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Statement by Gita Sahgal on Leaving Amnesty International April 12, 2010

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Read the full text here, on Harry’s Place.

This is a sad day indeed for human rights campaigners everywhere — and a confirmation of our worst fears about Amnesty International.


Amnesty: “It would not be helpful” to debate Gita Saghal’s case at AGM April 4, 2010

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The following is the response I received from Amnesty International’s UK section following the submission of my emergency resolution to the annual general meeting.

Dear Eric

Thank you for submitting your resolution on Gita Saghal.

Unfortunately we are not able to accept this resolution.

There is currently an investigation under way at the International
Secretariat in relation to Gita Saghal which is being carried out in
accordance with the IS’s established human resource policies and UK
employment law.  The investigation is clearly carried out
confidentially in line with established human resource practices and
accordingly we do not believe it would be helpful, or carry any weight
in the outcome of this investigation, for the AGM to debate the specific issue of Ms Saghal’s employment

If you disagree, you may have 3 minutes time on Saturday morning in plenary to ask conference to overturn our decision.  If you get a two-thirds majority, the resolution will be debated.

I’m sorry to disappoint you.

Ruth Breddal
Standing Orders Committee

The global petition to Amnesty International: Restoring the Integrity of Human Rights March 29, 2010

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As organisations and individuals who stand for and support the universality of human rights, we have noted with concern the suspension of Gita Sahgal, head of the gender unit at the international secretariat of Amnesty International in London, for questioning Amnesty International’s partnership with individuals whose politics towards the Taliban are ambiguous.

We come from communities that recognise and appreciate the work of Amnesty International in defending human rights and women’s rights around the world. Many of us work closely with Amnesty International in its campaigns at various levels.

We believe that Gita Sahgal has raised a fundamental point of principle which is “about the importance of the human rights movement maintaining an objective distance from groups and ideas that are committed to systematic discrimination”.

This issue of principle is critical at the present moment, with the United States-led “war on terror” leading to the suspension of human rights and increased surveillance over individuals and the body-politic. Ironically, the language of human rights and human-rights defenders is being taken over by the US/Nato alliance in its efforts to legitimise a reborn imperialism. Equally disturbingly, this language is also being hijacked by organisations that espouse extremist and violent forms of identity-based politics. The space for a position that challenges both these is shrinking, and human rights are becoming hostage to broader authoritarian political agendas, whether from states or communities.

In this context, it is crucial for human-rights defenders and organisations to clearly define principles and core values that are non-negotiable. Our commitment to countering, among others, Islamophobia, racism, misogyny and xenophobia should at no time blur our recognition of the authoritarian, often fascist, social and political agendas of some of the groups that suffer human-rights abuse at the hands of the big powers.

The broader issue of principle which we raise here, is one which concerns all of us as human-rights defenders from different parts of the world. Many of us who work to defend human rights in the context of conflict and terrorism know the importance of maintaining a clear and visible distance from potential partners and allies when there is any doubt about their commitment to human rights. Given the circumstances in which questions regarding the partnership with Cageprisoners appear to have been raised, we feel that Amnesty International should have refrained from providing them with a platform. It should have been possible for Amnesty International to campaign against the fundamental human rights abuses that have occurred at Guantánamo and elsewhere without making alliances that compromise Amnesty International’s core values, just as other human-rights organisations have done.

History has repeatedly shown us that anti-democratic organisations can and do manipulate information and their own self-representation for narrow political advantage. In any situation of ambiguity, we feel that the benefit of doubt should have been given to the expert staff members of Amnesty International. We feel that in this instance there has been a lack of respect for the opinions expressed by Gita Sahgal, who is a senior member of staff, and a critical failure of internal democratic functioning at Amnesty’s international secretariat.

What is needed is democratic debate, internally as well as in the public sphere, on the human-rights principles that should guide Amnesty International and all of us in determining our alliances. We have to ensure that the partnerships we form are true to the core human-rights values of equality and universality. Our accountability in this area, internally as well as externally, to all our diverse constituencies, cannot be put at risk. We need a rigorous examination of potential partners. Given the complex situations we work in, what is needed is open debate, not a censoring and closure of discussion on these important issues. Shifting the debate and turning this into a discussion about “Othering” and “demonisation of Guantánamo prisoners” is merely obscuring the real issues at stake. It puts at risk the work that Amnesty International is attempting to do in Afghanistan and other areas. Unfortunately, it also fails to answer the very serious questions that have been posed to which we are also seeking answers.

