This is my first letter to you since Amnesty’s 2017 International Council Meeting. The ICM is the movement’s highest decision-making body. It’s the pinnacle of Amnesty International’s global governance system and, until now, has taken place every two years. I was pleased to lead a delegation that also included your Treasurer, Meredith Coombs, fellow Board member Tom Sparks, Kate (our Director), Tim Hancock (Director of the Chief Executive’s Office) and Patrick Corrigan (who heads AIUK’s Nations & Regions Team from our Belfast office).
We are delighted to report that AIUK’s two resolutions were agreed with overwhelming support. The two resolutions call for a review of Amnesty’s policy on abortion and for a draft strategy on climate change and human rights. Now adopted as decisions by the whole movement, both began as resolutions proposed to AIUK’s Annual General Meeting by our grassroots members. We look forward to tracking the progress of their implementation over the next twelve months or so.
The meeting in Rome is likely to be remembered for the major changes it agreed to our global governance system. From next year, the International Council Meeting is to be replaced by an annual Global Assembly. Delegations will be smaller, consisting of three people, although once in every three years, each national section will be required to take an additional youth delegate.
By far the most challenging discussion took place around voting rights. The movement decided that from now on, Amnesty’s national sections will have one vote each at the Global Assembly. AIUK had reservations about this change. However, colleagues from other parts of the world argued powerfully for decision-making equality, highlighting the challenges of human rights activism and the barriers to membership growth in parts of Latin America, Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe. Over the course of the ICM, support for this position increased and it was adopted on the final day with clear and overwhelming support.
During these long discussions on voting rights, AIUK successfully advocated for a special majority (two-thirds) to be required for decisions to change the movement’s financing system (the “assessment”). We were pleased that this was incorporated in the final decisions and that it forms part of the new global Statute (AI’s international constitution) and accompanying Global Governance Regulations. Beyond the issue of voting, we believe that the various changes that were agreed will result in a more responsive and cost-effective global governance system.
There were many more decisions and many more conversations than I can convey in this letter. Members of the delegation are available to provide feedback at regional conferences and other activist meetings and, of course, I will provide some further information at next year’s AGM (7-8 April, Swansea). In the meantime, the full decisions report is attached to this email.
In addition to our review of the International Council Meeting, September’s busy Board meeting also considered other significant issues.
We reviewed the Final Assessment of the International Secretariat’s Global Transition Programme - the process of moving staff from the London headquarters to regional hubs around the world. The process has been difficult, particularly for the staff directly affected, and it has, at times, been controversial. Whilst it cost more than originally envisaged, unanticipated funding was found to offset some of the costs. As a Board, we discussed serious delays in establishing some of the regional hubs, notably South Asia, noting the impact that this has had on some of our human rights activism here in the UK. Whilst it will take time for these latest moves to settle down, we are pleased to note that the offices established in the first waves of transition are starting to fulfil the vision of a more dynamic and locally responsive International Secretariat.
The Board also finalised appointments to the new Campaigns and Impact Sub-Committee, which will begin work shortly. This sub-committee is intended to provide valuable assistance to the Board and staff in developing our campaigns and monitoring and reporting on their impact, a notoriously difficult challenge for human rights campaigners.
September is the month when we review AIUK’s financial prospects for the coming year and set a budget envelope for the Director and her staff. The good news is that our current situation and projections for the end of this year show healthy finances with strong levels of reserves. However, our ability to seek donations has been impacted by increased fundraising regulation and we are very aware of changes to data protection laws that will come into force next year. Our staff are preparing well to minimise the impact not only on our fundraising but, as importantly, on our voice as a movement. However, we have to acknowledge the added uncertainty that these changes bring to an already unpredictable economic and political environment.
These governance discussions & decisions are important, but your Board is very aware of the human rights challenges Amnesty faces. As we report back from the ICM we can’t forget that two of our colleagues were absent and will not be participating in the governance and management meetings of their section. Taner Kiliç and Idil Eser, respectively the Chair and Director of AI Turkey remain in jail, wrongly and ridiculously accused of terrorism-related offences. In fact, they have simply been going about their work as human rights defenders. We demand their release and the release of all other human rights defenders who are wrongfully imprisoned in Turkey.
It is Idil’s birthday on 14 October and we will be celebrating it at our London offices as a gesture of solidarity. If you are able to organise a party locally or take a few birthday pictures (think balloons and cards), please share the images tagging ‘amnestyUK and using the hashtag #PartyWithIdil. Images and messages uploaded on the day itself would be particular welcome. If that’s no possible then you’ll be able to take action on this and other cases as part of our annual Write for Rights campaign. It launches at the start of November and we want it to be bigger and better than ever. So please, please, please do get involved.
Finally, please do keep an eye on the website. In the coming weeks we will be posting further information about the nomination and election process for the Board and about next year’s Annual General Meeting. We have so many brilliant members with the skills and commitment to serve on the Board and other governance bodies. Do think about it! And also make a note that the deadline for submitting AGM resolutions is 7 January 2018.
I look forward to writing again after our next Board meeting in December and to seeing some of you during the autumn season of activist conferences.
Until then, all the very best with your campaigning.
Chair, Amnesty International UK Section