Report on regional meeting held to discuss Amnesty's Strategic Goals

Amnesty International in the North East and Yorkshire

 Report on the meeting to consider Amnesty International's Strategic Goals held at York University on 4 October 2014

Present: Rod Heath (Scarborough Group, NE Regional Rep and Chair), Ekkehard and Margaret Kopp (Hull), Helen MacCarthy (North Lincs), Eva Lamb (Sheffield), Richard Kotter (Newcastle), Noa Kleinman and Kezia (Bradford),

Margot Brown (member) and Chris and Tashi (York University)

Definition of the Scope of the Meeting

We all agreed at the outset that it was impossible to proceed as suggested by AIUK in London as much of the documentation that had been produced was very difficultto understand. Instead it was decided that we would debate the five proposals contained in the documentation.

The Starting Point

Everybody agreed that the bedrock of Amnesty activity is campaigning for individuals who are the victims of injustice - the people who still feature in Amnesty campaigns.

It was noted that anecdotal evidence shows that many less active Amnesty members join local groups and continue to take part in their activities for this reason.

Development from this point

It was agreed that in the future Amnesty should seek to be pro-active rather than reactive. The causes of injustice need to be tackled, not just the outcomes.

It was felt that it was important for the theme of a campaign for an individual to be highlighted eg "The campaign for X is part of Amnesty's corporate accountability theme." It was further felt that the themes should be identified in the campaigns for individuals that appear on the website.

Amnesty should seek to advance broad themes that together underpin the causes of injustice eg education and, in particular, the paucity of education for women, but at the same time it should remain possible for members and local groups to choose to campaign for individuals.

It was felt that local groups should retain the freedom to choose to campaign as they see fit. They must choose what matters to them.  In view of the concerns expressed by some local members we felt that a particular task for AIUK officers would be to contextualise individual campaigns and explain clearly to members why a more proactive approach, addressing the underlying causes of injustice is essential.

Discussion of the Human Rights Proposals

Exercising fundamental freedoms

1  Human Rights Education

This is fundamental to Amnesty's mission.

Amnesty should lead on this global issue and should work in both the formal and informal education sectors.

As appropriate, it should work in concert with other organisations.

2  Improved protection of freedom of expression

This is a worthy aim but it was felt that the issue needed to be better researched, especially as regards abuse of the internet. It is very difficult to identify authors of material on the web, eg trolls, use of false identities, so it is not clear-cut at all as to who may be abusing this technology. It can also be a matter of opinion as to whether or not material is offensive. For example, are the events in the Islamic State news items, vehicles for propaganda or atrocities?

As Eva said: "This is a can of worms."

3  Safer environment for HRD's and people's organisations

This is fundamental to Amnesty's mission and it should lead on this issue.

Securing Rights for All

It was felt that the emphasis should be on developing "new understandings of human rights approaches to tacking inequality".  It is necessary to increase awareness through education and to bring about change so that the necessary legal protection is extended to everybody.

Other organisations are involved in advancing this theme eg in LGBT work, and Amnesty should support them as appropriate. They should also commit resources to this area since nothing can be achieved without.

Links to other organisations working on similar campaigns should be displayed on the Amnesty website.

Responding to Crisis

1  Reduced transfers of arms and military ..... equipment

This needs to be researched in greater detail. It has not been made clear in what circumstances Amnesty would intervene. Where and how is the line to be drawn between the legitimate and illicit use of force? Making judgements in this area is not straightforward. We should consider carefully how best to build on the success of the Arms Trade Treaty campaign.

2  Increased access to safety

This is Amnesty's core activity and it should remain at its very heart.

Amnesty must stand up for human rights even (and perhaps especially) in time of war and conflict.

Ensuring Accountability

Amnesty should lead on this issue but also work together with other organisations. The accountability of corporations in particular is likely to become much more significant in the future eg Google and Facebook but also BP and Union Carbide.

Increasing Organisational Effectiveness

There is a need to attract the "middle" group - basically people of working age - to become active within Amnesty. These are people who have left full-time education but are not yet retired.

AIUK needs to be led by local groups and, in consequence, the Senior Management Team needs to be accountable to them. Local groups would like to receive more explanation from London regarding policy decisions. In particular, nobody seems to know very much about the new structure and whether or not it is working effectively. It is also suspected that there is undue emphasis on fund-raising.

Everybody agreed that it is vital that Amnesty embraces new technology, in particular the internet, but it was felt that the current AIUK website is not fit for purpose. It should meet the needs of its users.

Chris and Tashi especially felt that there is less awareness of Amnesty amongst the general public than there was.

It was also agreed that AIUK should support local groups in their campaigns eg trafficked women, and should encourage the sharing of platforms with other groups.

AIUK could also issue guidelines to local groups regarding contact with members of parliament and it was also felt it would be desirable to invite members of the Government to next year's AGM to explain their decision to repeal the Human Rights Act if they win the forthcoming election.

Rod Heath   

6 October 2014

Footnote: We all felt that in writing the "Proposed Outcomes" the author had somewhat overdosed on "smart" targets. Not everything is easily quantifiable.