AIUK AGM 2010: Unanimous 'yes' for childrens rights work at IS - and now?

Well, it’s been a while since the last post, but what a fitting day – the day of the General Election – to write about Amnesty UK’s AGM, held at Warwick University in early April.

I started writing this children’s human rights blog just after the 2009 AGM.  That was my first experience of the annual event – and not a little intimidating!  The AGM is two days of early starts and hearty debates, amidst a gathering of passionate people and rousing emotion.  There are workshops and socials, speeches and entertainment, and a chance to really have your say.  As a long time admirer of Amnesty’s work, to be right in the thick of it was just breathtaking.  It is painfully democratic, but this only means that everyone – all ages and interests, individuals and groups – can have their say on the issues that matter to them.

In 2009, the Children’s Human Rights Network (CHRN) put forward a resolution for the UK Section to fight for a greater priority for children’s human rights within Amnesty International’s Integrated Strategic Plan (ISP).  It passed overwhelmingly; AI’s voluntary children’s rights advisor David Maidment and I were very pleased with the result.  I left elated and inspired –as you can see from my first ever post if you care to go back that far in the record!

This year, I’m pleased to report, the CHRN’s plight for more resources for children was bolstered by another resolution brought by Cambridge City Local Group (drafted and re-drafted by Lissy, and proposed most eloquently by Liesbeth), and supported by Norwich Local Group, asking that AIUK ‘request that the IS vigourously promotes children’s rights’.  The full resolution can be read here (click on Download a full list of decisions, p 4).

Joanna from Norwich, who spoke in favour of the 2010 motion for children’s rights resources, sums up her experience beautifully:

“It was the first time I had addressed such a large audience and my heart was pounding so hard I wondered if I would make it to the podium. But when you’ve got something important to say sheer determination takes over.  I didn’t need to speak – no one was opposing the motion and my statement was only a supporting one,  but with a captive audience I wanted to say my bit. I wanted those voting for the motion to do so with conviction and passion. This support might need to be called upon in the future. Our voice is not often heard, and every opportunity counts.”

Liesbeth and Joanna’s resolution was significant not only because it was unanimously passed, but because it represented the will of two Amnesty Groups – Groups being the backbone of this grassroots movement – who want to work on children’s rights cases.  Liesbeth commented:

"If anything I would like to emphasize the team work that has led to this result. I wouldn’t have done this so confidently if it wasn’t for Lissy and Joanna’s thoughtful work on putting the motion together, clearly outlining the issues and what we felt AIUK and the AIUK board should do.

"it was good to meet with Helle, David and Joanna, prior to the working party, giving me further understanding of the issues and confirmed that what we were proposing was absolutely necessary.

I felt so incredibly proud of all our hard work, when it was adopted unanimously."

As their resolution pointed out, despite being almost third of the world’s population, Amnesty International – an organisation I have supported since I was 13 and will hopefully continue to support until I write my will – do not currently have a single staff member within the International Secretariat (IS – or ‘research HQ mothership’ as I affectionately call it) that has the specific remit to check and disseminate research and action on children’s rights to interested volunteers, members and supporters.  This is what prompted the regrettable proviso delivered to us by the Board: ‘AIUK is highly dependent on the IS for the provision of actions and other campaign materials relating to child rights’.

Despite overwhelming support for a ‘greater priority for children’ in the ISP at Amnesty AGMs all over the world throughout 2009, in December 2010 Amnesty’s dedicated global network of children’s human rights activists were delivered a staggering blow: we lost our treasured contact at the IS office – a diligent and talented campaigner who provided us with a monthly update on where and how AI is investigating and acting against children’s rights abuses.

This, the AIUK CHRN committee agree, is a bit of an abomination. Those of you that care enough to have read this far might agree. Five months later, the post is yet to be replaced. There is no guarantee that the replacement’s remit will include children’s rights work.

Its worth noting that the IS do ad hoc children’s rights work: just this week the CHRN committee received word from the IS that 12 year-old Jordan Brown is at risk of life imprisonment without parole in Pennsylvania in the U.S.  We have created an action with a template letter adressed to the State Attorney General asking that this minor is not tried in an adult court. Life without Parole is illegal according to international standards, and yet there are 2,500 prisoners in the US whose crimes were committed as minors, who will never ever leave prison, some of them convicted of very minor crimes.  (Take action on Jordan’s case here.)

However, children’s human rights is complex.  Children are generally afforded special protection under law, and work on children’s human rights cannot remain outside of Amnesty’s official remit.  The organisation certainly cannot continue without at least one IS staff voice for children, even if simply to check child protection and ensure major cases affecting minors are handled sensitively.  The 2010 AGM were not asking for much: work already going on at the IS invariably involves children – issues such as vulnerable communities, violence against women, discrimination in education, maternal mortality, forced labour and trafficking – but it is clear that these abuses hit children the hardest, and specific attention to children is extremely important.

As Britain goes to the polls today I am lifted to a giddy optimism for the democratic process.  Surely, this is the one thing that binds us together as human rights activists – the idea that collective action can put right what is wrong, and hope for better? 

Today of all days, I am reminded that ‘it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness’.  As the 2010 AGM agreed – ‘Amnesty works for human, not adult rights’.  Children’s rights should be a core responsibility of this organisation, and we should all, as members of a democratic organisation, ensure that the decisions we made are acted upon.

Happy Election Day!

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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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