In the present context of ‘constructive engagement’ with the Taliban, as proposed at the conference on Afghanistan in London [on 28 January 2010], it is our obligation to ensure that we do not barter away the human rights of minorities and of women for “peace”. There are enough recent examples of such attempts which show that these deals are a chimera and do not result in either peace or security. Whatever the nature of “engagement” with authoritarian groups, and whatever partnerships and alliances we enter into with individuals or organisations involved in such “engagement”, the positive conditionalities and checks based on human rights, which are universal and indivisible, must remain central and non-negotiable for human-rights organisations and defenders.

We call on Amnesty International to clearly and publicly affirm its commitment to the above in all areas of its work; and to demonstrate its obligation to make itself publicly accountable, as it has so often demanded of others.

We extend our solidarity and support to Gita Sahgal, who is well known and widely respected for her principled activism on human rights internationally, for her courageous stand in raising this issue within and outside Amnesty International.

Initiated and drafted by:

* Amrita Chhachhi, senior lecturer in the women, gender and development programme, Institute of Social Studies, The Hague; member, Kartini Asia Network of Women/Gender Studies

* Sara Hossain, advocate, supreme court of Bangladesh

* Sunila Abeysekera, INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre, Sri Lanka

The petition’s signatories include the following (a fuller list can be found here):

Rhonda Copelon, director of International Women’s Human Rights Clinic (IWHRC)

Meredith Tax, president of Women’s World

Michael Walzer, co-editor of Dissent

Salman Rushdie, writer

Amitav Ghosh, writer and professor of comparative literature at Queens College, New York

Malalai Joya, Afghan politician

Nawal El Sadaawi, writer and activist, Egypt

Martha Nussbaum (professor of law and ethics, University of Chicago; co-founder of the Human Development and Capabilities Association (HDCA)

Yakin Ertürk, board member of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD)

IA Rehman and Iqbal Haidar, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, professor, Columbia University

Marieme Helie-Lucas, coordinator of Secularism is a Women’s Issue, Algeria & France

Charlotte Bunch, founder of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL), Rutgers University

Rosalind Petchesky, professor of women’s studies and political science, Hunter College

Katha Pollitt, columnist for the Nation

Judy Norsigian, co-founder of the Boston Women’s Health Collective

Jodie Evans, founder member of CodePink, Women for Peace

Kum-Kum Bhavnani, filmmaker, US

Gila Svirsky, co-founder of the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace, Israel

Sonia Correa, Brazilian Interdisciplinary Aids Association (Abia)

Carole Vance, associate clinical professor, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University

Steven Lukes, professor of politics and sociology, New York University

Tom Harrison, co-director, Campaign for Peace and Democracy (CPD)

Patricia McFadden, editor of Southern African Feminist Review (Safere), Zimbabwe

Cynthia Fuchs Epstein, distinguished professor of sociology, City University of New York

Kristin Booth Glen, legal scholar and surrogate-court judge in Manhattan

Mariella Sala, writer and former director of Relat, a Latin American network of women writers, Peru

Virginia Vargas, sociologist and founder of the Flora Tristan women’s association, Peru

Dubravka Ugresic, writer, Netherlands

Wanda Nowicka, co-founder of the Central and Eastern European Women’s Network for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (Astra), Poland

Dan Connell, distinguished lecturer in journalism and African politics, Simmons College, Boston

Lynne Segal, anniversary professor of psychology and women’s studies, Birkbeck College, London

Doug Ireland, investigative journalist, US

Nayantara Sahgal, writer and former diplomat, India

Romila Thapar, historian, India

Lilian Halls-French, president, European Feminist Initiative (IFE-EFI)

J Sri Raman, journalist and peace campaigner

Madanjeet Singh, Unesco goodwill ambassador and founder of the South Asia Foundation, India

Kamla Bhasin, co-president, PeaceWomen Across the Globe, India

Hameeda Hossain, South Asians For Human Rights, Dhaka

Yvonne Deutsch, co-founder of Women in Black Jerusalem

Shabnam Hashmi, founder of Act Now for Harmony and Democacy (Anhad), Delhi

Kushi Kabir, founder of Nijera Kori, Dhaka

Harsh Mander, founder of Aman Biradari, India

Andrej Grubacic, associated with Global Balkans Network

Sunanda Sen, economist, India

Kumudini Samuel, Women and Media Collective, Sri Lanka

Caroline Fourest, editor of ProChoix, France

Bruce Portugal Amoroto, Diversity and Equality in the Philippines

Sonia Jay Wright, Mulher & Democracia, Brazil

Houzan Mahmoud, representative of the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq

