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Guest post from the Deputy Chair of our Board, Hannah Perry
It was only last weekend, but looking back on our 2014 Annual General Meeting, I can hardly believe it happened. I’ve come back to my desk and tried to explain to my colleagues the whirl of human rights, debates, decisions and friendship that was my weekend. It's difficult to take in even when you’re a part of it.
Connecting activists from all over the UK
We spent the AGM meeting each other as the massive community that we are – some for the first time and others building on years of reunions. It's a long, long weekend, with focused activist meetings before the conference even 'began'.
Whilst new delegates were getting walked through our complex voting processes, I caught up with our regional reps, country coordinators and staff and discussed how we could all better understand each other’s roles and work together in the year ahead.
Fast forward to Saturday evening where members’ achievements –fundraising and creative efforts, mass-actions and personal endeavours – were celebrated with pride and applause. One of our youth members sang a song she had written about what drives us all – the struggle for human rights around the world. She sang beautifully and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one moved to tears (not for the first time that day!).
Planning this year’s campaigns
Focusing on Syria
As ever, our meeting was poignantly structured with reminders of why we were there. Our meeting began with Syrian human rights defender Reem Al Assil lighting the Amnesty candle which burned throughout the conference.
Reem explained that she was currently grieving for a friend and member of the Syrian non-violence movement who had recently been imprisoned, tortured and killed. She spoke with such strength and determination whilst her three children sat patiently listening to their story. Watch her speech below.
We didn’t just stop to pause and reflect on the situation in Syria. We worked hard throughout the weekend with workshops or campaign actions on Women’s rights in Afghanistan and the new global campaigns for My Body My Rights and Stop Torture.
Uniting to stop torture
Campaigning on torture is not new to Amnesty, of course. Mark Thomson from the Association for the Prevention of Torture, one of the weekend's keynote speakers, noted we have achieved real change with our previous three campaigns focussing on torture – including a UN Declaration against Torture and a Nobel Peace Prize for our efforts – but there is still so much work to be done.
The launch of Amnesty’s fourth torture campaign later this year is one that will unite the movement globally and I know we all cannot wait to take up the challenge.
Deciding Amnesty's policy on decriminalising sex work
One decision that dominated preparations for this AGM was Amnesty UK’s response to a policy proposal on the human rights of sex workers. A number of staff, board members and specialist committee members had worked hard to prepare for this debate – aiming to ensure it was informed, thorough but ultimately led to a decision that the UK Board could then take to the discussion at an international level before a final policy was agreed.
I was nervous about this debate because of the heated attention it had sparked in the run-up. I shouldn’t have been. Amnesty members stood up and raised their arguments for and against the different proposals with the same passion, intelligence and care I’d always seen from among our members. I changed my mind many times throughout the debate and – judging by the final mixed decision – I don’t think I was the only one!
Strengthening our activism
A big moment and memory for me was speaking about activism and the future of our activism at Amnesty. I asked different parts of our ‘dysfunctional Amnesty family’ to stand up. Once I overcame the relief that people did what I asked, I had the privilege of looking at so many different faces from our international guests, to our youth and student members to our staff – so many different skills in one room.
We talked about how we need to keep Amnesty strong, to look after one another, work together and to grow as a movement.
I’m really excited to see what lies ahead for us our united campaign to stop torture, to ensure women are protected and at the heart of rebuilding Afghanistan, and to support human rights defenders in Syria.
There is so much work to do this year but I feel more certain than ever that our movement of ordinary people will come at it, united and fighting.
P.S. During the AGM, I made a promise to a staff member that I would give something up in May. Here is my commitment: I will be giving up coffee to raise money for Amnesty. Join me in giving something up for human rights
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.