Dear colleagues 

‘Tis the season for Amnesty International’s Write for Rights campaign and I would like to thank everyone who is participating in the campaign and helping others to take action. All around the world, millions of cards, letters and signatures are being gathered to send appeals and messages of solidarity on behalf of individuals at risk. We can be proud of our contribution from the United Kingdom and we know from past experience that your actions will have a real impact on people’s lives. 

Amnesty UK Section’s Board met for the final time of the year on 4/5 December 2015. As ever, our agenda was packed but there are three areas in particular that I would like to mention.

New Strategic Plan

We have agreed a new Strategic Plan for Amnesty International UK, to sit alongside and help carry forward the international movement’s Strategic Goals agreed at the 2015 International Council Meeting. The Plan does not try to describe everything that the UK Section will do over the next five years but it does set out the main priorities. We will invest in the two new global campaigns, which will be developed during 2016. One of these will focus on the worldwide refugee crisis, the other will address restrictions of fundamental freedoms that are posing a real threat to people who advance and defend human rights. We will continue to prioritise our campaigns for individuals at risk and for countries experiencing human rights crisis. We will recognise human rights education as a priority for the Section and will also invest in campaigns to protect and promote human rights in the UK, starting with our work to save the Human Rights Act.

The financial decisions taken at the 2015 International Council Meeting have provided us with an improved basis from which we can try to grow Amnesty in the UK. Our Strategic Plan therefore aims to achieve substantial growth in donations, so that we can invest more in human rights work, internationally and in the UK. We also aim to grow the number of supporters, members and activists in the UK. In fact, we want to double it, so that 2% of the UK population are engaged in human rights work through AIUK . As a necessary accompaniment to this Plan, we have also agreed a new financial reserves policy, to increase our resilience when things don’t go as expected (or, indeed, to draw on when we need to take new opportunities). 

We would like the Membership to formally endorse the Strategic Plan at the Annual General Meeting in April and I look forward to discussing it in more detail before and at the AGM. It will be available to view on our website in the New Year.

Constitutional Reform

Another significant item of business for the Board was agreeing a set of Special Resolutions to change AIUK Section’s Articles of Association (its Constitution). This is part of our continuing work (which will also be a priority for the next strategic plan) to improve the way that AIUK’s governance works. 

Like last year, there will be some fairly technical and straightforward changes. However, some of our proposals do need to be debated individually and so it’s important that the Board has followed through on its commitment to provide separate resolutions to enable Members to decide individually on proposals that could be viewed as significant. 

Our work has been greatly helped by the Governance Task Force, which completed its work in July. We have also been informed by two membership consultations. In autumn 2014 we asked what you thought about our constitution and AGM. One year later, we asked what you thought about some of our proposals for change. In both cases, we are delighted that more than four thousand Members contributed their views and the responses have been illuminating and encouraging. Thank you.

This is been a long and painstaking process, however, the investment is important given the significance of our Articles of Association. Whilst it might seem a bit esoteric, it is important that we keep our governing document up to date with good practice, particularly as it has been about two decades since the last significant review. Our governance must aid and support our work so we can together achieve even greater human rights outcomes. Following the Board meeting, we are now in the final, detailed stages of completing the resolutions and background notes. I will write again in the New Year when this is done.

2016 AGM

At December’s Board meeting we also agreed the agenda for April’s AGM and National Conference. We’re looking forward to another busy weekend and will be trying to do a few things differently over the weekend, in response to recent evaluations of the event and the Board’s desire to ensure that we are a truly democratic organisation. As ever, it will be a pleasure and inspiring to spend time with colleagues who share a passion in human rights. I hope that as many of you as possible can attend. For those who can’t, we are also working with the Electoral Reform Society to make it even easier to participate in the democratic decisions by exercising your right to vote by proxy. We will provide more details early in the New Year and I hope that you are able to take advantage of the changes we are making.

Board Elections

This is also the time of year when I urge Members to consider standing in the elections for our Board. I hope you have seen the article in the current edition of the Magazine, including the notice inviting those who are interested to submit their nominations. If you are thinking of standing to serve on the Board or know someone who would be able make a valuable contribution to the Board’s work these are all the documents you need - go to the bottom of the page – download, fill in and send back by email or post. The key documents are the Board Application form (where you write your election manifesto) and the Nomination Papers (which needs to be supported by those exercising 10 votes e.g. a (Local) Group or 10 individual members). Completed forms need to be received by 5pm on Friday 8 January 2016 (along with a Diversity Questionnaire).

Thank you

Finally, I would like to say thank you very much for everything you have done to protect human rights throughout 2015. It has been a challenging year and we know that our work isn’t easy. But together, we have achieved breakthroughs in our major campaigns and, as ever, brought encouragement, support and real change to individuals at risk. Some, like Moses Akatugba in Nigeria, will be looking forward to a much better Christmas than last year. This would not be possible without your commitment and hard work. I hope you enjoy the festive season and have a happy New Year.

With best wishes

Sarah O’ Grady

Chair, Amnesty International UK Section

Read previous letters from the Chair