Commentary Magazine


Topic: human rights law

The Human-Rights Facade Is Beginning to Crumble

The collaboration between Amnesty International and an unrepentant Islamist named Moazzam Begg has been a source of wonderment among those who follow these kinds of things, but only back-burner wonderment, obscured by the media’s general tendency to protect the credibility of “human rights” NGOs, or at least not ask too many questions.

The UK Times was impelled, finally, to give some space to the fact that Amnesty, one of the two largest human-rights groups* (the other being Human Rights Watch) has been promoting Begg, a former Gitmo detainee and booster of terrorists and radicals. What finally attracted press attention to this outrageous state of affairs was the appearance of a whistleblower from within the ranks of Amnesty.

Meet Gita Sahgal, the head of Amnesty’s gender unit. She went public with her disgust after spending two years in a failed effort to separate Amnesty from Begg:

“I believe the campaign [with Begg’s organization, “Cageprisoners”] 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.”

No kidding. But this story doesn’t have a happy ending. Amnesty responded to her going public by suspending her. The excellent British blog Harry’s Place has posted her statement:

A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when a great organisation must ask: if it lies to itself, can it demand the truth of others? For in defending the torture standard, one of the strongest and most embedded in international human rights law, Amnesty International has sanitized the history and politics of the ex-Guantanamo detainee, Moazzam Begg and completely failed to recognize the nature of his organisation Cageprisoners. …

The issue is a fundamental one about the importance of the human rights movement maintaining an objective distance from groups and ideas that are committed to systematic discrimination and fundamentally undermine the universality of human rights.

Or, as a British blogger puts it, “upholding concepts of due process and women’s rights may not be best served by strolling along to Downing Street hand in hand with Moazzam Begg, a Salafi Islamist who has attended Jihadi training camps in Afghanistan and Bosnia.”

There is a vital role for groups like HRW and Amnesty to play in the world. Properly understood, their mission is to use their moral authority to shame and condemn tyranny and those who wish to make the world a hospitable place for tyrants and terrorists. But moral authority requires moral clarity. HRW and Amnesty have been overtaken by activists who use their position to wage easy campaigns against open societies instead of taking on the more difficult, thankless, and sometimes dangerous struggle against closed ones.

For people who do not follow these issues closely, there have been a few recent moments that indicate beyond any doubt that something is rotten in the “human-rights community.” One moment was when HRW went to Saudi Arabia to raise money. We have arrived at another such moment: a human-rights organization has suspended an employee for complaining about the organization’s partnership with a terrorist.

*In my opinion, the largest and most important human rights organization in the world is the U.S. Army, but that’s an argument for another time.

The collaboration between Amnesty International and an unrepentant Islamist named Moazzam Begg has been a source of wonderment among those who follow these kinds of things, but only back-burner wonderment, obscured by the media’s general tendency to protect the credibility of “human rights” NGOs, or at least not ask too many questions.

The UK Times was impelled, finally, to give some space to the fact that Amnesty, one of the two largest human-rights groups* (the other being Human Rights Watch) has been promoting Begg, a former Gitmo detainee and booster of terrorists and radicals. What finally attracted press attention to this outrageous state of affairs was the appearance of a whistleblower from within the ranks of Amnesty.

Meet Gita Sahgal, the head of Amnesty’s gender unit. She went public with her disgust after spending two years in a failed effort to separate Amnesty from Begg:

“I believe the campaign [with Begg’s organization, “Cageprisoners”] 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.”

No kidding. But this story doesn’t have a happy ending. Amnesty responded to her going public by suspending her. The excellent British blog Harry’s Place has posted her statement:

A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when a great organisation must ask: if it lies to itself, can it demand the truth of others? For in defending the torture standard, one of the strongest and most embedded in international human rights law, Amnesty International has sanitized the history and politics of the ex-Guantanamo detainee, Moazzam Begg and completely failed to recognize the nature of his organisation Cageprisoners. …

The issue is a fundamental one about the importance of the human rights movement maintaining an objective distance from groups and ideas that are committed to systematic discrimination and fundamentally undermine the universality of human rights.

Or, as a British blogger puts it, “upholding concepts of due process and women’s rights may not be best served by strolling along to Downing Street hand in hand with Moazzam Begg, a Salafi Islamist who has attended Jihadi training camps in Afghanistan and Bosnia.”

