Save the Children is facing a furious backlash from its own staff for presenting Tony Blair with a “global legacy award”, amid claims the “morally reprehensible” gesture has endangered the charity’s credibility because of continued controversy over the Iraq War.
A glittering ceremony in New York last week saw Mr Blair take the prize for his leadership on international development issues during his time as Prime Minister, but the award has been fiercely opposed by some of the charity’s staff.
Questions of impartiality have also been raised. The charity’s UK chief executive, Justin Forsyth, was a special adviser to Mr Blair for three years, while Jonathan Powell, Mr Blair’s former chief of staff, is currently on its UK board.
A letter signed by almost 200 staff members, which began circulating last weekend, demanded a review of the charity’s decision-making process and insisted on distancing themselves from the prize.
“We consider this award inappropriate and a betrayal to Save the Children’s founding principles and values. Management staff in the region were not consulted about the award and were caught by surprise with this decision,” it said.
Since bringing Britain into the US-led war in Iraq in 2003 despite fierce opposition in parliament and among the public, Mr Blair has been accused of war crimes by peace campaigners. He is expected to be strongly criticised in the report of the Government-appointed Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war, which is due to be published next year.
Mr Blair has since taken the role of special envoy to the Middle East. However, Palestinians and their supporters have frequently charged that his stance has been overly favourable towards Israel.
An online petition calling for the charity to revoke the award had gathered more than 87,000 signatures. It said many saw Mr Blair “as the cause of the deaths of countless children”.
Accepting the award at the time, Mr Blair said: “From the beginning of humankind there has been brutality, conflict, intrigue, the destructive obsession with a narrow self-interest. But throughout all human history, never has been extinguished that relentless, unquenchable desire to do good.”
A spokeswoman for Save the Children stressed that the award was the decision of the charity’s US arm. “Our staff have strong views on a whole range of issues and people and we respect that diversity of views,” she added.
A spokeswoman for Mr Blair was “deeply honoured and moved to receive the award in recognition of his work”.
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