Amnesty Uncaged (II)

March 11, 2015 at 8:32 pm (Human rights, Rosie B)

I wrote to Amnesty expressing concern about their association with Cage and got the following reply:-
“Amnesty no longer considers it appropriate to share a public platform with Cage and will not engage in coalitions of which Cage is a member. Recent comments made by Cage representatives have been completely unacceptable, at odds with human rights principles and serve to undermine the work of NGOs, including Amnesty International.”

We had engaged with Cage together with several other organisations on the specific issue of UK complicity in torture abroad, on which they had particular expertise. At the time that Gita Sahgal left Amnesty International, we commissioned an independent external review into our work with Cage and Moazzam Begg which concluded that it was reasonable for Amnesty to campaign with Cage and Moazzam Begg in his capacity as a former detainee at Guantanamo Bay. Gita’s view was that it was inappropriate for Amnesty International to share a platform with individuals and organisations whose religious or political views were inconsistent with the full range of rights and women’s rights in particular.

Amnesty International has never questioned the integrity of this view or the sincerity with which Gita held it. However, it is not uncommon for NGOs to enter into coalitions with other organisations or groups on one specific issue despite their disagreement on others.

Based on an extensive review of comments made by Cage Prisoners (as it was then known) then available to the public, we concluded that limited cooperation with Cage on the narrow issue of accountability for UK complicity in torture abroad was appropriate, given their consistent and credible messaging on this issue. Comments made by Cage recently have clearly changed that assessment and have led to our decision to terminate such relations. But this does not alter the fact the decision in 2010 to continue this limited work was taken for good reasons and after extensive reflection.

Further to that, the refusal of a Cage spokesperson to condemn violence such as FGM and stoning – themselves examples of torture and degrading treatment that we are campaigning for an end to – is of huge concern to Amnesty and has made any future platform sharing with Cage impossible.”

Update:-

Amnesty have now made a statement on their website.

“Amnesty no longer considers it appropriate to share a public platform with Cage and will not engage in coalitions of which Cage is a member.

“Recent comments made by Cage representatives have been completely unacceptable, at odds with human rights principles and serve to undermine the work of NGOs, including Amnesty International.”

Many have pointed out that CAGE hasn’t changed since 2010, and that Amnesty is being disingenuous in suddenly finding them an unfit partner because of unwelcome publicity.  A comment below:-

The reply by Amnesty’s Kate Allen contains a contradiction in terms. While she is affirming that it isn’t uncommon for NGOs to enter into coalitions with other organisations or groups on one specific issue despite their disagreement on others, nevertheless now Amnesty is severing ties with CAGE over their views on violence and torture including FGM and stoning. Which one of the two Amnesty holds true – that their partners’ views on ‘other issues’ such as violence does not matter or that do matter? If they do matter now, how can Amnesty explain those views didn’t matter back in 2010 and they considered it perfectly normal to share a platform with CAGE. They either have to admit a gross incompetence and issue an apology to Gita Sahgal (though this is going to be difficult because Gita Sahgal warned them about CAGE’s views) or admit they acted in bad faith and hoped nobody will notice – in this case too, they at least have to issue an apology to Gita Sahgal.

CEMB Forum said in the thread below this post:-

An improvement. However, Amnesty need to do the following:
(1) Put this out as a public statement. Explaining their errors in the past and why they have realised they shouldn’t associate with CAGE again, including a specific expression of moral disgust and distancing from them on these issues. [They have sort of done this – though their words for CAGE  “completely unacceptable” and “of huge concern” do not equal “disgust”.]
(2) An acknowledgement of Meredith Tax’s central point in her book ‘The Double Bind’ – that they need to maintain an objective critical distance from Salafi Jihadi apologists / groomers and Islamist reactionaries. [They haven’t mentioned giving Islamist groups a body swerve.]
3) A full public apology to Gita Sahgal. She was right. They were wrong. She is vindicated completely. Amnesty acknowledges the central points she made in her critique of them. Now apologise. [I bet they never do that.]

Over at Liberal Conspiracy Sunny Hundal makes a C minus apology.  If you have the energy you can look back at Pickled Politics archives to see the many posts jeering at Gita Sahgal and boosting Moazzam Begg.

5 years ago, when Amnesty UK’s work with Mozazzam Begg was questioned by former employee Gita Sahgal, I came to Amnesty’s defence (though I actually wrote the issue was more complicated than many pretended it was). Recent events show that Gita called it right and I called it wrong, as did Amnesty. I’m happy to admit that, and I regret some of the intemperate language I used.

