AGM '09: Friday - democracy, decisions and dinner (#1)

Amnesty's annual exercise in democracy is about to get underway.

Yes, it's Grand National weekend and I find myself on a far-flung, redbrick university campus. It must be time for AIUK's National Conference and AGM.

This year, 450 delegates are making their way to a mist-covered Swansea. After travel by car, plane, bus, train and taxi, a small delegation from Northern Ireland – a mix of school, student and local group members, plus me from the staff team – have made it. Phew, Swansea's easy to get to!

The weekend promises much. One of the defining characteristics of Amnesty International is its democratic nature. We are run by a Board elected from among our membership (we've 267,000 of those at the last count, so we have some great people to choose from!) and we determine our strategic directions and campaign choices through linked national and international democratic processes.

This year the delegates will be voting on human rights issues as varied as violations of international law from Israel to Burma; the use of counter-terrorism legislation to inhibit freedom of the press; whether or not Amnesty should do more on the plight of gypsy travellers in Scotland; and much, much more besides.

The annual conference is also the forum for determining the UK section's stance on key debates within our international movement and mandating the UK's delegates to vote certain ways at our biennial international council meeting (ICM). This aspect of our weekend get-together is particularly important this year, given some of the big decisions affecting the global Amnesty movement which may be taken in August at the next ICM. These decisions will affect AI's direction as a campaigning movement of over two million people worldwide, as well as our internal decision-making processes and our finances in a time of global recession. Important stuff, so we better keep our wits about us!

The weekend is also an opportunity for information, inspiration and training. All of these should be available in bucketloads with a packed programme which is already underway, but will start in earnest after dinner this evening, with a series of talks and workshops.

A major theme of this year's conference is the campaign on poverty and justice which AI will launch later this year. We're fortunate to have a range of international visitors amongst us, with whom we will be running our campaign. Among these is a representative of the Deep Sea slum / shanty-town community on the outskirts of Nairobi. It's 7,000 inhabitants live under constant threat of forced eviction and put up with some of the worst housing conditions on earth. Our Kenyan guest will be explaining how we, as Amnesty activists in this country, can stand with them for justice.

OK, will report back regularly during the weekend, but right now this blogger has to eat!

Drop me any questions or comments in the comment  zone and, between other commitments, I'll do my best to respond over the next three days.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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