Chair's letter - July 2014

Dear friends,

It is with great sadness that I share with you the very sad news that Tessa van der Sande of Amnesty International Netherlands was on the Malaysian Airlines plane that crashed in Ukraine. She was flying to Indonesia via Kuala Lumpur with her parents and brother, for a family vacation to the Indonesian islands where she had distant relatives. Tessa was 27 years old and a promising human rights expert.

Kate Allen and I have both sent messages of sincere condolences and solidarity to our Dutch colleagues. If you would like to send your own you may do so through Amnesty Netherlands Facebook or Twitter profiles.

The Board met on Saturday 12 July with another very full agenda. I have attached a provisional list of decisions and we will post the Minutes within the next few weeks, however, I wanted to share some of the highlights.

Before doing so, I would like to thank our members and staff for a huge amount of work during the month of June. There were two significant demonstrations.

The first took place at the Chinese Embassy to draw attention the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests, killings and clampdown. This culminated in Kate Allen and Wang ti-Anna being shoved off the embassy steps by a Chinese diplomat. We are pleased that footage of the incident was apparently widely shown in Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan (and beyond). As Kate pointed out, what is most shocking is that if they think it is alright to engage in that sort of behaviour towards senior Amnesty figures, in the UK, in front of banks of media, imagine what they think they can do in China behind closed doors.

Later in the month activists joined the vast majority of AIUK staff in synchronised protests outside the Embassies and High Commissions of Nigeria, Uzbekistan, Morocco, The Philippines and Mexico. The reaction was mixed – some missions being quite welcoming, one videoing us from an upstairs window and even one diplomat (we think) watching us from some bushes in nearby gardens. However, there was no pushing and shoving. The demonstrations constituted our contribution to a global day of action in the Stop Torture Campaign and we are detecting some small shifts in the approach of our target countries, including a positive meeting with the Mexican Ambassador in the past couple of weeks. Thank you for your own local contributions to the day.

In between, we had a significant role at June’s summit of the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative. Two thousand people (from 123 states) were in attendance London’s Excel Centre, including politicians, officials, human rights defenders and members of our Student Action Network Committee, who participated in the youth engagement component of the summit. We hosted 80 Human Right Defenders at our Human Rights Action Centre before the summit, so that they could meet each other and discuss their approach to the event. As AIUK, we acknowledge that this is a significant initiative that was pushed forward by the previous Foreign Secretary but, as ever, the big question is whether the diplomacy will lead to real improvements for people on the ground, in some of the most challenging parts of the world.

I assure you that this is the tip of an iceberg of work and achievement. Going on to feedback from governance meetings feels rather prosaic in comparison, however, it is important and the highlights are set out below.

Our Operational Plan

We approved an Operational Plan for the section, covering the period July 2014 to December 2015. It is primarily an operational plan covering the work of our staff.   Both Board and Senior Management Team acknowledge that there is room for improvement in both the process of operational planning and the content, including the need to work harder to ensure that objectives really enable us to judge whether our plans have been successful. Nevertheless, we acknowledge that the plan was developed at an unusual time of year and it is good to return to a fuller longer-term planning process after a period of  transitional plans and arrangements. A few minor revisions are necessary, after which it will be available for members.

Development of our sub-committees

We have an ambitious approach to the development of governance at AIUK, informed by the work of the Governance Task Force (appointed after the 2013 AGM) and our own initiatives. At Saturday’s Board meeting we paid particular attention to a set of recommendations on our sub-committees. Although fairly straightforward, we hope that the cumulative impact of initiatives like developing a governance handbook, a code of practice for our sub-committees and standardising documents like terms of reference and minutes will significantly assist our communications with members and your contributions to governance. We will progressively implement the decisions over the coming weeks and months but we hope that you will be able to see a difference in the Autumn and look forward to your feedback.

Constitutional reform/Governance Task Force

It is many years since our constitution was established. It is time to review it and ensure that it is not only fit for purpose but also reflects how we agree AIUK should operate and be governed and meets the high standards we expect of others

Working in partnership with the Governance Task Force, the Board will be leading on an initial review of the constitution into the autumn to ensure that it is legally compliant and that the international Core Standards for the movement are implemented. We will also take advice and draw on best practice from other organisations. Following consultation with you, the Board intends to bring a Special Resolution to the 2015 AGM to implement these changes.

