Chair's Letter on behalf of Amnesty UK's 2015 ICM Delegation

Dear Colleagues

In Dublin, on 7 - 11 August, delegates from Amnesty UK joined representatives from other Sections and Structures, International members, the International Board and International Secretariat staff for Amnesty International’s 2015 International Council Meeting. We will shortly be producing a full delegate report, but in the meantime I wanted to send you a short note on some of the key points.

The ICM, Amnesty International’s highest decision-making body, meets every two years to discuss, debate and agree the strategic direction, governance and fundamental policy of the movement. It’s a great opportunity to meet with Amnesty activists and colleagues from around world to share ideas and discuss how we can develop the movement so that it achieves maximum impact in addressing human rights.

The conference opened with a fantastic speech by the Irish President Michael D. Higgins, who poetically articulated his human rights vision and welcomed Amnesty to Ireland saying amongst other things:

“The achievements of Amnesty International are an important pillar of the wider achievements of the international human rights movement.

Progress towards highlighting and securing the liberation of political prisoners, the prohibition and progress towards ending the use of torture, working for legislation to protect rights of association and assembly, progress towards abolition of the death penalty, drawing international attention to forced disappearances, and standing for the rights of refugees and displaced persons... In countries in every region of the world, Amnesty International has contributed to advances in the protection of each of these fundamental human rights over more than half a century.

"You have a record of achievement which has inspired millions around the world to take up the cause of dignity, equality and justice.“

We then had a panel event which included Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab joining us by video link. Amnesty UK has campaigned for Nabeel's freedom and rights in the past; he has been arrested and imprisoned several times for his activism. He told us how with Amnesty he and his family do not feel alone. It was truly inspiring to hear and see Nabeel and he was given a standing ovation in the hall.

Outcomes from the meeting

It was then down to business and we were off to the working groups which this year focussed on the Strategic Goals for the global movement for 2016 - 2019, as well as a number of resolutions and issues for discussion which had been proposed by Sections and the International Board.

We were delighted that the resolution on a new Distribution framework went through. Amnesty UK played a significant role in reviewing and revising the movement’s financial system and I’d like to thank all of those that worked hard in that process. The revised system has a number of positive features: it supports and encourages fundraising, as well as striking a more appropriate balance between affordability to Sections like Amnesty UK and ensuring that more resources are available to the movement.

The UK delegation were pleased that our discussion on Children's human rights went well, eliciting a great deal of enthusiasm and support in the working group. Working with colleagues from Italy, Denmark and Germany, we managed to secure a mention in the preamble of Strategic Goal 2 (“Human Rights are enjoyed without discrimination”) and the Theories of Change.

We also stressed the importance of workers' and union rights. Amnesty UK's work with trade unions, particularly through our campaign for Mahdi Abu Dheeb's freedom, was quoted as a example of best practice of working with human rights defenders.

The ICM discussed the reform of Amnesty’s international governance and we look forward to the continuation of reform discussions in the lead-up to the 2017 International Council. In the meantime, this meeting decided that the International Board should more formally present its reports (including Reports on the implementation of ICM Decisions) for acceptance by the ICM, following the initiatives of the Spanish and UK Sections.

As we had anticipated, the debates on the resolution on a draft policy on sex work were perhaps the most difficult, but they were always conducted with mutual respect for differing opinions. Efforts were made to address concerns on all sides and, as well as the working party meetings, there were additional meetings with the International Board and the establishment of a drafting group to work on amendments. After much deliberation and debate, the decision went to a vote in the final plenary which saw the International Board's resolution adopted.

Our truly international reach

The ICM is a truly inspirational and moving meeting - we learn about the exciting activities that our colleagues are doing.

The national offices in India and Brazil are growing rapidly; the regional offices are taking shape and linking in with local activists on exciting projects to deliver human rights change; the balance of the International Secretariat’s expenditure is moving to the global south, from around 13% four years ago to 47% today and this is reflected in the increasingly diverse composition of the ICM.

We also heard inspirational stories from activists in places as diverse as Pakistan, Romania, Bahrain, Kenya and Syria. We heard how Amnesty Mexico’s work on the disappearance of 43 students had helped to channel a mood of national indignation, catalysing more than 1½ million actions (and securing 30,000 new supporters for the Section).

Real impact

The power of our work truly struck home on Monday as the morning session of the conference heard via Skype from Yara Bader, a Syrian activist who very movingly described the detention of her husband Mazen Darwish, a human rights defender and director of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression. As Yara told us how her husband had been detained for three years, her anguish and dignity was felt across the conference floor.

Later that same day we received the message that, after nearly three and a half years of detention, disappearance, ill treatment and torture, Mazen had been released. Amnesty International in conjunction with governments and human rights groups--local and international - time and again urged the Syrian government to free Mazen. At the heart of all this campaigning was the tireless work of Yara, an activist in her own right, who pushed us all to do more to defend the defenders.

Constitutional reform

I hope you find this short note useful. I just wanted to give you a quick update for now; we will composing a more comprehensive Delegation Report, which we expect to be available from September.

Finally, I'd like to take this opportunity to remind you to look out for Amnesty UK's consultation on its Constitution. We'll be sending it out in the next issue of the members' magazine and it will be available on our website in September. We are looking forward to hearing your views.

With best wishes,

Sarah O'Grady

Chair, Amnesty UK Section

Read previous Chair's letters