Chair's Letter - December 2013

Dear Colleagues,

Before providing my regular report to you, I wanted to pause for a minute to remember together the extraordinary life of Nelson Mandela.    Yesterday, Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty said:

'As a world leader who refused to accept injustice, Nelson Mandela’s courage helped change our entire world. The death of Nelson Mandela is not just a loss for South Africa. It is a loss for people all over the world who are fighting for freedom, for justice and for an end to discrimination'.
Salil Shetty, Amnesty International Secretary General 

These are bound to be very emotional and reflective days as we are think about the legacy of a remarkable person not just in terms of the struggle against apartheid but in terms of the global struggle for human rights across the world. I am sure many of you will be taking part in events to remember Nelson Mandela over the coming weeks and I wish you all the best with all that you do.

On a very different note, I also wanted to reference the email that Kate Allen sent to you yesterday regarding the BBC Panorama programme that is due to be broadcast on December 10th. I am sorry that this broadcast might again cause us some adverse publicity, and that you, as leading activists may have to deal with some of that. The staff team are well organised to respond to questions and complaints that arise from the programme. Please do draw on their support if you need to at this time. I have listened to the full interview that Kate gave to Panorama, and she did an excellent job. We now have to wait and see how the programme unfolds and as Kate says, there will be a response to use publicly very shortly after the programme finishes that I hope you will find useful in answering any questions you might have, as well as those that might be asked of you.

Now turning to the substance of my regular report:

Board meeting

The Board met last Saturday with a very full agenda. The full minutes will be on the website before Christmas but I wanted to provide a brief flavour of the discussions.

We reviewed a draft programme for next year's Annual General Meeting and National Conference. This takes place at Herriot Watt University, near Edinburgh on 12-13 April. Booking is now open We are still in the early stages of discussing any resolutions that the Board may want to put forward (the deadline is 10 February) but we did express support for a possible Special Resolution (arising from the Governance Task Force's work) to increase the number of co-optees available to the Nominations Committee (from one to two). If this does go ahead, we hope to notify members through the next issue of the Magazine.

We received reports from the Board's sub-committees and the Governance Task Force. The International Issues Sub-Committee has been discussing its approach to a membership consultation on a policy proposed by the International Board on sex workers. We expect to start this consultation in January and are currently working on more accessible documentation to enable broad participation.

The Governance Task Force is progressing well but it's clear that the scale of its task is substantial and we believe it may be necessary to extend its mandate by another year. We will bring this proposal to the AGM. All of the minutes of the GTF meetings and reports from its various subgroups are posted on the Governance Task Force page

We again reviewed the decisions of the 2013 International Council Meeting. The Board and its sub-committees will monitor all of the decisions but we identified five that will be a particularly high priority for us over the next 18 months: the assessment review (Decision 1), restricted giving (2), governance reform (7), the development of a vision for section and structures (20) and processes arising from the decision on strategic goals (Decision 24). Members of our ICM delegation are continuing to provide feedback at the various Regional Conferences taking place over the next few months. These are great events and wonderful opportunities to find out more about Amnesty and its campaigns. I hope you'll consider attending them. Confirmed dates are as follows: 18 January - South Midlands (Oxford); 25 January - Northern Ireland (Belfast); 1 February - London; 15 February - East Midlands (Leicester); 22 February - South East (Dorking); 1 March - South (Salisbury); 8 March - East Anglia (Ely). For more information contact your Regional Representative or contact the office.

The Board also discussed an evaluation of AIUK's campaign for the international Arms Trade Treaty. It is an honest appraisal and it confirms what I think we knew - this was a well managed and very successful campaign that built on two decades of work. I would like to thank the very many activists and the staff who helped to achieve such strong UK support for the treaty. However, we know that our task is not complete until the treaty enters into force and becomes a meaningful way of regulating the arms trade.

As regards the implementation of AGM decisions. A number have been implemented already and others are continuing to progress. From the New Year, implementation updates will be provided on the website. There is something you can do to help implement the decision by calling on AIUK to work with grassroots organisations seeking to halt the abrogation of the human rights of sick and disabled people, by signing the WOW campaign petition. They are calling for a cumulative impact assessment of the government welfare reforms and an end to the current Work Capability Assessments. AIUK is very happy to support the call for a parliamentary debate on these issues. Although they've reached their target of 100,000 signatures, which may trigger a parliamentary debate on their demands, they need as much support as possible and the petition will remain open until 12 December. Find out more about the WOW campaign and sign their government e-petition

Activism in action

November brought a number of activist successes. In particular, I'd like to thank all the participants at last month's Student Conference. As well as enjoying great discussions, they took a visually stunning action that helped to keep Sri Lanka's human rights situation in the news ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. David Cameron chose to attend the meeting but he did visit the north and commented extensively on human rights concerns. On the eve of the summit, the Foreign Office, No.10 and BBC News websites all featured these concerns on their homepage. AIUK's activists played a significant role in ensuring that our government felt compelled to speak out. 

I'd also like to pay tribute to the staff and activists who organised and attended an event in Speaker's House as part of our campaign on women's rights in Afghanistan. About 100 people attended, including 60 activists and 21 parliamentarians. This is an impressive turnout of politicians for an event like this and it's because of the importance of the constituency link that our members have with their MPs. This sort of link and other forms of creative activism have been instrumental in developing support for the campaign, which will continue in 2014.  

New website

I hope you have had a chance to have a look at the new AIUK website. When we embarked on the project it was with the intention of replacing our old site because it was no longer stable. In fact we have been able to do far more than that and to deliver the website under the planned budget. As with any launch there were some initial glitches but these are now fixed and we are working on updating some of the documentation. All of the feedback, both positive and with suggestions for improvement has been very helpful. Please let us know your thoughts All your thoughts are important and will help inform how we develop the site in the future.

Board elections

If you would like to get more involved in the governance of Amnesty International, I hope you'll consider standing for the Board elections. We are now calling for nominations for Board members to serve from 2014 to 2017. There will be five vacancies on the Board, only one of which is reserved for a Recognised Network, the rest of the places are unreserved. I would like to encourage members to put their names forward and apply.  Members of AIUK wishing to stand should apply for full details and a nomination form no later than Wednesday 8 January 2014 (by 5pm) to Selma Shirazi, at selma.shirazi@amnesty.org.uk The deadline for submitting completed nominations is the following Wednesday 15 January 2014 (by 5pm). More information about the Board Ballot and its timetable is on the Board elections page

Expressions of Interest for International Board Governance Committee

The International Board (formerly the IEC) is also calling for expressions of interest from individuals with expertise in governance who might wish to serve on the Governance Committee of the International Board. Further information is available to members on request from karen.wagstaff@amnesty.org.uk

Restructuring update

Finally, the staff restructuring process at AIUK is close to conclusion. Originally concerned that we might need to make compulsory redundancies, we have been able to offer alternative roles to the seven staff who were served redundancy notices, which I am very pleased about. However, we know that we will be saying goodbye to 20 staff whose applications for voluntary redundancy have been accepted. On behalf of the Board, I would like to thank them for their many years of dedicated service to the organisation and their contribution to so many of our successes. I know that they will be missed by their colleagues and by many of you. We wish them all the best in the future. We would also like to thank all of the staff who have worked at AIUK over this difficult period - they have maintained their usual high quality of work throughout. We are enormously grateful. 

With best wishes,

Sarah O' Grady
Chair