Alongside this, the Governance Task Force will be looking at the more fundamental changes which should be considered such as voting procedures. You will be consulted on these with a view to proposals being set out in Ordinary Resolutions to the 2015 AGM. This will enable a debate and I hope decisions made directing the Board to implement the agreed changes by bringing a Special Resolution to the 2016 AGM.

The Governance Task Force met on Saturday 19 July. I am pleased to report that thanks to the hard work of the GTF some parts of its remit have been completed. Details are in the Minutes which will be available on the website soon.

Role consultation

Thank you for those who contributed to the consultation of Amnesty International UK's role, as invited in my letter of February 2014. The results, which will soon be available on the website, will be discussed by the GTF in September, following which it will make recommendations to the Board as to next steps

AGM evaluation

We are grateful to those who completed the evaluation forms at the 2014 AGM but appeal to more delegates to provide feedback at future events. Staff and Board take it seriously and it makes a difference to how we plan for the following year’s event. The evaluation is very positive but conveys a sense that the meeting feels rushed and too full in its two day format. We will need to consider how to address that, given the reduction in time was an element of the cost-savings achieved over the past two years. Although we have agreed that next year’s meeting will again be a two-day event (at the University of Warwick 18 – 19 April), we do want to reflect on our approach more fully and will, of course, involve members in those discussions when we are in a position to begin them.

I should also note at this point that the latest update on implementation of AGM decisions is now on the website. After each Board meeting we post an update as a relatively easy and informal way to keep proposers and others who are interested informed of progress. The update contains an email address for the Board member allocated to oversee the implementation of specific resolutions, so if you do have any queries, please get in touch.

Membership consultations on international issues

The International Board has launched an initial consultation on proposals to reform Amnesty International’s global governance arrangements.  To enable a more meaningful consultation, the International Board has responded to concerns and extended the time-line for any major decisions. There will be discussions at the 2015 ICM and possibly proposals on specific issues with further thinking taking place afterwards, leading to final proposals at the 2017 ICM. The consultation document does not contain any firm proposals but provides information and analysis, including on strengths and weaknesses, relating to the International Council Meeting, decision-making, accountability and the global statute. It poses two dozen questions to solicit ideas and help determine the scope of eventual reform proposals. If you have thoughts that you can send in by 21 September, they will inform our section’s response. We appreciate that this is quite tight, so if thoughts come in later then they will still be useful in helping AIUK to reflect in preparation for further stages in the process. If you want to receive the documentation or send in your thoughts, please email governance@amnesty.org.uk.

I have attached our short response to Phase 1 of the movement’s consultation on the next set of Strategic Goals. Again, these will be for decision at the next ICM (August 2015), so it is still quite early in the process. Phase 2 of consultation will begin in late August and last for approximately two months. This time, we expect the consultation to be based an initial draft set of proposals from the International Board.

We appreciate that this is not an ideal time for consultation with some active members (particularly our student and youth groups) but we are working to an international timetable. If you are interested in taking part, we will be providing further information on how to do so through our website consultation pages, as well being in touch through other, more direct routes.

Chairs Assembly

In June, I had the privilege of welcoming the 2014 Chair’s Assembly and Directors Forum to the UK (near Reading to be more precise). The attached report prepared by Kate Allen and I sets out some of the discussions at what was a good meeting held in a positive spirit. However, I did want to let you know that the Chairs agreed that decisions on AI’s policy towards sex work should be taken at the 2015 International Council Meeting. We believe that this is an appropriate step. Anyone who is interested in seeing a copy of AIUK’s submission should contact swc@amnesty.org.uk.

Kate Allen

On your behalf, I am delighted to congratulate Kate who recently received an Honorary Doctorate from Staffordshire University in recognition of her outstanding contribution to human rights. Kate was accompanied by Tom Hedley, long-standing Board member and former Chair, and, as ever, took the opportunity to campaign.

The Board next meets in September when we are also holding our annual Governance Day when the Board, Trust, Sub-Committees and others who play a key role in our governance meet.  I will be in touch again afterwards. In the meantime, keep campaigning and (hopefully) enjoy the summer weather.

Best wishes

Sarah O’ Grady

Chair

Read previous Chair's letters

Downloads
Strategic Goals Submission
Board paper - Chairs Assembly and Directors Forum - Kate Allen June 2014
Board Decisions July 2014