Leading South Asian rights campaigners have accused Amnesty International of “undermining'' the rights movement, especially the campaign against sex and gender discrimination, by working with extremist — often misogynist — groups engaged in what they claim is “defensive jihad''.

The row follows remarks by Claudio Cordone, its secretary-general, that “defensive jihad'' was not “antithetical'' to human rights. He made the comments in response to a Global Petition from rights activists questioning Amnesty's alliance with Cageprisoners, founded by Moazzam Begg, an ex- Guantanamo Bay prisoner and dubbed “Britain's most famous supporter of the Taliban'' by a former Amnesty official.

“Moazzam Begg and others in his group Cageprisoners hold…views which they have clearly stated, for example on whether one should talk to the Taliban or on the role of jihad in self-defence. Are such views antithetical to human rights? Our answer is no, even if we may disagree with them …,'' Mr Cordone wrote.

The initiators of the petition — Amrita Chhachhi, Sara Hossain and Sunila Abeysekera, all prominent women's rights activists — have called Mr. Cordone's remarks “shocking and incredible''.

“If this is the official position of the world's leading human rights organisation, this would gravely undermine the future of the human rights movement,'' they argued.

In a statement, they said that by endorsing “defensive jihad'', Amnesty was giving legitimacy to the arguments used by fundamentalist groups to justify their anti-human rights actions.

“It is precisely ‘defensive jihad' that the Taleban use to legitimise its anti human rights actions such as the beheading of dissidents, attacks on minorities, attacks on schools and religious shrines and the public lashing of women. A similar logic based on ‘defence of religion' is used by the Christian right to justify the killing of doctors providing abortion services as well as by Hindutva fundamentalists to justify their violent attacks against Muslims and Christians in India,'' they said. Recently, Amnesty suspended the head of its gender unit Gita Sahgal after she went public with her concerns about its links with Mr Begg.

More In: International | News