A very useful June meeting on Urgent Actions with KATHARINE VOSS, A I UK's U A Coordinator
For our monthly First Monday meeting (actually postponed to Wed 4th on this occasion) we were fortunate to have a Guest Speaker from Amnesty , KATHARINE VOSS, Amnesty UK's Urgent Action Coordinator, and Head of the 'Priority Campaigns and Individuals at Risk' Team.
It was an informative meeting for us, with Katharine talking candidly about successes, failures and some of the difficulties of deciding appropriate Urgent Action initiatives with the speed which can be so essential (for a possible looming death sentence or the like) due to the subtleties of local context and cultural sensitivities. And the anomalies that can spring up, as in a recent high profile case, when the press get hold of an UA which has a shock factor which triggers broad public outrage, making it newsworthy.
When this happens, Katharine described a media feeding frenzy, as newspapers jostled to uncover new angles, and whereas the public supoort for petitions, email letters, etc, was vast and therefore potentially effective, there was pressure to be resisted on Amnesty's Urgent Action Network from the media to provide more background, either unknown or uncleared as a safe and appropriate information to publicise on the case in question. Pressure could come from within the Amnesty organisation, too, as fundraising or membership marketing sections see the big public interest as an opportunity to aid their core objectives. As we asked Katharine questions, we discussed as a group how there was an apparent need for the press (and the public) to understand the anatomy of an Urgent Action, and responsibilities which Amnesty must on no account abandon as the Action's instigator and author.
Of course, also, when there's a claimed resolution to a high profile case, or the next story comes along and papers fail to believe their readers are up to more than very short-term engagement with any one issue, the intense exposure of the Urgent Action victim's plight will usually stop suddenly and fail to return to the headlines.
This was the blurb for promoting Katharine Voss's visit - watch this space for a fuller report of the evening soon:
Kathy will speak about the success of the Urgent Action network, and why it works in many cases, either to alleviate the conditions under which a prisoner is held, or influence the authorities in reducing an unfair sentence after an unfair trial. She will show a short video, and try and answer the question: 'do Urgent Actions work?' 'Do the letters and emails we write have any effect?'
Many of us receive Urgent Actions all too often. They come under such headings as 'Venezuela - protesters detained, at risk of torture' and 'Execution looms for Iraqi oil technician'. The frequency and seriousness of these cases can seem overwhelming.
Kathy will address some of the challenges of the scheme, and how the urgent actions can be more widely disseminated through group websites. She will answer any other questions we have.
Please come to this meeting, which concerns a central theme of Amnesty's work - campaigning for prisoners of conscience, and opposing torture, for which Amnesty was founded by Peter Benenson in 1961. Please bring your friends.
Secretary, Farnham AI