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Chair's letter - October 2014

Dear friends,

Good news on the arms trade

As I’m sure you all know, the world agreed an international Arms Trade Treaty last year, after two decades of campaigning by Amnesty International and others. The next step was for it to be ratified by 50 States before it could take effect. In the case of the Arms Trade Treaty, the threshold was set at 50 ratifications and I’m delighted to tell you that this landmark was achieved on 25 September. This means that the Treaty will enter into force on Christmas Eve. Thanks, once again, for everything you have done as Amnesty activists to give the world this new and important piece of international law.

And good news for Roma

The European Commission has decided to open infringement proceedings against the Czech Republic for violating EU anti-discrimination legislation. This follows years of Amnesty International campaigning against systematic discrimination of Romani children in the Czech education system. Two years ago, the International Secretariat decided to try to persuade the Commission to open infringement proceedings and after painstaking and persistent campaigning, this has been achieved. A long process lies ahead, with no assurance of a successful outcome. This is, however, a precedent-setting decision – the first time such proceedings have been opened in respect of EU anti-discrimination rules. Amnesty has been at the forefront of this achievement.

'Learning for the Future': Evaluation of AIUK's Costs and Priorities Programme (CAPP)

The independent Evaluation carried out on behalf of AIUK named “Learning for the Future” has been completed and is available on the website for you to read from today, together with the interim management response by Kate Allen welcoming the Evaluation. Kate also sets out the process for developing the full management response which will be available after the Board meeting at the end of November.

Read the report Learning for the Future

It is a thorough and thought-provoking piece of work and we are grateful to Annette Perry of Develop Global for her work and to all who supported and contributed to the work.  

As the Evaluation acknowledges, it was a bruising and very difficult time for many (and I know that its impact is still being felt) and that one of our greatest strengths is the great care we all have for Amnesty International, our purpose and our impact on achieving human rights. I share the desire mentioned in the Evaluation to continue to learn lessons from CAPP and I hope that the Evaluation, together with other work already in progress, is a key step in helping us together build a more effective organisation when facing challenging times.

The Board will be considering the Evaluation, the lessons to be learnt and the recommendations for improvement carefully, informed by advice from its Subcommittees, particularly the Human Resources and Activism SubCommittees, and the full Management Response.

Board meeting, Governance day and Strategic Goals

On 19-20 September, the Board met, joined on the Saturday by other members of our various governance bodies for our annual Governance Day.

As well as reviewing our activities and progress over the past year, we looked forward by discussing the draft global Strategic Goals circulated by the International Board. I hope that you will consider sending in your comments, organising a group discussion or joining one of the regional workshops that are taking place this month as part of our Strategic Goals consultation.

Contribute to our Strategic Goals consultation

I’m sorry that the time for consultation during this part of the process is so short but we are working within an international timetable. There will however be a further consultation phase beginning in early 2015, so if you can’t contribute to the draft Strategic Goals until November, December or later, your thoughts won’t be lost; please contribute them to AIUK’s thinking during Phase 3 in early 2015.

Lobbying Act

On 19 September, we entered a 'regulated period' under the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 ('the Lobbying Act'), a new piece of legislation passed earlier in the year. The law limits the amount of money that individuals and organisations (other than political parties) can spend on campaigns relating to UK elections. It also creates new requirements for transparency of such expenditure.

Whilst this might sound simple, the law is quite complex and it means that some of our public actions between now and the General Election might be deemed “regulated campaign activity”. This is despite the fact that, as a principle and founding value, AI never campaigns for or against a political party or candidate.  

The Board reviewed the Lobbying Act’s implications and as a precautionary measure, we have authorised AIUK’s registration with the Electoral Commission. This means that if any of our activity is regulated, we will benefit from a higher spending allowance – although we will have to report publicly on this expenditure.

We are currently taking legal advice, after which we will provide an update for Groups and any guidance that is required. If we believe that we are asking you to undertake regulated campaign activity, we will tell you and let you know if you need to do anything to ensure that we comply with the new requirements.

Constitutional review

As I mentioned in my July Letter, the Governance Task Force, established by the 2013 AGM, and the Board are carrying out a full review of AIUK’s constitution – our governing document.

We have commissioned the National Council of Voluntary Organisations to carry out a review. NCVO is an umbrella body for the UK voluntary sector and it helped to develop a widely respected Code of Good Governance, so it is in a good position to advise on best practice.

As part of its work, NCVO will be seeking the opinions of our members, through an online survey this month. I hope you will have seen my email sent on Friday and that you will take part and encourage other Amnesty members to do so as well. We would like to know what you think we could do to improve Amnesty's democratic governance processes.

The work will lead 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 more straightforward issues that need to be addressed in our constitution e.g. to make it compliant with the law and apply the Amnesty International Core Standards at the earliest opportunity will be addressed at the next AGM in 2015 by the Board tabling a number of 'Special Resolutions' (a very specific kind of resolution required to amend our constitution).

Activism Sub-Committee

Also in September, the Board approved a number of changes to its Activism Sub-Committee (formerly known as the Active Members Sub-Committee). The changes formalise representational roles on the Sub-Committee for members of bodies like the Regional Representatives, Country Coordinators Steering Committee, Student Action Network and others. Our intention is to create a more effective and efficient flow of information between activists and the Board and to be even better at understanding the impact of our activism.

The reconstituted Sub-Committee will have its first meeting next month. We will update the website and you will be able to read about the changes and find out what the Sub-committee have been discussing.


Congratulations to everyone who was appointed to one of the Board Sub-committees in September. There are some familiar faces as well as new ones. Whilst we are delighted to make these appointments, it is always very hard to turn down applications from members who want to volunteer their time to support Amnesty’s governance. We are really grateful and hope that everyone who applied will renew their interest when other opportunities arise.

Thank you for all the actions, campaigning, fundraising and other work that you are all doing. They are all key to the work of and growth of Amnesty International. Thank you for giving so freely of your time and energy. The Board is inspired in its work by your work and I'm looking forward to hearing more stories of your activism and fundraising.  

Best wishes

Sarah O'Grady

Chair, AIUK


Read previous Chair's letters