita or any of the others in the last 11 days have been engaging in this have been pushed, or when we try to pin them down on what exactly you’re referring to, we’re not getting anything. Her concerns are not new, we were taking them on board and again because we’re not getting anything that should lead us to review that relationship [between Amnesty and Moazzam Begg] we haven’t. I’ll be the first to say that if any evidence comes up that in fact that they are promoting or advocating things that we do not stand for of course we’ll end that relationship immediately. It’s a matter of principle at this stage that we cannot, on the basis of unsubstantiated accusations, just end that relationship.

    I agree with that [quoted from a petition: Many of us who work do defend human rights in the context of conflict of terrorism know the importance of maintaining a clear and visible distance from potential allies and partners when there's any doubt about their commitment to human rights], but this is not the case we are talking about. As I said, it’s a matter of basic principles, and people are innocent until proven guilty in all kinds of ways, and in this case … Moazzam Begg and Cageprisoners are being accused of promoting violence, of promoting discrimination and I’m saying … there’s no evidence that they support Taliban views and what are the jihadi views? … He [Begg] hasn’t written a book in Taliban views … the last time we were able to pin Gita and others down in this respect, what he said in his book is that the Taliban were better than what had come before and I bet you we can even find NATO generals possibly sharing that view …

    By the way, we have a very long record of opposing the Taliban, not just with regard to their treatment of women but their attacks on civillians and all the rest, but Moazzam Begg himself has condemmed some of these abuses. He has rebutted all the accusations put to him point by point whenever those accusations were specific. And that’s why I’m saying, if there is something else that is specific, things that they’ve said, things that they’ve written beyond what has been referred to so far which to me would not justify breaking that relationship we would, but none of that has come up and it’s just distorting on the basic objective that we’re trying to achieve which is to highlight the plight of Guantanamo and do it with former prisoners and people who also have credibility within communities that we’re trying to reach, hoping that people are not going to take up those grievences to blow up trains instead of engaging with the proper systems.

    Look, if we were to say we’re gonna stop speaking on the same platform as Moazzam Begg, on the basis of rumours, inuendos, the sort of stuff that actually governments have been throwing at us for years, then that’s where Amnesty would be betraying it’s basic principles. This is a legitimate debate, but that’s not the way to handle it.

    The book deal and the media career are in the bag now Gita, the smearing of Moazzam Begg is obviously something you feel very proud of and have no scruples about doing, like so many of your comrades in spite. Way to go Gita and your fellow pro-war pro-torture supporters. To speak for human rights by using spite, smear and lies defeats the point. And as I’ve said before “Playing the victim card doesn’t wash, Sahgal, when you are actively smearing an actual victim; in fact it is disgusting.”.

    “I have been Foolish and Deluded,” said he, “and I am a Bear of No Brain at All.”
    “You’re the Best Bear in All the World,” said Christopher Robin soothingly.
    -from Winnie-The-Pooh by A.A. Milne

  18. Steven Friedrich says:

    As along time supporter and member of AI i am shocked at this latest development wherein a platform for the most odious views possible concerning Islamist extremism is given AI support. Shame on you for betraying basic human right principles we lontime AI supporters have fought so hard for. Re-instate Ms. Saghal immediateley and apologize for your betrayal of basic AI principles!

  19. AI irrelevant says:

    Widney, your response is less than adequate and a total smokescreen. You don’t even make a coherent argument. Come on, you’re clearly not going to make Secretary General with that low-level hogwash – I’ve seen better spin from a drunk blindfolded left-armer. Joking apart, sadly you are just being true to form. AI top-brass never admit they made a mistake and move on, they just stick to their usual arrogant guns and try and blame it all on horrible Mr Bush or the Taliban, although not this time, as it might offend Mr Begg – don’t want him canceling the tour – they’ve already paid for his tickets and hotel, and it’s non-refundable!!

  20. Pete Smith says:

    I am delighted Amnesty supports the case of people like Moazzam Begg, but disgusted that the same organisation is prepared to share a platform with him. Suspending Gita Sahgal for speaking out is a disgrace. I think I’ll suspend my direct debit.

  21. Nonika Sahgal says:

    I have heard the Canada CBC Radio interview with Gita Sahgal,immediately followed by one with Claudio Cordone, AI’s interim Secretary General. It gives listeners the idea that Mr Cordone , and thereby Amnesty International are up against the wall.The Gita Sahgal suspension and her unaswered questions have actually become a huge embarrassment for Amnesty, and to me it appears that the whole matter has become a prestige issue for Amnesty – one of saving its face, and it doesn’t know how to do it. Mr Cordone waffles and repeats himself, and doesn’t answer the main point! In a nutshell Amnesty is up against the question – institution versus individual/s. There’s no place for ego in matters such as this, surely. Gita Sahgal was and indeed remains clear, focussed and to the point. Indeed Amnesty, listeners of radio, and readers on the internet would like you to face the issue squarely, and be big enough to make public the step by step process which led to Amnesty forging a partnership with Moazzem Begg, accompanying him to Downing Street with his petition, and hosting his European tour to seek refuge for ex Guatanamo detainees. The public has a right to know complete and honest answers from Amnesty. It is actually quite comic that a huge institution feels threatened by its respected, renowned senior employee whose credentials speak for her. For heavens sake, Salman Rushdie and Faroukh Dhondy have spoken up for her. What’s the matter with Amnesty’s conscience?

