Widney Brown on Today

Transcript of Widney Brown on the BBC Today show this morning by the furiously typing fingers of Earwicga (and again sadly interviewed by Justin ‘Dim but Dim’ Webb, a man who seriously wrote about Obama being elected meaning racism is over, jeebus). Further statement by Amnesty at the end. I have to say that what Gita Sahgal is doing does seem to be a political campaign in the wake of Irene Khan leaving, Khan was not liked by people who are now supporting Sahgal  (Nick Cohen -very rapid founder of the Facebook group supporting Sahgal- at the neocon rag Standpoint for one).

Amnesty supports humans ‘every human

On the Today programme yesterday Gita Sahgal, head of the gender unit at Amnesty’s International secretariat, accused the charity of putting the human rights of Al-Qaeda terror suspects above those of their victims. She said that the charity’s collaboration with Moazzam Begg, a former British inmate at Guantanamo Bay, “fundamentally damages” the organisation’s reputation.

Widney Brown, senior director for international law and policy at Amnesty International, responds to Ms Sahgal’s accusations.

1. BBC Is Amnesty International, the human rights organisation, who has worked for prisoners of conscience, has been saluted across political divides for a generation or more, falling into a terrible trap?  The head of its Gender Unit has been suspended after complaining that Amnesty was too close to Moazzam Begg the former Guantanamo inmate, who speaks for a group called Cageprisoners.  On yesterday’s programme I asked Gita Sahgal why she thought Amnesty failed to link what’s happening in Afghanistan and Pakistan with extremism in this country.
2. Gita Sahgal My suspicion is that they need perfect victims.  In other words we need to defend somebody who might not have done a wrong.  And I’m not saying that Moazzam Begg has, I want to make absolutely clear that I’m making no claim that he’s either committed a crime or a human rights violation, and that’s why I find the statement after statement that Amnesty International has put out in his support somewhat surprising, because the issues that I’m concerned with are addressed to Amnesty International
3. BBC But you’re making a wider point aren’t you?  That Islamic radicalism is treated what softly by liberals?
4. Gita Sahgal Something like that, but we’re not liberals, we’re a human rights organisation and we should not be falling into the traps that many people do fall into.
5. BBC That was Gita Sahgal.  Widney Brown is Amnesty’s Senior Director for Law and Policy and she’s on the line now.  Good morning to you.
6. Widney Brown Good Morning.
7. BBC What’s your answer to what Gita Sahgal was saying then?
8. Widney Brown Well, first I want to clarify that she was not suspended because she brought these issues up in the organisation.  We encourage debate on precisely these sorts of issues within the organisation.
9. BBC So it’s because she went to the papers?
10. Widney Brown I can’t comment on the grounds for it, but want to clarify any misrepresentation that it was because she brought this up internally.
11. BBC But just to make it very clear then, she was suspended because of, I mean it had something to do with these views that she’s been expounding.  It wasn’t something separate?
12. Widney Brown I’m not going to, we maintain confidentiality and we’re only breaking it because of the misrepresentation that she was suspended because she asked questions internally.
13. BBC Yeah, but that does raise quite an important point doesn’t it, because I mean she has been suspended having raised these questions.  I think the point that a lot of people make is that the two are linked.  Are you saying they’re utterly not linked?
14. Widney Brown The grounds for the suspension I cannot talk about consistent with confidentiality.  What I can do is try to answer the questions that she brought up in the interview yesterday.First of all, we are not a political organisation.  We’re non-partisan, and we work on behalf of victims of violations, regardless of their political affiliations.  So that is why on the issue of Guantanamo Bay we do work with Moazzam Begg as somebody who was released from there after three years of experiencing the violations there.  And of course yesterdays court decision in the Binyan Mohammed case underscores again how critical the violations are that are happening even now in the context of the war on terror. Now, with regard to whether we are ignoring the issue of radical organisations, all you have to do is look on our website of all the work we’ve done on the Taliban and Afghanistan and Pakistan and other religious insurgent groups in places like Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and of course all over the Middle East.  As recently as the 26th of January we were saying explicitly, not just to the Afghan government, but to, in the context of the London conference, you can’t sell away women’s rights in a dialogue with the Taliban.
15. BBC Yeah, but I suppose that there’s the problem isn’t it, that what you’re accused of is a mixed message, because you do issue statements like that, but then if you become close to people, and let’s get away from Moazzam Begg, if you become close to people who are associated with supporting the Taliban or with supporting those that have been imprisoned in the war on terror, who do have very extreme views about violence and about women’s rights,  then you’re sending out a very different signal?
16. Widney Brown I would totally disagree.  Your human rights violations, your right to be free from them is not dependent on whether you’re quote a good or a bad person.  Whether you’re quote guilty or innocent.  If you’re being tortured the whole point is that governments think that they can justify torture if they can prove you’re guilty of something.
17. BBC So, you’re happy to support people who don’t themselves support human rights?
18. Widney Brown We support the rights of every human being to be free from human rights violations.  And we do not make that contingent on whether they can prove to us their guilt or innocence on any alleged charge.  I mean, the whole idea that we would think it’s ok to torture someone if they’re guilty undermines the whole principle that’s there’s an absolute prohibition on torture and ill treatment.
19. BBC Widney Brown, thank you very much

Amnesty International on its work with Moazzam Begg and Cageprisoners
11 February 2010

There has been a lot of controversy in the media surrounding Amnesty International’s work with Moazzam Begg and Cageprisoners, in light of statements by Gita Sahgal, a Amnesty International staff member.

Contrary to Gita Sahgal’s assertions to the media, she was not suspended from Amnesty International for raising these issues internally. In fact we actively welcome vigorous internal debate. Up to now we have maintained confidentiality in line with our policy but wanted to correct this misrepresentation. This is not a reflection on the organisation’s respect for her work as a women’s rights activist and does not undermine the work she has done over the last few years as the head of Amnesty International’s gender unit.

Our work with Moazzam Begg has focused exclusively on highlighting the human rights violations committed in Guantánamo Bay and the need for the US government to shut it down and either release or put on trial those who have been held there. Moazzam Begg was one of the first detainees released by the US without charge, and has never been charged with any terrorist-related offence or put on trial.

When President Obama promised to close Guantánamo, Amnesty International hoped that we could wind down our campaign and focus more broadly on human rights abuses related to security and terrorism. However, as that promise remains unmet, Amnesty International continues to work with Moazzam Begg and other former detainees to ask European governments to accommodate those who cannot be returned to their country of citizenship without risk of torture or ill-treatment.

In this complex and polarised world we at Amnesty International face the challenge of communicating clearly the scope of our work with individuals and groups. Amnesty International champions and continues to champion Moazzam Begg’s rights as a former detainee at Guantánamo. He speaks about his own views and experiences, not Amnesty International’s. And Moazzam Begg has never used a platform he shared with Amnesty to speak against the rights of others.

Amnesty International has a long history of demanding justice – in the case of our Counter Terror with Justice Campaign we called for both an end to human rights abuses at Guantánamo and other locations, and called for those detained there to be brought to justice, in fair trials that respected due process.

However, our work for justice and human rights spans a far wider range of issues than counter-terrorism and security. Amnesty International has done considerable research on the Taleban and campaigns to stop violence against women and to promote women’s equality. We continue to take a strong line against abuses by religiously-based insurgent groups and/or governments imposing religious strictures, Islamic or otherwise, in violation of human rights law. Sometimes the people whose rights we defend may not share each others views – but they all have human rights, and all human rights are worth defending.

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