2014 Chair's report
Stratford Amnesty International Group - Chair’s Report 2014
Welcome to our AGM. Here is my report of Stratford Amnesty’s work over the past year.
Individuals at Risk
At the heart of the Group’s activities is our letter writing on behalf of individuals at risk. We held 10 monthly letter writing mornings over the year where we responded to Amnesty’s urgent actions, sending over letters to different countries. We appealed for those wrongly imprisoned, on death row, the disappeared and those held under house arrest or tortured.
Our annual “Write for Rights” street stall was held in early December when we invited members of the public to send greetings cards to our 4 chosen cases. 141 cards with messages of support were signed and sent. One of the recipients, Ihar Tsihanyuk from Belarus has since written a thank you, saying “When I feel left with no hope to fight I’ll get a letter and it inspires me. The light of hope appears again….and I thank everyone for their support and solidarity.”
As in the past, our Group adopted a long-term Individual at Risk case – ours was Jabeur Meyri who has been imprisoned in Tunisia on charges of insulting Islam. Members have written monthly letters of appeal to the Tunisian authorities as well as cards of support to Jabeur.
We have worked on other Amnesty campaigns and regularly followed up monthly actions advised by the Human Rights Action Centre. Our actions have appealed to governments abroad and at home to ensure the human rights of all… especially... 2013 Zimbabwean Elections; Afghan Women’s Rights; Human Rights Abuses in Sri Lanka and Ethiopia; Syrian Refugees; Human Rights Defenders in Azerbaijan; and individual cases in the Philippines and in Cambodia.
We lobbied our MP, Nadhim Zahawi, on many of these issues, and also on the deficiencies of the UK asylum system, and the need for amendments to the recent lobby bill which will limit the campaigning role of organisations like Amnesty. We also lobbied our MEPs on the recent EU legislation requiring EU companies to report their impact on human rights. Our Representatives at Westminster and the European Parliament have been dutiful in responding to our letters. We are particularly grateful for our regular contact with our MP Nadhim Zahawi.
I would also like to acknowledge the continued support we receive from the voluntary Country Coordinators AND the staff at Amnesty’s head office. Without their enthusiasm and dedication much of what we do would not be possible.
The Group held 9 evening meetings this year. We used these to have discussions, plan activities and hear from visiting speakers.
Ann Marcus a Country Coordinator told us about the human rights issues in Egypt along with Salah Seoudy, President of Sussex University’s Amnesty Society, who described his experience of being in Tahrir Square last summer when violence broke out.
We also were pleased to have the first visit to our Group of a West Midlands MEP, Phil Bennion. He spoke about the EU and human rights, and described his involvement in many international situations including Israel/Palestine and Southern Asia. He answered our questions about Syria and the Roma, and spoke highly of Amnesty’s research as a key resource for MEPS.
The UK asylum system is another human rights issue with which we are regularly concerned. Last autumn we heard, first hand, the experience of a woman fleeing Iran, who now lives in Stratford. Over a period of 5 years, whilst seeking asylum in the UK, Souren suffered psychologically and physically; members were shocked to hear her story. She is now a British citizen and is safe, but her testimony suggests that Amnesty has an important and tough campaign ahead to improve our treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.
We screened the film “Five Broken Cameras” at one of our meetings. The film documents one Palestinian village’s protests at losing their land over a 5 year period. The visual depiction of real life experiences were powerful and pointed up why the work of Amnesty is so important.
At another meeting the case of Trenton Oldfield, the Boat Race protester who was threatened with deportation, was the basis of a discussion about the UK immigration system and human rights.
2013 was a successful fundraising year for the Group with the sum of £1500 being sent to Amnesty UK. The Quiz raised £925; a donation of £250 was received from the local Rotary Club for our help marshalling the annual Stratford Marathon; our Friday charity market stall raised £205; £231 was collected at a Bidford on Avon Budgens flag day organised by Heather Gerrard; our annual carol singing in Old Town on a very wet and windy night raised £102; Write for Rights raised £69; and we profited by £53 for the sale of Xmas cards. Thank you to all who helped with these events.
As well as campaigning and fundraising, the Group has been involved in other local, regional and national Amnesty events.
Locally, members attended a screening of “The Act of Killing” at the Picturehouse Cinema – a film about the alleged massacres which took place in Indonesia in the 1960’s; we also represented Amnesty at the Methodist Church’s service on human trafficking; and we attended the Mid-Warwickshire Group’s annual Amnesty concert featuring the Verdi Requiem.
Every year the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford has a summer long poetry festival. Last year we were delighted once again to be invited to participate. On Poetry Sunday we attended Jane Lapotaire’s reading in aid of Amnesty and James Stredder organised an open air event with an international flavour based on human rights issues. We have since learned of the poem dedicated to Amnesty composed by Kapka Kassabova, the 2012 poet in residence in Stratford.
A group of us attended the Malvern Group’s Women’s Human Rights event in October which was inspiring and stimulating. Nationally, we sent a representative to the AGM at Warwick; and last autumn we celebrated the election of Sarah O’Grady, a member of our Group, to the role of Chair of the AIUK Board.
Our main social event of the year, a bring and share supper in August, was held at Rosie and Hugh Keep’s house – it was well attended and greatly enjoyed.
Publicity and the Press
Publicising Amnesty’s work and events in the local community involves reporting in the “Club News” section of the Stratford Herald and putting details of events in the Free Newspapers as well as maintaining the Group website, Facebook page, and a twitter account. This provides everyone living in the Stratford area with information about the Group’s events and current human rights concerns, and we appreciate the work of our press and publicity officers who do this with diligence and enthusiasm.
In conclusion, we have once again had a busy and productive year. I would like to thank all members of the Committee involved with organising the Group’s business. I would also like to thank all of you who give your time voluntarily to support Stratford Amnesty by attending meetings, fundraising, and writing letters and cards. Together we can and do make a difference by promoting a world where freedom of expression and freedom from torture are respected and valued.
Eileen Alberti, Chair