This is definitely the season for conferences. I have just returned from the European & Central Asian Regional Forum; Amnesty UK is in the final flurry of preparations for our AGM and your Board is also concentrating on the upcoming Global Assembly Meeting.
I really look forward to Amnesty UK’s Annual General Meeting and National Conference which will take place in Nottingham this weekend. It’s always an inspiring couple of days, with reports, debates, presentations and workshops to take part in. For me the best part is just spending a couple of days surrounded by people who also care about human rights. I hope to see lots of you there.
However, our first Board meeting on Saturday 23 March, was the first since the publication of Konterra’s report into staff well-being at the International Secretariat, which dominated our thoughts. As noted in my last email, it is a critical report and as you might expect, the Board spent some time discussing its findings. We have been impressed by our Secretary General, Kumi Naidoo’s response so far and we look forward to seeing his more detailed thoughts when he shares them with us later this Spring. We do know that he is planning to entirely revise the management structure.
This is a difficult time at the International Secretariat. In addition to the challenge of responding to the Konterra report and overcoming the difficulties and divisions that it exposed, the IS are needing to address a significant funding gap. So, this will be a tough period for staff at all levels working there. Our thoughts are with them and we can all demonstrate understanding in our interactions with IS colleagues.
As I’ve noted before, work on safeguarding and staff wellbeing is also under way at the UK Section. Having agreed to extra resources for this work, the Board received an encouraging report from the Director. She has recruited of a new Head of Safeguarding and we look forward to them taking up post in the second half of the year. In the meantime, work continues and the Board agreed a new policy on Safeguarding Criminal Records Checks.
We also looked forward to Amnesty’s Global Assembly Meeting in August. This is an annual meeting of delegations from Amnesty entities from around the world. Last year’s meeting was, in many respects, a test of the systems and so we are now seeing some of the new arrangements working in full for the first time.
In order to make use of the restricted time, the GAM is run differently from how our AGM operates. Instead of submitting a motion in full, Sections now have to send in a short proposal. The Preparatory Committee (similar in some ways to our Standing Orders Committee) then decides whether it should be included on the agenda. If they decide against it, then their decision can be appealed to a vote of the representatives of all Amnesty’s Sections. That vote will take place in mid-April, so the Board had an initial review of Prep Com’s recommendations.
The GAM will be considering some new policies and the beginning of the Strategic Planning process. There will be a session at our AGM for those of you who would like to know more.
The Regional Forum is part of the preparation for the Global Assembly Meeting. It is a chance to discuss these policy decisions with colleagues from other Amnesty sections, and to question our global management. As with our AGM, the greatest pleasure comes from meeting people: some of our colleagues are working under considerable stress. One of the most gripping sessions was on how to support sections in crisis, and we heard from Amnesty people from Israel, Ukraine, Hungary, Poland and Turkey who are dealing with hostile environments. It certainly gives a sense of perspective on the challenges of being a UK Board member.
In addition to the usual Global Assembly Meeting, we learnt a few weeks ago that there will be an additional “Emergency” Global Assembly that will take place in May. Its only business is to discuss a resolution that calls on all Amnesty entities to divest from fossil fuel companies. This signals the increasing importance that the international movement attaches to work on climate change and human rights. As you might expect, the Board is broadly supportive of the proposal but we need to identify any unintended impacts. The extra meeting, in May, will the first Global Assembly to take place by electronic means. So, in addition to discussing an important topic, we are looking forward to experiencing a virtual global governance meeting.
On Thursday 28 March, our second Board meeting of the week met to receive the auditor’s report and sign off the financial statements. They are now available to read on the website at https://www.amnesty.org.uk/our-finances and our Treasurer will be running through the headline numbers at the AGM. As ever, we are grateful to Amnesty’s Finance Team and our auditors for completing the process so quickly and professionally.
For some time, the Board has been concerned that our members do not have enough time to absorb these accounts before we ask the AGM to receive them. So, with the aim of improving our financial transparency, next year we will be moving our AGM to June.
Finally, I’d like to emphasise that you still have time to influence the shape our Board by voting in the UK Section elections. Please do so. Polling closes on 30 April and if you have not received the information on how to vote, please get in touch with the office as soon as possible.
As this is my last email as Chair, I’d like to sign off by thanking you for all the work you do as human rights activists and campaigners. I appreciate it more than words can say.
With best wishes
Chair, Amnesty International UK Section