A few words with Salil Shetty

Salil Shetty, Amnesty International Secretary General speaking at the Press launch of the Amnesty International Report 2011, at the International Secretariat in London, UK, 12 May 2011. (c) Amnesty Interntional

Salil Shetty, Amnesty International Secretary General speaking at the Press launch of the Amnesty International Report 2011, at the International Secretariat in London, UK, 12 May 2011. (c) Amnesty Interntional

Written by Salil Shetty, Secretary General, Amnesty International, @SalilShetty

Berlin, Saturday 17 August — It’s a big event for all of us at Amnesty International, and this year will in some ways be bigger than ever, at a key moment in the organization’s history. The International Council Meeting, held every two years, opens today, in Berlin.

I look forward to a hectic whirlwind of discussions and meetings, with long days which are energizing in the way that only meetings involving passionate human rights activists can be.

This is a meeting where key decisions get taken or confirmed. There will be discussions on our two new global campaigns – My Body My Rights and Stop Governments Torturing — and on themes ranging from digital freedoms to the rights of Indigenous Peoples, the crisis in Egypt and the ongoing nightmare in Syria. We will hear from inspiring human rights defenders who Amnesty work with, and we will focus on the nitty-gritty issues of governance at the same time.

And we will of course be discussing – and celebrating – the achievement earlier this year of the Arms Trade Treaty, the treaty which we were all repeatedly told was unachievable, but which has now been agreed, not least because of Amnesty International’s campaigning over many years.

In the next few months, we will be rolling out a programme of opening up new hub offices around the world – starting with Senegal, Kenya and South Africa, and an increased presence in Hong Kong. That comes on top of the new offices that have opened up in the past two years in India and Brazil, and which have already achieved remarkable things during their short existence.

Every International Council Meeting is exciting in its own way. But I am especially excited about this year’s meeting, coming as it does at a time of significant expansion of our presence in the global south, enabling us to bring our work closer to the ground and to leverage the advocacy possibilities that that presence brings. We have spent three years discussing how those changes should look. Now is the moment when the changes become real.

I am looking forward to the great conversations and exchanges and educational moments that the meeting will bring – a meeting which concentrates and represents in one room the engagement of the three million members and supporters of Amnesty International from all over the world.

Amnesty is a more potent and powerful human rights force because we are a movement, members from all across the globe united against injustice. They are the activists, the funders, and the democratic participants that give Amnesty its unique power, working together for human rights. On the darkest days, such as we are seeing this week in Egypt, we take heart when we see the drive and passion of our membership fuelling our campaigns, and thus giving new strength and impetus to the power of our on-the-ground research and our advocacy work with governments.

We will see that passion and that power in abundance this week as our activists come together to deliberate and set directions for the next two years of work for dignity and justice. They are coming from Mongolia and Chile, from Zimbabwe and Morocco, from Russia and Portugal — from more than 50 countries, 300 inspiring leaders of the human rights movement. Together, they will also elect the members of the International Executive Committee, Amnesty International’s governing body.

By the end of this week, with meetings that run from early morning to late evening, I think it is fair to say that there will be a lot of tired people at our meeting in Berlin. But I also hope those same people will leave more energized than ever, ensuring that Amnesty International can continue its research, advocacy and campaigning work more strongly than ever in the years to come.

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