Still Shining a Light in the Darkness

Saturday 1443 – 1st December 2o12

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On this Saturday I attended the Amnesty International East Anglia Regional Conference which was held in Cambridge.  This was the first time I had attended such an event and I actually only discovered the Cambridge group recently via Facebook.  I hadn’t even managed to get myself to any meetings before this one ( it seems there’s always something else going on!! ). 

 046_425When I arrived Tim Hancock, Amnesty International UK (AIUK) Campaigns Manager, was involved in a drop-in discussion about the way the International movement was developing . The atmosphere was tense and not a little hostile towards Tim and because I have only been an individual member and not actively within a group, I was very much taken aback by this. 

This next bit is just from my perspective I obviously do not speak for any AI group.

The contentious issue seemed to be about why the International Sector of AI had made the decision to spend money ( the term “pour money into” was used several times) on setting up and manning offices in countries such as Brazil and India rather than further developing the grass-roots sectors already there.

The general feeling, amongst the East Anglia Groups represented, seemed to be that this decision to move funding from Northern Hemisphere to Southern Hemisphere has been ill thought out at a time of financial insecurity and certain redundancies in the UK.  Putting this into perspective AIUK are expected and had agreed to contribute more money each year to the International Sector ( this has been the case for some time)..  

“The plans of the International Movement show a move from 14% of current expenditure in the global south in 2012 to 40% in 2015.” – taken from letter to activists sent in Oct 2012

It appears that most regional representatives from around the UK have objected because the move seems to be aimed at increasing funding and membership whilst at the same time marginalising campaign work thus going against  the heart of the movement and the decisions of recent AGM’s -below is a quote from, I believe, the minutes of the 2011 AGM ( please correct me on this AI members if I have the date wrong. )

“This AGM calls on the delegation to the 2011 International Council Meeting to continue to support the moves to allocate a greater proportion of the global movement’s resources to its international work, particularly in the Global South and East, but also to ensure that such changes do not undermine the ability of AIUK to maintain a strong activist and campaigning base in the UK”.

In paragraph 7.2 the document sets out the key drivers of change. These include:

“Rebalancing the resources of the organization to re-establish members and supporters at the heart of our work” 

“Maintaining the section’s capabilities in Campaigning, Activism, [and Fundraising]”

It is felt that swingeing cuts are being made to UK budgets which support Activism and Campaigning with over 20 posts going from the campaigns dept alone which clearly seems to go against the 2 key drivers of change as above.

The strategic decision may well be the right one long-term, who knows, but could there have been a better way to do this.. almost certainly yes.  I believe I am right in saying there were no mentions of the redundancy’s at the AGM in April with this only coming out approx 6 weeks afterwards.

I don’t want to dwell on this too much more because I am not well enough informed and there are, I’m sure, complexities that I am not aware of but it does seem to a relative newcomer like me that management of AIUK and indeed the International Sectariat would do well to get back to discussing this at grass-roots level.  Behaving in a non-democratic way goes against the basic ethos of the whole organisation and is hugely damaging. I sincerely hope this issue can be resolved quickly because if it is not the management won’t carry the local groups with them and fundraising, which needs to increase, is in danger of falling away. Regional groups will not be happy to become just “cash cows”, most people I’m sure, will want to feel as though they are directly improving someone else’s  life.

039_427I would like to remind every one of Amnesty Internationals purpose as set out on the website here

“We are ordinary people from around the world standing up for humanity and human rights. Our purpose is to protect individuals wherever justice, fairness, freedom and truth are denied.”

You can read a very good interactive timeline here about how Amnesty International came into being ,back in the 1960’s, some 50 years ago.

An Extra General Meeting has now been called, driven by over 100 members calling for one ( the trigger point) and I hope this issue will not fatally wound Amnesty because the work individuals continue to do, in shining a light into the darkness for individuals, is needed just as much as it was back in the 60’s if not even more. There was a reminder of that as we all took part in letter and card writing to send to individuals showing much-needed support and to Government officials to show the world is watching, whilst we appealed for justice.

To end this day there was also a debate entitled ” The Human Rights Act: Protecting us all or just the undeserving”.

052_429As you might expect Cambridge LibDem MP Julian Huppert (left)  putting forward the motion “The Uk Human Rights Act is Good for This Country” won the vote resoundingly after using an eloquent argument against Martin 059_428Collier (below), Barrister and Head of Fenners Chambers in Cambridge who opposed the motion.  Lets be fair though, as it was unlikely that Amnesty International supporters would vote against the UK Human Rights Act ( though 4 actually did !)

I hope you were able to make some sense of this ! Please use the links I’ve given you to find out more… hopefully easier to understand !

 Saturday Girl signing off now. Have a healthy, peaceful and honest week.

I’d just like to finish by apologizing for not having much eye-contact in these photos but that’s because they were looking at the other photographer , the official one!!

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You can find my photography blog Photomania here and I hope you’ll pop over and take a look if you haven’t already

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8 comments on “Still Shining a Light in the Darkness

  1. […] I was thinking a lot today about a meeting I was at on Thursday night; a Cambridge Amnesty International meeting.   I have written about Amnesty International before, at the beginning of Dec 2012 ,that post was titled Still Shining a Light in the Darkness and you can read it here […]

  2. […] to my blog from a link in an Amnesty International email this is the article you are looking for Still Shining a Light in the Darkness . Just click on the name and it will bring you there… of course I don’t mind you […]

  3. Colin Lester says:

    Re. Four AI members voting against the HRA being good for the UK — the debate was open to members of the public, and publicity had been sent round the local law society and law faculties, so the ‘antis’ could have been lawyers or students and not AI members at all.

    • Helen Cherry says:

      Thank you for reminding me of that Colin, you are quite right. However I know that at least one of them was an AI member because I had seen him at one of the earlier evens wearing his name sticky which I believe only members had..

  4. mary mcadam says:

    thats very interesting i have great respect for AI and hope all will be resolved

  5. scillagrace says:

    Thanks for reminding me to keep following this organization. My father used to write letters for them, and I would like to do that, too, in the old-fashioned way, on paper, with my own words, not just adding my name to an electronic list.

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