Sané, Pierre Gabriel 1948–
Pierre Gabriel Sané 1948–
Pierre Sané, a native of Senegal, has been secretary general for the human rights organization Amnesty International since 1992. Amnesty International, based in London, is a worldwide campaigning movement that works to promote human rights, based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international standards. Amnesty campaigns to free all prisoners of conscience, ensure fair and prompt trials for political prisoners, abolish the death penalty, torture and other cruel treatment of prisoners, and end political killings and “disappearances.”
As secretary general, Sané is responsible for the day-today management of Amnesty’s international affairs. The group’s activities range from public demonstrations to letter-writing, from human rights education to fundraising concerts, from individual appeals on a particular case to global campaigns on a particular issue. Sané also serves as the primary spokesman for Amnesty’s worldwide membership, representing the organization to governments, international groups, news media, and the general public.
Amnesty, which was founded in 1961 by British lawyer Peter Benenson, has about one million members worldwide. In his role as secretary general, Sané has struggled to adapt the organization to current economic and political realities. “Sané faces several internal and external problems, such as AI’s (Amnesty International’s) weak finances, lack of younger members, and changing needs following the end of the Cold War,” wrote Norbert C. Brockman in An African Biographical Dictionary. “Sané has begun an ambitious program to bring AI to the forefront of international civil rights activism. He describes himself as a ‘militant of optimism’ in this task.”
Pierre Sané was born on May 7, 1948, in Dakar, Senegal, the son of Nicholas Sané and Thérèse Carval-ho. He was educated at the London School of Economics, where he earned a master’s degree in public administration and public policy. Afterward, Sané moved to France, where he earned a diploma in finance and accounting at the Ecole Nouvelle d’Organisation Economique et Sociale in Paris, and an MBA at the Ecole Supérieure de Commerce in Bordeaux. He then pursued doctoral work in political science at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.
Born Pierre Gabriel Sané, May 7, 1948, Dakar, Senegal, son of Nicholas Sané and Thérèse Carval-ho; married Ndeye Sow, 1981, two children. Education: MSc in public administration and public policy, London School of Economics, London, England;Diploma in finance and accounting, Ecole Nouvelle d’Organisation Economique et Sociale, Paris, France; MBA, Ecole Supérieurede Commerce, Bordeaux, France; doctoral work in political science at Carleton University, Ottowa, Canada.
Career: Worked briefly for Senegalese Pharmaceutical Association. Joined the International Development Research Centre, Ottowa, Canada, 1978: positions held include regional comptroller, associate director for policy and budget, regional director for west and central Africa, regional director for east and southern Africa. Secretary general, Amnesty International, London, 1992-.
Addresses: Home— London, UK. Office— Amnesty International, International Secretariat, 1 Easton Street, London WC1X 8DJ, United Kingdom.
After finishing his education, Sané held positions in international development for 15 years. He worked briefly for the Senegalese Pharmaceutical Association before joining the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), based in Ottawa, Canada, in 1978. At IDRC, he was a regional comptroller for research institutes and universities in Dakar and Nairobi. In 1985, he became associate director for policy and budget. He also served as regional director for west and central Africa, with responsibility for project development, strategies, and implementation throughout the continent. Later, he was regional director for east and southern Africa. During this time, Sané helped to found PANAF, an African non-governmental organization with the goal of Pan-African unity. He also served as president of PANAF’s Senegal chapter.
In 1992, Amnesty International recruited Sané, who had been a member of the group since 1988, to fill the position of secretary general. According to a press release issued by Amnesty, Sané said he accepted the job because “working for the effective universalization of human rights enjoyment and protection is the greatest service one could render to the weak or dispossessed in our societies.”
One of Sané’s first projects was to lead Amnesty’s delegation at the UN World Conference on Human Rights. Held in 1993 in Vienna, Austria, it was the first human rights conference since the ending of the Cold War. “This is one of the major changes we are grappling with,” Sané was quoted as saying in the Boston Globe. “Certainly, before the end of the Cold War, it (campaigning for human rights) was, in a way, easier….adjusting to the new situation where you have all these ethnic conflicts, civil wars, where people are not targeted really because of their political beliefs but rather because of who they are and what they look like, this makes it, in terms of protection of political and civil rights, more complicated for us.”
