On behalf of the Board, allow me to wish you a very happy New Year.
In November I travelled to Turkey to observe the latest court hearing of the case against the Chair of AI Turkey, Taner Kiliç alongside The Istanbul 10. The International Secretariat felt it was important for Amnesty to show solidarity & demonstrate the significance we attach to this trial, so I was joined by colleagues from AI Brazil, India & USA. In turn, our presence encouraged attendance from our respective embassies. The defence lawyer was able to indicate to the judge the number of international observers and point out that it was Turkish justice which was really on trial.
To me this felt like a continuation of the classic Amnesty tactic, of writing to governments to let them know that we are paying attention. It is so much easier to behave badly if no-one is watching, and our observation becomes activism. However, it was much more emotionally draining to be in the room, to see careful arguments which dismantled the spurious charges being overlooked, and to witness the shocked grief of Taner’s daughter as his application for bail was rejected.
It was really good to spend time with Idil Eser, the Director of Amnesty Turkey, who is now out on bail & greatly relieved to be sleeping in her own bed. She is exceptionally resilient, shrugging off the stress she is still under because there are so many Turkish people in a worse situation than her. It was also satisfying to call into the Amnesty Turkey office to convey our support & solidarity to the brave young women who have stepped into the roles of Chair & Director. Our thoughts and New Year wishes are with Taner & his colleagues. Our profound hope and expectation is to see him freed soon.
The New Year is obviously a moment to reflect on the year that’s gone and the one that lies ahead. Rather than write a lengthy email now, I’ll wait to share my thoughts when I deliver the Board’s report to this year’s AGM. However, I did want to let you know that this year Amnesty International will welcome a new Secretary General. Salil Shetty, as was always envisaged, will be leaving after eight years in the job and, just before Christmas, the International Board announced that he will be succeeded by Dr Kumi Naidoo.
Dr Naidoo is an activist and civil society leader. His previous leadership roles include Executive Director of Greenpeace International, Chair of the Global Call for Climate Action, Founding Chair of the Global Call to Action against Poverty and Secretary General and CEO of CIVICUS. He currently chairs three start-up civil society organisations in his home country, South Africa. His appointment follows an extensive recruitment process by the International Board, involving the review of more than 200 applications. I look forward to welcoming him when he starts his work in August and to saying fond farewells to Salil before he leaves in the autumn.
However, here in the UK, the more immediate thoughts of the Board are focussed on our Annual General Meeting. As I’m sure you know, this takes place over the weekend of 7-8 April in Swansea. I hope to see you lots of you there. At our Board meeting on 9 December, we reviewed the agenda and agreed a number of Special Resolutions that we will be putting forward to address a few issues relating to the appointment and retirement of Board members and to help us take forward the 2016 AGM decision on live streaming and remote voting at General Meetings. This Thursday, the Board will be taking its first look at all of the resolutions that have been submitted by members and we look forward to sharing these with you in February, ahead of all of the debates in April. If you want to book a place or find out more, please visit here. There is a link for registration (and further information) towards the top of the page.
Another very significant item at December’s Board meeting was approval of the 2018 plan and budget. Our Treasurer, Meredith Coombs, will provide more information (and the numbers) at the AGM, once the auditors have completed their work. However, I am pleased to say that we enjoyed a strong fundraising performance in the final quarter of the year that provides us with a good platform for the year ahead. This is important, because we know that there is a lot of uncertainty ahead of us in 2018, reflecting wider economic uncertainty and the more specific challenges of the General Data Protection Regulation, which comes into force in May. We have been preparing well but will need to monitor the situation carefully throughout the next twelve months.
We were delighted to welcome a couple of observers to December’s Board meeting who had asked to come and take a look at our meeting as they were considering standing for the Board. Our Nominations Sub-Committee have been diligent in promoting the positions and liaising with members who have thought about putting their names forward. Inviting prospective candidates to see things at first hand is an example of the innovative approach that they have been taking. The deadline for nominations is imminent and we hope that there will be enough candidates to trigger a Board ballot. If so, we will be writing to you with further details next month and I urge everyone to take part and exercise their vote.
Finally, I wanted to say a big thank you on behalf of the Board for everyone’s work in support of the Write for Rights campaign. It’s been another great year and we were particularly honoured to be visited by Shackelia Jackson, Sakris Kapila, Issa Amro and Farid al-Atrash, who featured amongst this year’s cases. Our thoughts are with them and all of the human rights defenders who inspire our actions and our hopes. Thank you for standing with them.
Chair, Amnesty International UK Section