Martha Villanueva, GrupoSafo

Stasa Zajovic, founder of Women in Black-Belgrade

Ramachandra Guha, historian, India

Asghar Ali Engineer, director, Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai

Sultana Kamal, director of Ain O Salish Kendra

Mazher Hussain, director, Confederation of Voluntary Agencies (Cova), Hyderabad

Gautam Navlakha, People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR), Delhi

Kavita Srivasta, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Delhi

Deniz Kandiyoti, professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

Mohammad Tahseen, executive director, South Asia Partnership – Pakistan, Lahore

Sheema Kermani, dancer, and founder of Tehrik-e-Niswan, Karachi

Zoya Hasan, professor of political science at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi

Abid Suleri, executive director, Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), Islamabad

Nira Yuval-Davis, director of the Research Centre on Migration, Refugees and Belonging (CMRB), University of East London

Babu Gogineni, international director of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), India

Kumudini Samuel, Women and Media Collective, Sri Lanka

Sumit Sarkar, founding member of the Subaltern Studies Collective, India

Tanika Sarkar, professor of history at Jawaharlal Nehru University, India

Dilip Simeon, founder of Aman Trust, India

Urvashi Butalia, founder of Zubaan Books, India

Pragna Patel, Southall Black Sisters, London

Jessica Almy-Pagán, Universidad de Puerto Rico en Arecibo

Pamela Philipose, director of Women’s Feature Service, India

Meghna Guhathakurta, scholar, Dhaka

Subhashini Ali, president, All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA)

Javed Anand, general secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy, Mumbai

Karamat Ali, founding member of Pakistan Peace Coalition

Ruchir Joshi, writer and filmmaker, India

John Dayal, secretary-general of All India Christian Council

Nick Cohen, journalist, London

Kalpana Kannabiran, Asmita, India

Tahir Mahmood, member, Law Commission of India

Peter Waterman, scholar and initiator of a Global Labour Charter, Netherlands

Cherifa Kheddar, president, Djazairouna association, Algeria

My new blog – on the Amnesty website March 12, 2010

Posted by amnestyhaslostitsway in Uncategorized.
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Check this out!

Amnesty has lost its way — and what we can do about it February 26, 2010

Posted by amnestyhaslostitsway in Uncategorized.

Amnesty has lost its way.

I write that in sadness — because I believe in Amnesty International.

This is an organisation that has for nearly half a century represented  the very best values.  It deservedly won the Nobel Peace Prize.  It has captured the hearts of millions.  In Britain alone, more than a quarter of a million people count itself among its members, donating money to the cause, participating in its campaigns.

I am proud to be one of them.

When Amnesty campaigns to release prisoners of conscience, I am with them.  When they fight against the death penalty, I support them.  When they campaign against torture, they have my backing.

But when they get it wrong, someone has to tell them.

And recently, Amnesty has gotten it very wrong on the question of Israel and Palestine.

Before saying another word, I should be clear about where I stand.

Not that it matters — I could have no view at all about the Israelis and Palestinians and still could have valid things to say about Amnesty on this question.

But I want to tell you who I am and what I believe.

I support a two-state solution, Israel and Palestine living side by side with secure and recognized borders.  I support a withdrawal of Israel from the occupied territories as part of a peace agreement with the Palestinians.  I support a negotiated settlement regarding Jerusalem, one which gives both Israelis and Palestinians the right to call that city their capital. And I oppose those on each side who work to undermine any chance at peace and reconciliation — including the West Bank Israeli settlements, which I want to close down because they are an obstacle to peace.

I am not a supporter of the Netanyahu government; I do not believe that violence is the way to solve conflicts; I do not accept any side’s claim to a God-given right to the land.

Having said that, I do believe that all peoples have a right to self determination, and that includes a right to self-defense.  I believe that it is right for Israel to use its military might to defend the country.

And now we come back to Amnesty.

I guess the best way would be to illustrate, perhaps just with one example, what has gone wrong.  There are other examples in the articles below, but here’s just one.

Take the most recent issue of the Amnesty magazine, which is sent to all members and supporters of the organisation.  I’m talking about its January/February 2010 issue.