One conflict that arose at the conference was the definition of “human rights.” Many Asian and African governments argued that it should be redefined away from political and civil rights, and toward economic and social rights—contending that, for poor countries, economic development is a greater priority than western-style civil liberties. Sané rejected that argument, telling Alan Riding of the New York Times, “The issue is not whether torture is more important than starvation. You cannot choose…. Human rights are universal and indivisible.”
At the conference, Sané was able to use his years as an economic development specialist to gain legitimacy with third-world delegates who favored economic rights. “Working under the most intense political pressures, he maintained a balance among competing interests and emerged as a respected leader in the field,” Norbert C. Brockman wrote in An African Biographical Dictionary. “…His ability to negotiate conflicting positions is one of his greatest assets.” Sané also led Amnesty’s delegation to the UN World Conference on Women in 1995, and at the International Conference on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in 1996.
As part of Amnesty’s lobbying efforts, Sané has travelled throughout the world, meeting with government leaders to raise concerns about human rights. Countries he has visited include Israel and the Occupied Territories/Palestinian Authority, Mexico, South Africa, Peru, and Columbia. He has also led campaigns against human rights abuses in Indonesia, Sudan, China, and Turkey.
In 1997, Sané addressed the United Nations Security Council, briefing the members on human rights and armed conflict. He also met with the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan. In both meetings, Sané stressed that attention to human rights issues not only provides early warning of potential armed conflict, but can also contribute to the possibility of a lasting peace.
That same year, which also marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Amnesty launched a campaign called “Get Up, Sign Up.” The campaign encouraged world leaders and ordinary citizens to sign a pledge supporting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Written as a response to the atrocities of World War II, the declaration “was a promise by governments to work towards a world without cruelty and injustice, “Sané was quoted as saying in an Amnesty press release. However, many of the countries that had signed the agreement continued to practice human rights violations, Sané asserted in the press release:” …We want to show that there is a groundswell of popular support for the rights in the declaration, that the public will not stand by for another 50 years of broken promises.”
Since accepting the position as secretary general, Sané has spoken out many times against human rights abuses in the United States. “There is a big gap between the rhetoric of the US proposing itself as a country that can give lessons to others, and what is going on in the US: the treatment of Haitian refugees, the use of the death penalty when most people being executed are poor, black, many of them young or mentally retarded,” he was quoted as saying in the Boston Globe in 1993. “…The US is in the same league as Saudi Arabia, China, and Iran in using the death penalty—and using it more and more.”
In October of 1998, Sané launched an Amnesty campaign against law enforcement abuses in the United States. In a 150-page report, Amnesty criticized the growing use of the death penalty, and prison conditions which allowed “endemic physical and sexual violence against prisoners” committed by fellow inmates and correctional officers. The report also focused on the use of “high-tech repression tools,” such as electroshock devices and chemical sprays. “Law enforcement officials…from police to prison staff, have a huge array of equipment at their disposal which at times is contributing to human rights violations,” Sané was quoted as saying in the Los Angeles Times.
In addition to such high-profile campaigns against developed nations, Sané is working to include developing nations in Amnesty’s struggle. “His strategy for AI (Amnesty International) is to further implant it in third-world countries so that it cannot be considered a colonialist association with foreign values,” wrote Norbert C. Brockman in An African Biographical Dictionary. As part of this strategy, Sané has been working closely with local non-governmental organizations in third-world regions, trying to spread Amnesty’s message. In addition, Sané has stated that he is against the use of economic sanctions, because it affects the innocent population and gives the impression that policy can be imposed by outsiders.
While Sané remains an optimist, he believes that Amnesty will be fighting for human rights for years to come. Asked by the Boston Globe whether Amnesty’s work might one day be obsolete, Sané said, “I don’t believe it will be in my lifetime, unfortunately. But I suppose that is our ultimate objective. All human rights workers want to see that day happen. And it will come.”
Brockman, Norbert C, An African Biographical Dictionary, ABC-CLIO, 1994.
Boston Globe, August 8, 1993, p. 72.
Los Angeles Times, October 7, 1998, p. A14.
New York Times, April 25, 1993, p. 11.
“About Amnesty International,” Amnesty International website,www.amnesty.org
“Get Up, Sign Up: Human Rights Declaration Campaign Launched” (Amnesty International press release), December 9, 1997, taken from Amnesty International website, www.amnesty.org
Pierre Sané, biography, supplied by Amnesty International, London.
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