At the time I was defending Amnesty (not Cage) against people (excluding Gita) who wanted to undermine the organisation for other reasons, i.e. its focus on Guantanamo Bay and Israeli war crimes. I continue to think Amnesty is a great organisation but it should have refused to work with Cage then. I made lots of calls which turned out to be right (unlike many of Amnesty’s critics) but in this case I was wrong. Gita Sahgal’s instincts have been vindicated.

That last sentence does induce some nausea.  When you apologise for being badly wrong, don’t point out how often you were right compared to the less enlightened.  Also, it wasn’t Gita’s instincts that were right, it was her knowledge and experience and principles – which should have weighed a good deal heavier in the scales than Begg’s glamour as a Guantanamo detainee.  But there you are – half a loaf and all that.

10 Comments

  1. lassy said,

  2. Jim Denham said,

    The reply you obtained goes a lot further, and is much more clear-cut, than the ambiguous waffle I’ve read from Amnesty elsewhere, and the evasive performance of an Amnesty representative (can’t remember his name) I heard on the Today programme last week. Let’s hope this letter represents their true position. Well done, Rosie!

  3. Rosie said,

    I can’t see how they could go back on this position. This must be a public statement which they would have sent to the dozens of concerned members who got in touch. Plenty of people were tweeting angrily at them.

    • Glesga Keeping Scotland Free From Loonies said,

      Amnesty seems to have been infiltrated and taken over but that may have been historical for them but not by religious nutter loonie tunes. They do have a lot to do in restoring credibility and highlighting real cases of injustices of imprisonment by dictators. Which I believe is why they were supposed to exist. Originally!!!

  4. Eol said,

    The reply by Amnesty’s Kate Allen contains a contradiction in terms. While she is affirming that it isn’t uncommon for NGOs to enter into coalitions with other organisations or groups on one specific issue despite their disagreement on others, nevertheless now Amnesty is severing ties with CAGE over their views on violence and torture including FGM and stoning. Which one of the two Amnesty holds true – that their partners’ views on ‘other issues’ such as violence does not matter or that do matter? If they do matter now, how can Amnesty explain those views didn’t matter back in 2010 and they considered it perfectly normal to share a platform with CAGE. They either have to admit a gross incompetence and issue an apology to Gita Sahgal (though this is going to be difficult because Gita Sahgal warned them about CAGE’s views) or admit they acted in bad faith and hoped nobody will notice – in this case too, they at least have to issue an apology to Gita Sahgal.

  5. Rosie said,

    @Eol – that’s a good point and I’ve included it in my update. Amnesty have been disingenuous from beginning to end. I’ve been looking through old threads of Pickled Politics in 2010 when this was a hot topic & plenty of people had Cageprisoners and Moazzam Begg sussed.

  6. Rachel said,

    I was one of the people who argued on Pickled Politics in 2010. There were plenty of people,especially from South Asia and the MENA but also in the UK, who got it back then. The politics of Cageprisoners, as was, were plain for everyone to see on their website. I remember an article praising the Taliban for their defence of ‘Muslim lands’. To me ‘Muslim lands’ implied the desire to cleanse Afghanistan of religious minorities through expulsion or destruction -‘Jewish lands’ or ‘Hindu lands’ would sound equally sinister. Claude Cordone of Amnesty justified the organisation’s support for ‘defensive jihad’ when challenged by Gita – does it still now?

    Great post, Rosie.

    • Rosie said,

      I was there too under a moniker & I had a look at some of the threads last night and as you say a lot of people got it. Sunny started off quite respectfully about Gita and got more and more vicious as the controversy rolled on. A lot of the defence of Amnesty was to accuse those who said that Begg & Cageprisoners shouldn’t be partnering Amnesty of thinking that Begg should be locked up without due process.

  7. It is an incredibly dishonest statement said,

    […] Many have pointed out that CAGE hasn’t changed since 2010, and that Amnesty is being disingenuous in suddenly finding them an unfit partner because of unwelcome publicity.  A comment on Shiraz:- […]

  8. damon said,

    The due process argument is one that I never got.
    You can’t find everyone involved in terrorism or a movement like the Taliban, guilty of crimes in court. The Isis leader was once an American prisoner, but released because he was deemed low level.
    Those images of Amnesty supporters kneeling on the ground in orange jump suits, blindfolded with pretend guards towering over them, helped fuel Islamic extremism.

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