The magazine is only 40 pages long.

  • Two-thirds of page 4 is taken up with an article about Gaza, about the Israeli blockade.  It does not once mention the fact that Egypt too shares a border with Gaza, and that it — like the international community — enforces strict border controls because a terrorist organization, Hamas, has seized control of the territory.  (There is no such blockade of the West Bank, which is under the control of the Palestinian Authority.)
  • Page 8 makes the top ‘what you can do’ item an appeal to the UK government to lift the Israeli blockade on Gaza.
  • Page 22 is a feature on the use of cluster bombs.  It is illustrated with a photo of young girl injured by Israeli cluster bombs used in Lebanon.
  • Israel is named as a country that produced cluster munitions on page 23.
  • Page 28 has an ‘Action update’ focussing on the denial of clean water to Palestinians by the Israeli government, part of a policy, Amnesty says, “to drive Palestinians from their homs to make way for further illegal Israeli settlements”. No mention of the Israeli settlement freeze announced by the Netanyahu government.
  • Page 30 gives a couple of examples of feedback the organisation receives — and the first one condemns Amnesty for “calling for an arms embargo” on Gaza.  The writer, presumably, supports the import of arms into Gaza where they can be used by Hamas to attack Israel.
  • Page 33 has ‘Appeals updates’ and the first one is about a Palestinian, jailed by Israel, who was released and “is now at home with his family and plans to resume his studies”.  There is no mention of what he was jailed for — presumably, links to a terrorist organization.
  • Page 34 lists upcoming events.  One lecture includes Gaza in the title.  Another is a dramatised reading about a family in Gaza.
  • Page 37 runs a letter from a reader protesting Israel’s treatment of convicted spy Mordecai Vanunu.
  • Another letter defends Israel on the water policy stuff, but gets a repy from Amnesty — the only editorial reply to any letter in the magazine — saying simply that AI “wrote to Israel’s Water Authority before the report was published but received no response.”

That’s 10 or 11 references to Israel in a 40 page magazine.

And to put things in perspective, do you know how many times Amnesty mentions, for example, North Korea — probably the most repressive regime on earth, in the same magazine?


Iran also gets mentioned, I think, only twice.

But Israel gets mentioned on almost every other page.

And the mentions of Israel are biased, incomplete, sometimes inaccurate.

One wonders why this tiny country which faces relentless violence from its enemies and yet retains its essentially democratic character — why it is the subject  of  so much attention by Amnesty?

One might say that Amnesty is obsessed with Israel.

And that this obsession is blurring its critical faculties, making Amnesty uncritically accept the “Israeli is apartheid” line being put forward by its new allies in groups like War on Want.

Maybe it explains Amnesty’s rush to embrace the Goldstone inquiry, which was launched with the backing of regimes like those in Burma and North Korea but opposed by every democratic country in the world.

How did Amnesty wind up taking the same line as North Korea, opposing the views of the US, Canada, the European Union and others?

Clearly there is something wrong here.

And there’s something we can do about it.

Amnesty remains a democratic organisation.  We, its members, elect its governing bodies, and we set its policy.

We can turn this around it we want to.

If you are an Amnesty member in the UK, you will be getting a ballot with the next issue of the Amnesty magazine.  You will asked to choose 3 new members of the Board.  There are 10 candidates.  I am one of them, and I ask for your vote.

This is only the beginning.  Together, we can do much more.

And we will do this, we will turn Amnesty around, we will turn it back into the organisation that the whole world respected — an organisation that campaigns for human rights everywhere and that is not tarred with bias against some countries, in particular, Israel.

We can turn Amnesty back into an organization that instead of winding up on the same side as North Korea (on the Goldstone inquiry, for example) actually turns its attention to human rights issues there.

Of course Amnesty should criticize Israel when it violates human rights, when it tortures, when it holds prisoners of conscience.  But as I hope I’ve illustrated above, and as other examples on this site show, Amnesty keeps getting it wrong and remains obsessed with Israel.

If you support what I’m trying to do here, please make sure to sign up to our mailing list and tell everyone you know about this site.

Thank you.

Jewish Chronicle: Amnesty critic stands for role on charity’s board February 25, 2010

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A trenchant critic of Amnesty International’s policy on Israel, Eric Lee, is standing for its section board in the UK – effectively the organisation’s board of governors, which makes its policy.

Read the full article here.