  22. Larissa Goruk says:

    Gita Sahgal should is right, we should not be defending the Taliban or its supporters

  23. Lucy says:

    I wrote this comment following the NPR (National Public Radio Broadcast) of 27 February 2010.
    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124156482
    There is nothing to indicate that Moazzam Begg supports the abuse of human rights. Gita Sahgal does not have a new point to make here or evidence against Moazzam Begg. She has placed herself in a corner and seems to want to justify that. What she is saying and repeatedly saying has no substance that brings her any closer to the platform-sharing principle allegedly at risk. Is she saying that he deserved to be tortured, then? That is the kind of logical conclusion that she is leading us towards. It is a shame, really, that she cannot make some concession indicating that she had made a mistake and misunderstood Moazzam Begg’s position. It would be better for her and everyone else. She cannot make him guilty of something he is not. Is she saying that he deserved to be tortured?

  24. James Byrne says:

    Rights are prima facie obligations of others to treat you in a certain way. They are not inalienable: if I threaten to shoot an innocent hostage I have immediately forfeited my right not to be harmed; a person’s prima facie right to freedom is forfeited when they are convicted of rape, murder or embezzlement or conspiring to do so.

    The gentleman in question is a man Amnesty should not court. At the very least he attended – on his own admission – terrorist training camps; places where Islamists are trained to kill us and our soldiers. How utterly disgusting. Shame on you Amnesty International.

    The gentleman in question is a man Amnesty should not court. At the very least he attended – on his own admission – terrorist training camps; places where Islamists were trained to kill us. How utterly disgusting.

  25. Margret says:

    Hi! without offense to anyone, i feel there are some people in the discussion having some soft corners for terrorists. No doubt they are also humans but being is judged by deeds, not shape and form!

  26. Társkereső says:

    Amnesty international accused again? They just don’t seem to let this organization to operate in peace. There is a story like this every month.

  27. Katy says:

    Yes, no soft corners for terrorists. Yes, they are humans as well, but humans greatly misguided, and they pose a great risk to those who value life at all costs. Sometimes we must sacrifice a few to save many.

  28. Jonathan says:

    I support and applaud amnesty international for not picking and choosing when it comes to human rights. All humans on this earth are made equally. Bravo amnesty international!

  29. Jack says:

    Human rights is a hot button subject, we have to have a ruling body in all areas of society..sometime its cusdos and sometimes its that was dumb….

  30. JR says:

    The idea that organizations like amnesty int can be influenced by subversize powers is quite unsettling

  31. Dietrol says:

    What is the problem with everyone that is trying to stop AI activities? I tought we were already on the 21st century…

  32. Scott says:

    Speaking out for people who’s rights have been trampled helps everyone. While obviously terrorism is a bad thing taking years out of someones life just because they are a suspected of terrorism is ludicrous. I really have a hard time understanding how the US can not see how their actions seem to increase violence instead of decrease it. We would have a lot less human rights violations on both sides of the conflict if both sides would step back a bit.

  33. Benjie says:

    Amnesty international just make there job well. We are blaming wrong persons for these one

  34. Robert says:

    I think it will take quite some time for the U.S. to be taken seriously on human rights issues due to Guantonamo

  35. angelle says:

    I believe the campaign fundamentally damages Amnesty International’s integrity and, more importantly, constitutes a threat to human rights.

  36. rxadvices says:

    Success in promoting human rights requires hard-to-achieve success in areas including building more capable, responsive, efficient, and non-corrupt governments. As at last governments are there to ensure human rights

  37. mbt says:

    Success in promoting human rights requires hard-to-achieve success in areas including building more capable, responsive, efficient, and non-corrupt governments. As at last governments are there to ensure human rights

  38. campaign fundamentally damages Amnesty International’s integrity and, more importantly, constitutes a threat to human rights.

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  41. Tony Hoang says:

    I think it will take quite some time for the U.S. to be taken seriously on human rights issues due to Guantonamo.
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  42. Thao Ho says:

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  43. I think it will take quite some time for the U.S

  44. 16 year old says:

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  46. THuy lieu says:

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  47. Leon says:

    I think it will take quite some time for the U.S

  48. We are born free and equal!! Do you think the same?

  49. Human rights are for everyone, regardless of who you are

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