There is a vital role for groups like HRW and Amnesty to play in the world. Properly understood, their mission is to use their moral authority to shame and condemn tyranny and those who wish to make the world a hospitable place for tyrants and terrorists. But moral authority requires moral clarity. HRW and Amnesty have been overtaken by activists who use their position to wage easy campaigns against open societies instead of taking on the more difficult, thankless, and sometimes dangerous struggle against closed ones.

For people who do not follow these issues closely, there have been a few recent moments that indicate beyond any doubt that something is rotten in the “human-rights community.” One moment was when HRW went to Saudi Arabia to raise money. We have arrived at another such moment: a human-rights organization has suspended an employee for complaining about the organization’s partnership with a terrorist.

*In my opinion, the largest and most important human rights organization in the world is the U.S. Army, but that’s an argument for another time.

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Judge Goldstone: I Participated in a Farce

Richard Goldstone seems to use interviews to chip away at the legitimacy of his own work. He told the Forward that nothing he uncovered in Gaza is credible enough to be admissible in court. And now he has admitted this to Haaretz:

Many Israelis are right to feel that the United Nations and its member bodies such as the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly have devoted inordinate and disproportionate attention to scrutinizing and criticizing Israel. This has come at the price of ignoring violations of human rights in other countries, some of them members of those very same bodies. The time has come for the investigation of all violations of international human rights law and international law whenever they are committed, in any state.

A few thoughts: First, this is almost exactly what Bob Bernstein argued in his New York Times op-ed about Human Rights Watch — for which he was accused by HRW, on whose board Goldstone sat, of claiming that no scrutiny whatsoever should be applied to Israel. Will HRW now distort Goldstone and level the same charge? Not a chance.

Second, this statement would seem to validate Shimon Peres’s critique that Goldstone is a “small man, devoid of any sense of justice, a technocrat with no real understanding of jurisprudence” who was “on a one-sided mission to hurt Israel.” Goldstone has admitted that the lawfare campaign against Israel, of which he has become the de facto leader, is a perversion of justice: disproportionately and selectively applied. It is the equivalent of a police force that pursues the arrest of Jews, and scarcely anyone else, for violations. Such a police force is inherently illegitimate. Yet Goldstone chose to become the chief of that police force, and now denounces the fact of its — his — own iniquity. What psychodrama. What a small man.

Third, there is one person perfectly situated to rise to the challenge of even-handedness and proportionality that the good judge has placed before the world: his name is Richard Goldstone. He has earned his bona fides as a harsh and tendentious critic of Israel. Because of this, he has immense credibility at the UN and among “human-rights” activists worldwide. When will his campaign of inquisition against other democracies begin? Someone should ask him.

Richard Goldstone seems to use interviews to chip away at the legitimacy of his own work. He told the Forward that nothing he uncovered in Gaza is credible enough to be admissible in court. And now he has admitted this to Haaretz:

Many Israelis are right to feel that the United Nations and its member bodies such as the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly have devoted inordinate and disproportionate attention to scrutinizing and criticizing Israel. This has come at the price of ignoring violations of human rights in other countries, some of them members of those very same bodies. The time has come for the investigation of all violations of international human rights law and international law whenever they are committed, in any state.

A few thoughts: First, this is almost exactly what Bob Bernstein argued in his New York Times op-ed about Human Rights Watch — for which he was accused by HRW, on whose board Goldstone sat, of claiming that no scrutiny whatsoever should be applied to Israel. Will HRW now distort Goldstone and level the same charge? Not a chance.

Second, this statement would seem to validate Shimon Peres’s critique that Goldstone is a “small man, devoid of any sense of justice, a technocrat with no real understanding of jurisprudence” who was “on a one-sided mission to hurt Israel.” Goldstone has admitted that the lawfare campaign against Israel, of which he has become the de facto leader, is a perversion of justice: disproportionately and selectively applied. It is the equivalent of a police force that pursues the arrest of Jews, and scarcely anyone else, for violations. Such a police force is inherently illegitimate. Yet Goldstone chose to become the chief of that police force, and now denounces the fact of its — his — own iniquity. What psychodrama. What a small man.

Third, there is one person perfectly situated to rise to the challenge of even-handedness and proportionality that the good judge has placed before the world: his name is Richard Goldstone. He has earned his bona fides as a harsh and tendentious critic of Israel. Because of this, he has immense credibility at the UN and among “human-rights” activists worldwide. When will his campaign of inquisition against other democracies begin? Someone should ask him.

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