Chair's letter - January 2017
As I’m writing this, people are being taken off planes to the USA to be detained and questioned. Muslims who hold green cards are stranded abroad and divided from their families. People who had asylum applications accepted are being turned away because of their country of origin. On Holocaust Memorial Day, the new American administration banned immigration (or even transit) of people largely because of their religion.
This is a frightening translation of President Trump’s campaign rhetoric into government policy. Amnesty International must be a clear, calm voice for human rights now, and our work is critically important. Our colleagues in the US Section have been working hard to keep the human rights of affected people in the forefront of the public protests through comment, campaign actions and by working with Congressional leaders. We are in touch with them regularly and they know that AIUK’s members and activists stand in solidarity with them.
I have recently participated in a video conference with senior staff from the International Secretariat and representatives of other European and North American sections to discuss the rise in political rhetoric that seeks to scapegoat minorities, foreign nationals and others. The conversations will continue, as we seek to develop responses that respect our fundamental values of impartiality and protect freedom of expression, whilst standing against toxic rhetoric and hate.
However, Amnesty International monitors and responds to developments further removed from the headlines of our media. I know that the International Secretariat’s staff and the national sections located in West Africa have been monitoring developments in Gambia, where regional military forces appeared poised to intervene to ensure another Presidential handover.
Happily, it appears as if a peaceful transition is in progress. The new President, Adama Barrow, has made big promises to free political prisoners, to remove repressive laws and bring Gambia back to the International Criminal Court. Amnesty will be holding him to those promises.
Turning to governance matters, the year ahead will be busy. In April, we will hold our Annual General Meeting and will be returning to the East Midlands Conference Centre, in Nottingham. Booking is now open, via the AIUK website. I’d like to thank everyone who has already registered to attend and I’d like to urge all of you to consider coming along to what is always a great event.
It is, of course, the most significant governance event of the year but it is also a fantastic opportunity to find out more about AIUK’s campaigns and meet lots of great colleagues in a friendly and supportive atmosphere.
Much of the Board’s business in December and January was focussed on the consideration of resolutions for the AGM. I’ll resist the temptation of being a “spoiler” as all the resolutions will be viewable on the website before the end of February. However, I expect some interesting and feisty debate.
Members will soon be receiving the official notice and information about voting. If you are unable to attend, I urge to take part in our democratic decisions by appointing and instructing a proxy to vote on your behalf.
In August, we will also participate in the International Council Meeting, which is the highest decision-making body in the global movement. In December, the Board approved two resolutions, which we formally submitted in early January. Both have their roots in AIUK AGM resolutions that were the initiative of grassroots groups.
The first, which calls for a review of policy on abortion, has been co-sponsored by ten other sections, spanning Latin America, North Africa and Europe, including countries with highly restrictive abortion laws.
The second resolution calls for more concerted work to develop strategy and policy on climate change. We have since learnt that AI New Zealand tabled a similar resolution and I am now working with their representatives as we try to produce a single, agreed text.
In addition to preparing for the AGM and ICM, December’s Board meeting also considered AIUK’s latest self-assessment of compliance with the movement-wide “core standards”, which focus on a number of constitutional, governance and policy requirements. The self-assessment shows that AIUK is largely compliant with the standards and has improved performance since 2014. However, there is plenty of room for further development, which we will be taking forward over the current strategic period (to 2020).
The Board also considered a strategy designed to frame AIUK’s public communications, as we seek to grow our support and take our messages to larger audiences. The strategy emphasises the importance of reaching out to new groups, including younger people and those who perhaps instinctively aligned to our values but possibly less certain of the contribution that human rights make to our society.
Finally, I’m very pleased to let you know that AIUK’s Director, Kate Allen, will be taking part in the Team Amnesty Peru Trek in May. The 11-day trip will see Kate join supporters from AIUK and AI Ireland on the daunting trek to Machu Picchu. The trail goes over high mountain passes and reaches 4,600 metres above sea level at its highest point. It will of course finish at one of the world’s most beautiful and fascinating archaeological sites, but they’ll have to work hard to get there. Once back in Cusco, the trip culminates in a meeting with staff and activists from Amnesty International Peru, who’ll will share the incredible human rights work they’re doing, particularly their inspiring ‘Education, Empowerment and Justice’ programme with leaders, teachers and young people.
With that in mind, Kate is reaching out for your support. As this is the first fundraising challenge event she’s taking on for Amnesty UK, and especially since the Amnesty Ireland Executive Director, Colm O’Gorman, is also taking part (and will be fundraising too), she wants to make sure that she raises a brilliant amount for Amnesty UK. Her target is to raise £20,000, and any support you’re able to give to help her reach that will be hugely appreciated. She’s set up a JustGiving page, where you can make a secure, online donation, which can be found here:
All of AIUK’s work and a significant proportion of our international movement’s work is dependent on the generosity of members and supporters in the UK. I would like to express my sincere appreciation to Kate and all of our fundraisers and to everyone who donates to our work.
With best wishes
Chair, AIUK Section