Chair's letter - December 2014

Dear Colleagues,

My last email of this year bears some very sad news. Tony Farnfield, Amnesty International UK’s Director of Corporate Services, died in November. His loss has been deeply felt by all the staff, Board and many members who worked with Tony and appreciated his judgement and straightforward way of handling things, always with a good sense of humour. At his funeral, we heard how Tony had dedicated his professional life to making a positive difference to people, a dedication that he carried forward in his private life as well. Tony made a difference at Amnesty International UK. It was privilege to have known and worked with him. We will miss him.

Human Rights

The landmark human rights moment for the month has been the agreement by the European Union of a Human Rights Defenders strategy for Afghanistan.

Conscious of NATO’s departure at the end of this year and an increasing sense of insecurity, Amnesty International UK activists have been working for the past two years to highlight the need to support women in Afghanistan, in particular women human rights defenders, a term that applies to anyone helping to deliver human rights for others – teachers and doctors, as well as journalists or more politically-minded activists. Eventually, your pressure, our staff’s work and the inspirational work of Afghan women themselves led to a strategy that is amongst the very best that our experts have seen. I am very proud that we achieved this together and I believe it will have real impact on women and men who place themselves at risk to help realise human rights for others.

Thank you also for the great support and activism you are giving to the Write for Rights campaign, in your Groups and connecting the UK population by taking the campaign to them on street stalls and other events. We know from feedback that the messages of support expressing solidarity with the person or family suffering from human rights abuses are a powerful source of encouragement and strength in their struggle. Appeal letters put increasing pressure on those who have the power to remedy the situations, especially when sent in their thousands.

Governance

We continue to work hard, with a Board meeting at the end of November and, again, by teleconference in December as well as work outside the formal meetings. The principal issue that has been concentrating our minds has been the review of our constitution that we are undertaking alongside the Governance Task Force. There are some changes that we need to make that are fairly straightforward and we will be proposing these as Special Resolutions at the forthcoming AGM. We are also working through a series of more complex issues and will be seeking the AGM’s opinion on some of these in 2015 before implementing changes in 2016.

AGM

Our next AGM takes place at Warwick over the weekend of 18-19 April 2015. We hope to see many of you there and details can be found on the AGM page

International Council Meeting

As well as looking forward to the AGM, the Board is also looking towards the International Council Meeting, which takes place in August. There will be at least two key issues on the agenda.

First, there will be a discussion and agreement of a new set of Strategic Goals for the movement. Following the consultation with you, Amnesty International UK submitted its response in October, which I attach. Whilst Amnesty International UK applauds the progress being made, we believe that some changes are necessary, including the need to give more visibility to Amnesty’s 'signature' issues (such as our work on prisoners of conscience, the right to a fair trial and the death penalty) and to simplify and clarify some of the language that has been used to date. A further draft is expected in the New Year and we shall be sharing this with you.

The second key issue will be a review of the system of financing for the international movement, currently known as the assessment. We are not quite half way through the change programme to ensure that more of the money raised by national Sections is made available for Amnesty’s International work. Next year, the movement will assess whether the current approach needs to be changed and, if so, what kind of changes are required. This was discussed at an international finance meeting in November which was chaired by former Board member Peter Murray, and attended by Tony Fairfield and Richard Cryer, our Treasurer.

Amnesty International UK’s Board remains committed to the principle of making more money available to be distributed, however, we do believe that some changes are needed. For example, we would like to see the assessment based on net income (after deduction of fundraising costs) rather than gross income, which we feel is a disincentive to the growth of the movement. I am pleased to say that at a teleconference for Chairs which I attended recently, the Vice Chair of the International Board said that it will be proposing changes to the ICM which are in the direction of travel we think is needed.

In March, Kate Allen and I shall be attending the Chairs Assembly and Directors Forum, where further preparatory discussions will take place.

Amnesty International UK Website

One of the issues that we have faced with sharing information, including about the ICM, is that some documents are internal to the movement, however, our website has been fully accessible to the public. To remedy this, the Board asked our staff to provide a limited access area of the website where you can log on and download documents. They have been working hard to deliver this in as cost-effective a way as possible. I’m pleased to say that we expect to be able to launch it early in 2015, so do ‘watch this space’.

Amnesty International UK Board Elections

Constitutional and governance reform, an International Council Meeting and, of course, our human rights work, are all significant issues that the Board will need to address next year and beyond. With five spaces available on the Board, we need good candidates to join us in leading Amnesty International UK through interesting and challenging times. Being a Board member involves some significant responsibilities but these are shared with some great colleagues from different walks of life who help to make the work immensely rewarding. You can find details of the nomination process, information and deadlines (all nominations must be received by 9 January) through the nominations page

Thank you

Finally, on behalf of the Board, I would like to thank you for all of the work that you have done for Amnesty International UK and for human rights during 2014. You are at the heart of Amnesty.

Best wishes

Sarah O'Grady
Chair, Amnesty International UK

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