Report from the past chair

Tony Miller stepped down as chair of the local group after three years in post and he prepared the following report to describe the work we did over that period:

 REPORT FROM THE CHAIR 2010-2013

As a preface to this report I should like to make it clear that I am not mentioning members of the group by name for fear of inadvertently praising some and ignoring others.

Since September 2010 the Salisbury Amnesty group has been meeting on a monthly basis, with an average attendance of ten.  Revitalising the group was the main objective.  In October eight officers were elected and a database of Amnesty supporters created.  By the end of the year a Newsletter was added to the Website as a means of disseminating information and a group leaflet was produced.

December 2010 was a typically busy month.  To celebrate Human Rights Day members gathered round the Amnesty candle in the Cathedral for a photo-shoot, at a stall in the Maltings greetings cards for prisoners of conscience and others were signed by members of the public, and carols were sung outside homes to raise funds for Amnesty.

In 2011 we celebrated Amnesty at 50.  To mark this we drank a Toast to Freedom in the Cheese Market, which generated some publicity, we held an Amnestea Party in St Thomas’s House, attended by the Mayor, we mounted a poster display in the Public Library, and we showed an Iranian film “A Separation” at the Arts Centre.

2011 was also the year when we agreed on the shape of our campaigning.  We chose two general themes, Abolition of the Death Penalty and Security with Human Rights, and one Individual Case File, but it took some months before all campaigns became active.  The Death Penalty campaign had lain dormant for a while but was the one campaign to get going again without delay.  Ending stoning in Iran was the theme for an excellent stall in the Maltings in June 2011, which resulted in a well supported petition and good local and national publicity. 

The campaign on Security with Human Rights was eventually put on hold as a result of the suspension of the Gibson enquiry and attention was switched to supporting an International Arms Trade Treaty.   Another petition signing stall was held and eventually, to our delight, the treaty was signed. 

To fill the gap we decided to support a campaign on North Korea, prompted by a circular from the International Secretariat and a talk by Kenny Latunde-Dada in October 2012, describing the lack of human rights in North Korea and the appalling treatment of prisoners in the secret prison camps in that country.  In 2013 the group held a petition signing, which was accompanied by a visually arresting barbed wire and canvas display board.  This was followed in August 2013 by the showing of Yodok Stories, a film about the making of a musical on life in Yodok camp (Camp 15), to about seventy people at the Arts Centre.  Also, we wrote articles about North Korea, which were published in local parish magazines.

Our attempts at campaigning on an individual case were thwarted twice, once by the blind Chinese lawyer, Chen Guangcheng, escaping from house arrest to freedom, and on the second occasion, by our Burmese prisoner being released.  Both were, of course, occasions for rejoicing but we had hardly had time to send letters before they became irrelevant.  Finally, we were allocated a lawyer from Equatorial Guinea, who is the subject of our current campaigning.

The campaign groups now have sufficient momentum to keep going and, we hope, growing.

Regular fundraising events included coffee mornings at St Thomas’s Church, White Elephant stalls in the Guildhall Square, and carol singing in December.  Other annual events included a human rights themed film in collaboration with Salisbury Arts Centre, the Write for Rights campaign, Greetings Cards for prisoners and the Human Rights service at the cathedral.  Current talks with Tom Clammer, the Precentor, promise closer cooperation in the future.

We have twice hosted the Regional conference and shall continue to do so on an annual basis if requested.  We have also sought to create links with other Amnesty groups in the region, especially Romsey, Ringwood and Bath.  

Inevitably, some new people have attended meetings once or twice, never to return.  However, there is a strong core of committed activists, who have shaped and developed the group over the past three years.  I am very grateful to all of them and trust that we can continue to improve and expand.  It would be especially gratifying if we could attract more young people.  We have to be open to new ideas, perhaps using the social media to spread the word and build support among the young, as well as linking up with school groups.

I am standing down as Chair after a very stimulating three years.  I remain committed to Amnesty and the protection of human rights, and shall do my best to support my successor in every way possible.

Tony Miller

September 2013

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