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Chair's letter - June 2015

Dear Colleagues,

After a long general election campaign, the votes have been cast and the results are known. Whilst the new government will undoubtedly provide us with opportunities to progress the cause of human rights, our most immediate thoughts are focusing on the Conservative Party’s manifesto promise to scrap the Human Rights Act.

I was delighted that the Queen's Speech did not include a promise of legislation to repeal the Act. Thank you to all of you who have campaigned on this important issue and thank you in advance for the campaigning we will need to do when the proposals are brought forward. Our high profile response to this threat to our rights made a difference and together we will continue to keep up the pressure.

The general election also marked the end of the “regulated period” under the Lobbying Act. Staff will soon be contacting group secretaries asking for information about expenditure on “regulated campaigning activity”. We are sorry for this additional work and would be grateful if you could respond promptly please to help us comply with the legislation.

Of course, another election result was announced in May – the election for Amnesty International UK’s new Board. I’m delighted to announce that Stuart Hathaway and Hugh Whitby (existing Board member) were successful. We also welcomed back Tom Hedley (elected unopposed as the networks nominee) and welcomed new Board members Ade Couper (Country Coordinator nominee) and Jerry Allen (Local Group nominee). I would like to thank Stuart, Hugh, Tom, Ade and Jerry for putting their names forward and I’m sure that they will ably serve the Board and all of Amnesty International UK’s members in the years ahead.

I would like to pay particular thanks to Malcolm Dingwall-Smith, who was unsuccessful in the election. I know Malcolm well and he would have been an excellent Board member. By standing, he has helped to serve the democracy that is so important to our movement. I hope that it won’t be too long before he throws his hat in the ring again and I know that in the meantime, he will continue to support and contribute to Amnesty International in a wide range of different ways, just as he has over the past several years.

Sadly, we will also be saying goodbye to two of our co-opted Board members, Richard Cryer (our Treasurer) and Sarah Ward (Human Resources, once new co-optees are in place. I am profoundly grateful for everything that they have contributed during their time on the Board, their fresh perspectives and their support. They will be missed.

Our most recent Board meeting took place over the weekend of 16-17 May, with an away day format and a reduced agenda of formal business to enable us to focus on longer-term strategic and development matters. During the away day, we explored the way we work together and how we can enhance our effectiveness. We also discussed some of the possible priorities that might frame our next Strategic Plan which we will be bringing to the 2016 AGM.

During the formal Board meeting, we reflected on a good AGM and, as usual, identified which of us will be following the implementation of each AGM Decision. We will post the agreed responsibilities on the website shortly and after each Board meeting, we will provide an update on how the implementation of Decisions is progressing. Anyone who has any queries is welcome to get in touch with the assigned Board member.

Given the very close vote on the anti-Semitism resolution and the importance of the issue the Board decided that Amnesty International UK should pursue some further work in this area. In summary, the Board agreed that further consideration be given to allocating resources to undertake research on anti-Semitism in the UK either on its own, or in tandem with other forms of discrimination in the UK. The Board also decided that Amnesty International UK will be proactive in responding publicly to incidents of anti-Semitism in the UK and will investigate ways in which our human rights education work could address issues of anti-Semitism along with other forms of discrimination and hate speech.

May’s meeting is when Board members elect the Chair and Vice-Chair. I am deeply honoured that my colleagues have entrusted me with the role of Chair for a further year. I will continue to strive to fulfil their trust – and yours – in the year ahead.

I am also delighted to announce that Ruth Breddal was elected as Vice-Chair. Ruth is a long-standing Amnesty activist who will be known to you as a Board member and in previous roles including the Standing Orders Committee. I’m looking forward to working with Ruth more closely in the coming year.

This leaves me the job of saying a huge thank you to Hannah Perry, the outgoing Vice-Chair. Hannah has been a brilliant and indefatigable source of advice and support over the past couple of years. She’s played a key role in helping us to standardise governance documentation and led the process of reforming and redesigning our vital Activism Sub-Committee. I hope that Hannah’s decision to stand down will give her a bit more time in her personal and professional life and I’m delighted that the Board will continue to benefit from her excellent service.

We are also happy to announce the names of Amnesty International UK’s delegates to the August’s International Council Meeting, which takes place in Dublin. I will be joined by Ruth Breddall and Cris Burson-Thomas from the Board and staff members Kate Allen, Tim Hancock and Allan Hogarth. We are continuing to place the ICM Circulars in the Documents area of the website and if you have any points to make about the resolutions or other information, please do get in touch.

I could not finish this email without celebrating the fact that Moses Akatugba has been granted a full pardon in Nigeria and has been released. We have been campaigning for this as part of the Stop Torture campaign and it is absolutely wonderful that he is now a free man. Thank you for all the campaigning which you have done to achieve this, including engaging your communities in the Write for Rights Campaign. We can all be incredibly proud of this achievement. I was incredibly moved to read his message to us:

"I am overwhelmed.

I thank Amnesty International and their activists for the great support that made me a conqueror in this situation.

Amnesty International members and activist are my Heroes.

I want to assure them, that this great effort they have show to me will not be in vain, by the special grace of God I will live up to their expectation.”

Finally, we are fast approaching the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. Over the centuries, its stature has grown and, to all us in the 21st century, it does and should stand as a clarion call for the rule of law that is still denied to so many. I leave you with the words of its shortest clause:

To no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay, right or justice.

With best wishes

Sarah O’Grady


Read previous Chair's letters