OMG! It’s the AGM

Members of the Cardiff Amnesty International Group attend this year’s National Conference and AGM held in Swansea. It was an inspiring event with fantastic speakers. It was also great way to meet activists from across the UK.

Kate Allan, Director of Amnesty International UK, outlined some of the Human Rights challenges in the current global climate. She challenged activists to harness the power of human empathy and collective action to counter the rise of populist and nationalist politics. With the growth of scapegoating and division in the last few years, she asked everyone to support Amnesty’s two flagship campaigns Human Rights Defenders and I Welcome Refugees.

Two cases were also highlighted, that of Azza Soliman and Taner Kılıç. Azza Soliman is a women’s rights defender who has been persecuted by the Egyptian government for almost 30 years. Delegates were asked to take action as she faces years in prison on dubious charges. To find out more click here.

The conference audience were also reminded of the case of Taner Kılıç, lawyer and chair of Amnesty International Turkey, who has been detained on baseless ‘terrorism’ charges since June 2017. To take action on Taner’s case click here.

In spite of the worrying international scene it was encouraging to see hundreds of people taking action in their local communities to defend human rights. The workshop sessions proved to be useful opportunities to build campaigning expertise and network with other groups. It was fantastic to see representatives from Cardiff University’s Student Amnesty Group who shared some of their photos for this blog. They look great!

Workshops attended by group members are described below:

Becoming a Force to be Reckoned with in the Local Community

This workshop allowed activists to share ideas and hone best practice. The ‘added benefits’ of making contact with other organisations was highlighted, as was keeping details of useful contacts. Time was spent discussing ways to find and recruit members, and the importance of ensuring that new members attended a second meeting.

The brain-storming sessions were particularly useful as working parties tackled questions such as: ‘Are there group in your community you would like to work with?’ and ‘What kind of community contacts exist in your area?’ As well as running the workshop, members of the Sheffield group explained their own experiences of successful community engagement. A BIG THANK YOU to the Sheffield Amnesty Group for all of their helpful advice.

Resisting Discrimination and Abuse in the Occupied Palestinian Territories

A panel of speakers outlined various aspects of the situation: Kristyan Benedict (AI Crisis and Campaigns); Peter Frankental (AIUK- Economic Aspects of Campaigns); Ryvka Barnard (War on Want); Tareq Shrourou (Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights).

Discussion focussed on businesses working in and with Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law. The United Nations has written guiding principles to which businesses should adhere but these are not binding. The UN has a database of 192 businesses working in the settlements and therefore implicated in their illegality under international law. There are a few UK businesses listed but the names have not yet been released. Arms supplies to Israel were also mentioned.

The settlements have been condemned by the UN and there are obligations on all states not to engage in business with them. The UK was the first state to implement the UN guiding principles but has not yet acted on this with regard to Israel. A campaign is being developed which may work like the former Apartheid disinvestment campaign, with pressure also being applied to Parliament/Foreign Office-named businesses. To learn more click here.

Brexit: A Brave New World

This workshop highlighted Amnesty’s behind-the-scenes efforts to counter the challenges posed to human rights when Britain withdraws from the EU. It was facilitated by Rachel Logan, Scott Dawes and Allan Hogarth. Amnesty considers that there are currently two concrete losses to our human rights posed by Brexit. The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights has been removed from the EU Withdrawal Bill (also known as the ‘Brexit Bill’), plus other general principles of European law. This charter is one of the strongest forms of human rights protection – covering immigration, pensions and work.

Amnesty is currently pushing for three amendments under its campaigning slogan – Leaving not losing:

(i) Keep the charter; (ii) Keep the general principles; (iii) Have a no roll-back / protection clause to human rights.

Amnesty UK are currently lobbying Parliament and collaborating with various groups to ensure human rights are not sacrificed in any of the Brexit deals. They are also monitoring both the Trade and Sanction Bills as these may have human rights repercussions. This was the first opportunity to share with members the campaigning strategy that Amnesty have been following over the past few months. They will let members know what actions to take in due course.

Amnesty Anti-Death Penalty Project

This workshop was facilitated by Paul Bridges and Kim Manning-Cooper. Amnesty is planning an in-depth campaign to eradicate the death penalty. At present it is thought that actions will start by targeting countries that are moving towards ending the death penalty and then building from that base. Ideas were brainstormed about potential strategies and what help was needed from Amnesty. These ideas were collected to inform the future campaign.

Three short films were shown and two of them were particularly useful for campaigning. In one Jeremy Irons dismantles arguments in favour of the death penalty one-by-one. The second film was about an inmate on Death Row talking about his day waiting for execution. It is an emotive offering that ends well as he is found innocent and released. Each film is short – under five minutes – and could work in meetings or as a loop at a stall. If the group decided to opt in to this campaign details of the films can be sent from Amnesty UK.

Keynote Panel

Watching the keynote panel, Brave Women at the Forefront of the Human Rights Struggle, was a humbling experience. Panel members included: Marta Lempart, organiser of Women’s Struggle Against the Ban on Abortion in Poland, Breedagh Hughes, Northern Ireland Director of Royal College of Midwives, Sara Rydkvist, Amnesty International UK Section on Human Rights Defenders campaign, and Seyi Akiwowo, founder of Glitch!UK an advocacy campaign to stop online abuse.

All of these courageous activists gave inspiring accounts of their campaign work, a truly remarkable group of people.

Meeting for Welsh Activists

The Wales groups meeting included members from Colwyn Bay, Lampeter, Milford Haven, North Pembs/Cardigan, Llanellli, Chepstow, Aberystwyth University, Cardiff University and Monmouth. Patrick (Paddy) Corrigan from the Northern Ireland Amnesty Office also attended.

Amnesty wants to appoint a Country Representative for Wales, to pick up from the work of Jac Larner, and/or a Wales media spokesperson. Questions were raised about whether the Wales AI office would reopen. It was noted that there were no plans at present for this to happen and in any case office staff would not perform the functions of the Wales representative. It was made clear that the Scotland and Northern Ireland offices deal with their devolved institutions rather than working with local groups specifically.

Malcolm Dingwall-Smith, Scotland’s Representative, agreed to establish a “google group” for chairs and secretaries to improve communication. But he pointed out that this will only succeed if the email group is used. In the meantime, it was suggested that groups in Wales could stay in touch with an officer from a nearby group to improve communications.

Discussions included the need for Amnesty UK to adopt a robust Welsh-language policy on its website and help campaign at the Welsh Assembly, which will be increasingly important following Brexit. The idea of a Welsh-speakers group or network was also mooted. Finally, it was agreed that the Welsh groups should aim to hold a regional conference in the autumn. Limited funding and resources may be available centrally.

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