Working with others - a message from Amnesty International's Claudio Cordone

Dear friends,

Together with Kate Allen, Director of AIUK, I welcome the report (attached), Amnesty International, Working with others: an independent review, Findings and recommendations, which our external reviewers Mindy Sawhney and Ravindran Daniel submitted at the end of the review jointly commissioned by the International Secretariat and AIUK.  The report, which we make publicly available, identifies both strengths and deficiencies in our operations, and highlights areas for improvement.  

The report acknowledges that we have been engaging “in dialogue at all levels on the fundamental questions of terror and counter-terror for a considerable period of time”, and that our policy on armed groups is a “robust basis” on which to further develop such work. We are committed to continuing our opposition to human rights abuses by states and any other actor in this context, without compromise, and to addressing any shortcomings on our part. With regard to the case of Moazzam Begg, there is no question that our actions on his behalf while he was unlawfully detained were right and based on appropriate research.

As senior leaders of Amnesty International, we take full responsibility for the deficiencies identified by the report, including for not ensuring that the concerns around our collaboration with Moazzam Begg and the organization Cageprisoners, which he directs, were properly addressed before January 2010. We addressed them promptly then, when Gita Sahgal, on our request, articulated her own concerns in a memo. We regret her decision not to engage internally at the time, or with the review. However, we have since examined these concerns, seeking any additional inputs internally and externally to ensure we had all available information.

We confirm that we find no reasons in principle why we should not have worked with Moazzam Begg and Cageprisoners, or to rule out further cooperation with them, on the issue of Guantánamo Bay and other unlawful detentions. Any decision regarding future collaboration with Moazzam Begg and Cageprisoners will be taken in discussion with them and on the basis of the lessons learned through this review, in the same way as we would approach any other collaborative initiative. We regret that differences of opinion within Amnesty International have led or contributed to the threats they were subjected to following media coverage since February.  

Beyond this specific case, we have critical work to do to improve our approach to working with others, as pointed out in the report, as we seek to strengthen and expand our partnerships. We share the overall assessment of the reviewers that “[a]lthough deficiencies are present both in existing processes and in their application”, these are “within the normal limits of the complexities and imperfections of organisational life within the [human rights] and wider NGO sector”. However, we aspire to higher levels of achievement for both our processes and the people involved, in the interests of our work for human rights.

We will now develop a plan for implementing the report’s recommendations. As in the case of our follow-up to other reviews, we will seek staff input throughout this process. Specific tasks ahead will include:

1.  Developing AI-wide strategies and operational tools for our approach to working with others, and more broadly to partnerships, as we continue the debate we have had in the movement around the Integrated Strategic Plan. Particularly interesting in this context is the reviewers’ recommendation of “creating space for rightsholders to speak for themselves”, on an AI platform, with “no criterion for access to the platform, save a direct experience of a [human rights] violation”.

2.  Improving our “due diligence” processes, fostering in this context better coordination and consultation among staff at all levels and across functions, and between the International Secretariat and sections and structures, to ensure that decisions are taken at the right level and with the right inputs.

3.  Embedding the gender and diversity mainstreaming we are deeply committed to across all thematic and country work, from the development of strategies to their operational implementation.

4.  Strengthening management practices to enhance our responsiveness to concerns, but also to ensure that everyone, staff and managers, takes responsibility for their own views and actions.

The public controversy around these issues in the last few months has not been conducive to the kind of constructive debate we should be having among human rights activists. However, we look forward to engaging further with women’s rights organizations, Muslim human rights organizations, and other human rights groups and activists from diverse backgrounds, especially as we develop further our work on terrorism and counter-terrorism, and pursue gender and diversity mainstreaming. We will be exploring appropriate forums to pursue such dialogue.

As with much of our work, the completion of this review is not the end of the story for many of the issues that it has addressed. Rather, it is a building block, as we strive to improve our efficiency and accountability, ultimately aiming at achieving greater human rights impact.    

Together with Kate Allen, I wish to thank Mindy Sawhney and Ravindran Daniel for their intensive, broad-ranging and rigorous work, completed to deadline within a tight timeframe.

Along with the reviewers, we wish to extend our thanks to Abdullahi An-Na’im and Lynn Welchman who made themselves available to advise the reviewers; to the human rights activists who contributed to the review; and of course to all the AI staff and volunteers who also shared their time and perspectives, while continuing to carry out their daily work for human rights.

With best wishes,

Claudio Cordone
Senior Director for Research and Regional Programmes

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