Sunday 30 May 2010

Better To Light A Candle Than Curse Human Rights Defenders

Back in February, I wrote a few posts about the dispute between Amnesty International (AI) and Gita Saghal, the former head of the human rights organisation's Gender Unit (see here, here and here). My reaction at the time was similar to that of many onlookers - utter confusion and then increasing frustration about the total lack of evidence in the attacks made by Saghal against former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg. Unfortunately, the severe distraction of my hospitalisation following a traffic accident meant that I lost track of more recent developments. But then I saw Wednesday's furious rant by Saghal on the openDemocracy website.

Saghal makes the astonishing claim that the "tyrants" at AI have "come to resemble the forces that it has done so much to oppose". And that's not all:

The actions of human rights advocates mirror those of governments from Chechnya to the UK. Recruit former insurgents or fundamentalists and subcontract them to provide surveillance and control over the mass of the population. Defeat one form of fundamentalism by supporting another.

This represents the absolute abandonment of perspective or rational argument. AI may not be perfect but it quite obviously does not resemble or mirror governments who abuse human rights. It doesn't encourage support for disappearances, murder and torture and it isn't involved in surveillance and control of cowered masses anywhere. It is neither a government, a powerful multi-national corporation nor an armed militia. It just disagrees with Saghal on whether working with Moazzam Begg is a good idea.

Saghal goes on to allege that groups like AI and Human Rights Watch have "rushed to condemn the niqab ban in Europe", but have said nothing publicly "against increasing dress code restrictions imposed by the State in Iran and accompanied by draconian punishments". This is a criticism that Saghal has picked up wholesale from her allies in 'Women Living Under Muslim Laws', who have a fondness for issuing strident communiqués and who have accused AI of adhering to a "different set of standards when reacting to Iran and its stricter enforcement of compulsory veiling".

But it is also incredibly disingenuous criticism. AI has been far from silent on discrimination against women in Iran and far from soft on the country's human rights abuses, as its latest State of the World's Human Rights report makes clear. Moreover, there would seem to be a obvious difference between responding immediately to restrictions on freedom of expression in EU countries, who have pretensions to respect for human rights, and long-term campaigning against the conduct of a recognisably repressive state like Iran - where practical action in support of women's rights defenders would seem rather more important than just issuing statements.

In a comment to her own article, Saghal said she was "calling for a debate with Amnesty leaders". I hardly think that attacking AI using the same kind of carelessly disproportionate debating points adopted by those who loathe the organisation is the way to ever make that a realistic possibility.

1 Comment:

Anonymous said...

Brilliant. Sahgal has become an embarrassment to many who felt compelled to support her initially

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