May 26, 2005
Ms. Irene Khan, Secretary General
1 Easton Street
London WC1X ODW
UK, Fax (44) (20) 7956 1157
Dear Ms. Khan:
I wish to express shock and outrage over your use of the phrase “gulag of our time” in the Forward of the Amnesty International Report 2005. By using this phrase in reference to the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, you are demeaning and trivializing the suffering and deaths of millions of people in Soviet prisons, mines, labor camps and death camps.
For many decades, up to the collapse of the USSR in 1991, Amnesty helped countless prisoners of conscience who were then being persecuted and imprisoned in the Soviet Union. Among the many prisoners helped by Amnesty were our Baltic countrymen: Estonians, Latvians & Lithuanians. Through this work many of Amnesty’s volunteers and leaders became familiar with the scale and the inhumanity of the Soviet GULAG, from the time of Stalin up to Gorbachev. This makes your misuse of the phrase even more disturbing. It can truly be said: “You, of all people, should have known better.”
I do not take issue with Amnesty’s efforts to investigate and draw attention to alleged abuses and mistreatment of prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, or in other detention facilities run by the United States military. But using this hyperbole to imply equivalence between these US military prisons and the Soviet GULAG is not only inappropriate, but also deeply offensive to the people of Central and Eastern Europe. This is especially true for those, such as myself, whose relatives were deported by the occupying Soviet forces from their Baltic homelands to suffer death by overwork, starvation and disease in Siberia. Also by negating the enormity
and brutality of the Soviet GULAG, you diminish the need for Russia to acknowledge and atone for the crimes committed by the Soviet Union. This hinders efforts to promote democracy and respect for human rights in today’s Russian Federation.
Ms. Khan, I strongly urge you to issue public apology for using the term “gulag of our time” in the way that you did in the Forward of the Amnesty International Report 2005.
Margers (Mark) Pinnis
Baltic Association to the United Nations (BATUN)
115 West 183rd Street
Bronx, NY 10453, USA