Human rights are for all: Response to media article

Amnesty International is being accused in a media article today of putting the human rights of some people above those of others. This is not, and has never been, true. Implicit in the accusation, is the view that we should choose those whose rights we promote. We reject this view utterly. Amnesty International campaigns for all internationally recognised human rights for all people – it is not about their views, their political opinions, their actions – it’s about upholding the universality of human rights: these are the inalienable rights of all human beings. As part and parcel of promoting human rights, we also have a long history of demanding that those who perpetrate human rights abuses be brought to justice – whoever they may be.  We make this call because victims deserve to see justice done, to know that the harm done to them has been exposed and to seek reparations. 

Whenever Amnesty International accuses governments or other actors of committing human rights violations – based on our research – they typically make one of two defences.  Either the violation never happened, for example, denying the existence of secret detention facilities or that the victim got what he or she “deserved.”

When the US government defended its detention of people it suspected as terrorists in Guantánamo Bay, then President Bush famously described the detainees as the “worst of the worst.”  Translation – these men got what they deserved.  They got years of detention, torture and ill-treatment, solitary confinement, complete isolation from the world and of course, no means to defend themselves against the charge of being the “worst of the worst”.  

Amnesty International responded to President Bush’s claims by calling on the US authorities to either try them in a court of law in proceedings that met international standards for fair trial or release them.  In a tacit acknowledgement that they got it wrong, the US authorities have released more than 500 detainees without bringing charges.

One of those who was released without charge, and has never been convicted of terrorist-related offences, is Moazzam Begg. Following his release in 2005, Amnesty International met him to discuss his experiences. Moazzam Begg’s account is consistent with the testimony of other detainees about human rights violations. He has since spoken at Amnesty International events describing his experiences and highlighting the plight of detainees who remain in Guantánamo and the need for accountability for human rights violations. 

A European tour is currently underway as part of a campaign to encourage more EU countries to accept former Guantánamo detainees. 

The tour was initiated by Reprieve and the Centre for Constitutional Rights but a number of Amnesty International national sections are hosting the tour in different European countries.

Tomorrow, Moazzam Begg will speaking alongside Amnesty International, speaking specifically on behalf of those detainees in need of protection in a third country.

Today, Amnesty International is being criticised for speaking alongside him and for being “soft” on the Taleban, when our record is one of unreserved opposition to their abuses over the years. 

Interestingly, the US and other governments that have violated human rights standards in the name of countering terrorism justify those violations by saying that our security can only be protected by violating the rights of others.  Mr Begg is one of the people that the US government defined as “other.” 

But there is no place for the “other” in human rights because to argue that some people are more ‘deserving’ than others of having their rights protected is to argue that some beings are less than human.

Widney Brown, Senior Director for International Law and Policy, Amnesty International – International Secretariat.

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