Gita Sahgal is a longtime human rights advocate and founder of several women’s rights organizations who joined Amnesty International in 2002. In early February, she was suspended from her job as head of Amnesty’s Gender Unit after giving an interview to the London Sunday Times in which she raised concerns about Amnesty International’s connections with the group called Cageprisoners and its leader, Moazzam Begg. On April 9, Amnesty International formally announced Sahgal’s departure, citing “irreconciliable differences of view over policy.” Following is a statement by Sahgal.
On Friday, April 9, 2010, Amnesty International announced my departure from the organization. The agreed statement said, “Due to irreconcilable differences of view over policy between Gita Sahgal and Amnesty International regarding Amnesty International’s relationship with Moazzam Begg and Cageprisoners, it has been agreed that Gita will leave Amnesty International.”
I was hired as the head of the Gender Unit as the organization began to develop its Stop Violence Against Women campaign. I leave with great sadness as the campaign is closed. Thousands of activists of Amnesty International enthusiastically joined the campaign. Many hoped that it would induce respect for women’s human rights in every area of social and economic life. Today, there is little ground for optimism.
The senior leadership of Amnesty International chose to answer the questions I posed about Amnesty International’s relationship with Moazzam Begg by affirming their links with him. Now they have also confirmed that the views of Begg, his associates, and his organization, Cageprisoners, do not trouble them. They have stated that the idea of jihad in self-defense is not antithetical to human rights; and have explained that they meant only the specific form of violent jihad that Moazzam Begg and others in Cageprisoners assert is the individual obligation of every Muslim.
I thank the senior leadership for these admissions and for further clarifying that concerns about the legitimization of Begg were longstanding at Amnesty International and that there was strong opposition from the head of the Asia program to a partnership with him. When disagreements are profound, it is best that disputes over matters of fact are reduced.
Unfortunately, their stance has laid waste to every achievement on women’s equality by Amnesty International in recent years and made a mockery of the universality of rights. In fact, the leadership has effectively rejected a belief in universality as an essential basis for partnership.
I extend my sympathies to all who have fought long and hard within Amnesty International to match the movement’s principles with its actions. I know many of you have been bewildered by this dispute and others deeply shamed by what is being done in your name. You may have been told that debate is not possible in the middle of a crisis. I agree that there is indeed a crisis and that the hardest questions are being posed by Amnesty International’s close human rights allies, particularly in areas where jihad supported by Begg’s associates is being waged.
I am now free to offer my help as an external expert with an intimate knowledge of Amnesty International’s processes and policies. I can explain in public debates, both with the leadership and among the staff of its programs, that adherence to violent jihad, even if such ideology indeed rejects the killing of some civilians, is an integral part of a political philosophy that promotes the destruction of human rights generally and contravenes Amnesty International’s specific policies relating to systematic violence and discrimination, particularly against women and minorities.
During these last two months, human rights gains have been made to uphold international laws banning torture and to shame governments that have been complicit in torture through the secret rendition of suspects to countries where torture is carried out. But the specter that arises through the continued promotion of Moazzam Begg as the perfect victim is that Amnesty International is operating its own policies of sanitizing the truth.
So I invite you to join me as I continue to campaign for public accountability at this moment, which comes but rarely in history, when a great organization must ask: If it lies to itself, can it demand the truth of others?
A petition to Amnesty International protesting its handling of the concerns raised by Gita Sahgal can be found at www.human-rights-for-all.org.