Chair's letter - March 2015

Dear colleagues,

Our AGM is less than a month away and I’m looking forward to seeing many of you at the University of Warwick for what I am sure will be an interesting and motivating event. All the AGM details are online and please remember that if you can’t attend in person, you can still vote by appointing a proxy. We urge you to do so.

We have had a busy few weeks as a Board, with two Board meetings in six weeks and, inevitably, AGM preparations have been high on our agenda. We have enjoyed looking at the resolutions submitted by members and look forward to sharing our thoughts with you in Warwick.

As I hope you will have seen, the Board has also tabled a number of resolutions, most of them arising from our work to review the constitution. There are a several Special Resolutions that will make changes to the constitution in order to update some of the terminology we use, clarify a couple of Board decision-making processes and make some minor amendments that follow changes to company law.

We are also seeking your support for the continuation and completion of our broader work to review the constitution. The Board, which has been ably advised in this work by the Governance Task Force (GTF), had originally hoped to put some specific proposals to this AGM. However, at our February meeting, we felt that we were still some way short of completing a comprehensive review and we would like to do this before bringing a revised constitution to next year’s Annual General Meeting for approval. The GTF have asked us to clarify that we will provide an opportunity for members to vote on specific significant issues or groups of intrinsically related issues and we are happy to provide members, including those attending the AGM, with that assurance and will seek to clarify this in the Resolution.

I would also like to draw your attention to an innovation at this year’s meeting – an opportunity to question the Board. This initiative, arising from our work on governance development, is intended to enhance the Board’s accountability to the general meeting. However, for it to be successful, we need questions. If you do want to ask a question, a form is available in the delegate pack. If you’d like to ask a question but can’t come to the AGM, please get in touch with the Supporter Care Team on sct@amnesty.org.uk or 020 7033 1700.

International Movement

This weekend, I will be travelling to the Netherlands to join the annual Chairs Assembly. This meeting brings together all of the Chairs from Amnesty’s national sections and structures and it will be a privilege to attend and represent Amnesty International UK. Inevitably, the agenda is looking towards this summer’s ICM and I am, in particular, looking forward to discussion of the movement’s draft Strategic Goals.

Your Board believes that the current draft, which came out just after Christmas, was an improvement on the previous version, and we were pleased to see stronger references to work on women’s human rights and human rights education. However, we continue to feel that the Strategic Goals could benefit from more explicit references to some of Amnesty’s signature issues; Prisoners of Conscience and the fight against torture being amongst them.

The Chairs Assembly will be interesting because it represents the movement in all its diversity and I should get a taste for what is important to Amnesty members in Africa, Asia and Latin America, as well as in Europe and North America. I’m looking forward to it and will obviously share my impressions in Warwick.

Other important issues on the agenda include feedback from an interim evaluation of the International Secretariat’s Global Transition Programme, the major change process which is seeing the transfer of posts from London to regional hubs around the world. We will also have the opportunity to check the movement’s thoughts on proposals to review and amend the movement’s key financial system (known as the assessment). Amnesty International UK is encouraged by the International Board’s proposals and I’m hoping to see broad support from different parts of the movement.

Finally, on international matters, the resolutions for this year’s International Council Meeting have been published. Members and regular supporters of Amnesty International UK can access these through a new “documents” area of the website (see below). If you take a look, you will see that Amnesty International UK has tabled a resolution calling for annual updates on the implementation of ICM resolution and there will be a Workshop on Children's Rights as proposed by Amnesty International UK.

Finances

February’s Board meeting discussed Amnesty International UK’s fundraising strategy, whilst last weekend’s Board meeting reviewed the financial report for the year-ending 31 December 2014. I am very pleased to report some good news. Last year’s income was significantly higher than anticipated and the Section has recorded a healthy surplus. Some exceptional legacies account for a very large proportion of the higher than anticipated income but as importantly last year saw us record growth in our regular supporter numbers, for the first time in a number of years.

We are very grateful for the generosity of all of our supporters. This generosity enables us to champion human rights in the UK and around the world, to build an even more effective movement, nationally and globally, and to support the mobilisation of Amnesty members and the public for the promotion and defence of human rights. Sadly, the world is not getting any easier and it often feels that our governments are becoming less respectful of the rights of the people that they are meant to serve. The need for Amnesty remains, our reliance on the contributions of individual supporters continues unabated and our appreciation of their generosity is immense.

Human rights work

In my opinion, Amnesty’s strength – enabled by the generosity of its supporters – has been exemplified by three pieces of work reported to the Board during these first three months of 2015. The first is the amazing activism inspired in the UK and around the world by the case of the Saudi blogger, Raif Badawi. Amnesty International has been instrumental in throwing a spotlight on his intolerable incarceration and the cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment to which he has been sentenced. We demand nothing less than his unconditional release.

In February, the Board heard of the role played by Amnesty International UK and International Secretariat staff in achieving a finding, by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, that the intelligence services had been acting illegally in their mass surveillance programmes. This is the first time in its history that the IPT has found against the security services but although welcome, the government is responding by bringing the law into line with its practice, rather than bringing practice in line with the law. I suspect that the struggle to attain the right human rights in the digital sphere is only just beginning.

At our March Board meeting, we received a periodic report against Amnesty International UK’s plan, which reminded us of December’s success in securing the agreement of strong European Union plan for human rights defenders in Afghanistan. Whilst this is in no way a panacea, it is more than we expected and a significant step forward. I promise you that this would not have happened without Amnesty International UK and without both the activism of our supporters and the commitment of the staff, made possible by your generous contributions.

Documents area

I am pleased to inform you that we have created a new Documents area of the website. This is a “no-frills” area of the website that is restricted to members and regular supporters and it allows us to share documents and other information that is only for members or otherwise unsuitable for the public domain.

To access the Documents area you must first log into the website via the Sign in link in the top right hand corner of any page. If you have not registered with the website before please click on Register.

Once you are signed in, click on your name in the top right hand corner and you should see the link to Documents appear in the drop down menu. Clicking this link will take you through to the Documents area where you can access the draft of the Strategic Goals as well as all the other restricted documents.

If the link doesn’t appear please contact us on activism@amnesty.org.uk

Amongst the documents we have posted (or are in the process of posting) in this area are: 

  • Draft Strategic Goals for the Amnesty movement – version 2 
  • ICM Circular 5, which contains this year’s resolutions
  • A report commissioned by Amnesty International UK and produced by the National Council of Voluntary Organisations on Amnesty International UK’s constitution and standing orders 
  • A review of Amnesty International UK’s constitution produced by our lawyers, Bates Wells and Braithwaite (forthcoming).

Elections

Finally, if you’re a member of Amnesty International UK, you should have received your ballot papers for this year’s election to the Board. I urge you to take advantage of your democratic rights. We are fortunate to have three really excellent candidates in Hugh Whitby, Malcolm Dingwall-Smith and Stuart Hathaway and they deserve a good turnout from you the electorate.

Of course, there is another election taking place in May and, for the first time, it’s subject to a piece of legislation known as the Lobbying Act. This requires us to register with the Electoral Commission if we wish to spend more than £20,000 on ‘regulated campaign expenditure’. We will wish to do so and have therefore commenced the registration process. I want to stress that this does not mean we are campaigning for any particular result in the general election. I have attached a short statement which I hope makes our position clear.

With best wishes

Sarah O’ Grady

Chair

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Statement on Registration as a Non-Party Campaigner