Gita calls time on Amnesty

Whistle-blowing. Think calling time. Fair adjudication.  Stopping dangerous play.

What the sports analogy doesn’t give you is the sense of terror you have as a whistle-blower, the sure knowledge that the only way the person/people you have blown the whistle against will respond is to attempt to ruin your credibility.

Some years ago now I whistle-blew against someone who was performing both corruptly and abusively, in my opinion.  The report called for by the people in charge was subsequently discarded as too damning of it’s subject.  Nearly all of my colleagues resigned.   The whole affair lasted more than a year, and cost the organisation hundreds of thousands of dollars.

It was easily one of the most difficult periods of my life.

John Pilger decries the dishonesty of those involved in the Chilcott Inquiry into the British decision to invade Iraq, and honours a British whistle-blower who in 1991 told the world about Britain supplying arms to Saddam Hussein:

As Iraq desk officer at the Foreign Office, he had drafted letters for ministers reassuring MPs and the public that the British Government was not arming Saddam Hussein. “This was a downright lie”, he said. “I couldn’t bear it”.

Giving evidence before the arms-to-Iraq enquiry, Higson was the only British official commended by Lord Justice Scott for telling the truth.

Mr Higson, according to John Pilger, was placed under surveillance and lost his health and his marriage.

Now we have Amnesty International whistle-blower Gita Sahgal, pointing out the human rights consequences of supporting Moazzam Begg, a former inmate at Guantanamo Bay.  Ms Sahgal, a human rights advocate for more than 20 years, supported the Amnesty campaign against the illegal detention and torture of Muslim men at Guantanamo, but finds supporting Mr Begg now problematic:

“I believe the campaign fundamentally damages Amnesty International’s integrity and, more importantly, constitutes a threat to human rights,” Sahgal wrote in an email to the organisation’s leaders on January 30. “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.”

  Is she right?  I don’t know enough about the case to know.  But it’s pretty disappointing to see Amnesty react by suspending her.  As Guardian writer Rahila Gupta says:

She pointed out the obvious but significant fact that being a victim of human rights violations does not automatically make you a defender of human rights, the dangers in eliding the two and the need for Amnesty to maintain a distance from individuals whose attitude to the Taliban could undermine otherwise excellent work done by Amnesty on violence against women.

I would expect better from Amnesty.  They are, after all, the ultimate whistle-blowers themselves.


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