Monday, March 08, 2010

AMNESTY International has lost its way

From: The Australian February 27, 2010, by Christopher Hitchens:

AMNESTY International has lost sight of its original purpose.

...In common with all great ideas, the Amnesty concept was marvellously simple. Each local branch was asked to sponsor a minimum of three prisoners of conscience: one from a NATO country, one from a Warsaw Pact country and one from the Third -- or neutralist --World.

In time, the organisation also evolved policies that opposed the use of capital punishment or torture in all cases, but the definition of prisoner of conscience remained central.

It included a requirement that the prisoner in question be exactly that: a person jailed for the expression of an opinion.

Amnesty did not adopt people who used or advocated violence. ...So to learn of its degeneration and politicisation is to be reading about a moral crisis that has global implications.

Amnesty International has just suspended one of its senior officers, a woman named Gita Sahgal who, until recently, headed the organisation's gender unit. It's fairly easy to summarise her concern in her own words. "To be appearing on platforms with Britain's most famous supporter of the Taliban, whom we treat as a human rights defender, is a gross error of judgment," she wrote. One may think that to be an uncontentious statement, but it led to her immediate suspension.

The background is also distressingly easy to summarise. Moazzam Begg, a British citizen, was arrested in Pakistan after fleeing Afghanistan in the aftermath of the intervention in 2001. He was imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, then released.

He has since become the moving spirit in a separate organisation calling itself Cageprisoners.

Begg does not deny his past as an Islamist activist, which took him to Afghanistan in the first place. He does not withdraw from his statement that the Taliban was the best government available to Afghanistan.

Cageprisoners has another senior member, Asim Qureshi, who speaks in defence of jihad at rallies sponsored by extremist group Hizb-ut Tahrir (banned in many Muslim countries). Cageprisoners also defends men such as Abu Hamza, leader of the mosque that sheltered Richard "Shoe Bomber" Reid among many other violent and criminal characters who have been convicted in open court of heinous offences that have nothing at all to do with freedom of expression.

Yet Amnesty International includes Begg in delegations that petition the British government about human rights. For Sahgal to say that Cageprisoners has a program that goes "way beyond being a prisoners' rights organisation" is to say the very least of it.

But that's all she had to say to be suspended from her job.

...The entire raison d'etre of the noble foundation was to defend and protect those made to suffer for their views. In theory this could include the view that women should be chattel, homosexuals and Jews and Hindus marked for slaughter, and all the rest of the lovely jihadist canon. ...It's well-nigh incredible that Amnesty should give a platform to people who are shady on this question and disgraceful that it should suspend a renowned employee who gave voice to her deep and sincere misgivings.

...It's incumbent on any member who takes the original charter seriously to withdraw funding until Begg is cut loose to run his own beautiful organisation and until Sahgal has been reinstated...
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