I would like to begin by expressing my deep thanks to Sarah O’Grady for everything she has contributed Amnesty International UK during her time on the Section’s Board. Succeeding Sarah as Chair is quite a daunting prospect but I’m grateful to my fellow Board members for entrusting me with that role. I’m really pleased that Hannah Perry will be alongside me, having been elected as Vice-Chair.
To introduce myself, I have been a member of Amnesty UK for nearly 30 years and I’ve been Chair of my local group, Woking, for the last 15 years. I first got involved with governance by joining the Standing Orders Committee at an AGM and Amnesty has been increasingly taking over my life since!
I get great pleasure from being with Amnesty people: there is solidarity in the knowledge that we all believe that human rights belong to everyone, and we are prepared to take action if they are denied. Occasionally at an Amnesty conference we get to hear from someone who has benefitted from our campaigning; this is always so powerful. By some twist of fate our lives in the UK are comparatively safe; through Amnesty we actually make a tremendous difference to people who are less lucky. I will always remember the sheer joy when Woking’s long-term Prisoner of Conscience was released. We’d worked on his behalf for so long he felt part of our group, and that was quite a celebration. I’m really pleased to have this new opportunity to contribute to the whole of Amnesty UK.
Our Board meeting on 13 May included a brief reflection on last month’s Annual General Meeting and National Conference. We all enjoyed the event and were struck by the positive and collegial atmosphere, the moving speeches and panel discussions, as well as the range of informative workshops. Thanks go to Alex Poole (our AGM Chair), the Standing Orders Committee and all of the staff who made it happen.
On Saturday 14 May, the Board held its annual ‘away day’, when we set aside formal agendas and papers to reflect on our strengths and weaknesses and discuss priorities for the year ahead. With the Constitutional Review now completed, we are looking forward to devoting more time at our Board meetings considering the full range of strategic priorities approved at the AGM, including the forthcoming global campaigns. We also reviewed the skills and experience that we need as a Board and will shortly be advertising for an additional co-opted Board member. Advertisements will be placed on the Amnesty UK website.
Finally, the recent Queen’s speech once again raised the threat to the Human Rights Act. More than 100,000 people have now signed our petition to save the Act. This must be the third time in as many years that the government has announced plans for a consultation and it is anyone’s guess whether it will materialise this time. Certainly, there has been continuing press coverage that highlights just how challenging it will be for the government to force through any legislation. Nevertheless, we need everyone to keep the pressure up and be prepared to respond to any negative developments in the months ahead.
With best wishes
Chair, Amnesty International UK Section