Posts Tagged ‘Kumi Naidoo’

Amnesty International’s Global Assembly 2019 deserves more attention: big shifts coming up

August 5, 2019

This weekend Amnesty International’s 2019 Global Assembly (GA) took place on the edge of Johannesburg. In a world where all news should be equal, or a world less fixated on Busi Mkhwebane or Donald Trump, global gatherings of human rights activists ought to be headline news. Their debates and decisions should be reported; their accountability structures scrutinised. But the media was visible by its absence. This is what the Daily Maverick of 4 August 2019 wrote and its is worth reading in its totality!:

Amnesty International (AI) is probably the largest international human rights organisation in the world. It has more than eight million members and each of its 69 country sections sent three elected delegates to the GA, one of whom had to be a young person under 25. AI is worth watching because its membership is largely unpaid volunteers, people prepared to get on the streets to realise their hopes for a fairer world. Unlike many other civil society organisations it doesn’t take funding from governments or private corporations. And it’s still hungry for change. But in addition to the GA taking place in South Africa, our country lent some of its most famous sons to the deliberations. The keynote opening address was delivered by Justice Dikgang Moseneke, who movingly recalled how letters from Amnesty International sent to his mother began arriving within a month of the start of his 10-year sojourn on Robben Island. “It was an abiding lesson in global solidarity,” he told delegates, who gave him three standing ovations. He was complemented by seasoned South African activist Kumi Naidoo, who is entering his second year as AI’s secretary-general. Amid the buzz of arriving delegates, last-minute preparations and a pre-conference of its youth members, I persuaded Naidoo to surrender 45 minutes of his time for a short conversation about the challenges AI faces on making itself relevant and ready for some of the greatest challenges humanity has ever faced. Naidoo started our conversation by saying that AI understands that this is a watershed time for human rights activism. He pointed out that the movement is midway through developing a new strategy that aims to help it become “a bigger, bolder and more inclusive human rights movement”. “Bigger” because AI knows it needs numbers to have political clout – it aims to increase its membership to 25 million people in the next few years. “Bolder” because many of the methods activists have used successfully in the past have been tamed. In his address to the assembly, he warned that “Our ability to raise the political cost of human rights violations simply by exposing them and naming them is receding.” He talked of the need for widespread “civil disobedience”. This might come as a shock to many of AI’s traditional members who are more used to writing protest letters. “More inclusive”, because AI’s centre of gravity has to shift south and its demographic has to quickly encompass millions more young people and black people. These are big asks, but Naidoo argues that this is a critical moment for introspection by human rights activists. In the face of galloping climate change, rising populism and “Big Men” leaders with their fingers on weapons of mass destruction, it has to be an introspection on the run. In 2019 and the years ahead we cannot afford a demobilisation of civil society as it takes time out to think. This is because, warns Naidoo, “Humanity is at a critical point. The world in which AI was created in 1961 is now very, very different.” He talks a lot, in this regard, about the climate crisis, about how real the threat of human extinction is becoming. “The Special Report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in October 2018 said we have 12 years to drastically reduce carbon emissions.” (The report said that to limit climate change to 1.5°C it will be necessary to reduce carbon emissions by 45% globally by 2030). As a result, Naidoo believes, Amnesty now needs “to climatise all our existing work”. Hear, hear, I thought, there’s a lesson for South African civil society there. For example, one pillar of AI’s core business has always been campaigning against the death penalty. And it has done very well. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says that only 23 out of its 193 member states still carry out the death penalty. But now, Naidoo says, “Humanity is facing a mass death penalty as a result of climate change.” Bearing out the importance AI attaches to this “existential threat to civilization” AI’s 2019 Ambassador of Conscience Award has been given to Greta Thunberg and the Fridays for the Future movement. AI hopes it will be handed over by the US politician and activist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in Washington during the week of the great climate strike planned for 20 September.

Yet, Naidoo says, “The core DNA of Amnesty – defending human rights defenders – will continue.” The fact that the very notion of human rights is under attack makes them all the more important to defend. Thus, “Whilst last year the United Nations marked the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with the necessary aplomb, if the UN were to try and pass such a declaration today it would not get out of the starting blocks.”

Sadly, with the current crop of leaders like Trump, Modi, Putin, Bolsanero, Johnson we know he’s right. Once again it falls to civil society to stand up and make the case for human rights. But that can’t mean just more of the same. Civil society’s methods, tactics and strategies have to adapt. For example, although AI was formed to protect what are known as first generation rights (exposing torture and the death penalty, supporting prisoners of conscience etc), Naidoo told the conference that it is socio-economic or second generation rights that matter most to billions of people – access to food, health services, basic education or water. And these days it is most often community protests to demand the fulfilment of these rights that leads corrupt and fragile states to unleash new waves of violations on the rights to peaceful assembly, freedom of expression or association. A recent report by Global Witness records the killing of three environmental or land activists a week in 2018. In this context the climate crisis again serves to hammer home the need for change. “If people think human beings currently treat each other badly, you haven’t seen anything yet,” Naidoo muses, echoing conclusions made in a recently published UN report on Climate Change and Human Rights. So in addition to gazing at its DNA, AI also discussed its campaign methods, and it’s here perhaps that it required the deepest introspection: “At best we are winning the battles, but losing the war.” “We have access to power, without influence.” “We have to get out of our silos.”… “The catastrophic error we made at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 was to frame climate change as an environmental issue.” In fact, it’s an everything issue. Much the same can be said about many of the other fronts on which civil society wages its war for dignity. Health is an education issue. Education is a gender equality issue. Water is a dignity issue. Preventable hunger is a torture issue. Nutrition is a children’s rights issue, and so on. It’s time to rethink how we articulate rights and freedoms. At the end of 45 minutes, a polite young AI staffer ushered us out of the room. Naidoo looked tired even though the day was just beginning. We are living in what philosopher Slavoj Zizek calls “the end-times” and Kumi Naidoo is the captain of one of the few human rights movements that has to find it within itself to pull us back from the brink. And that’s why the Amnesty Global Assembly should have been in the news.

https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/opinionista/2019-08-04-bolder-and-more-inclusive-amnesty-international-holds-global-assembly-in-sa/

Greta Thunberg becomes Amnesty International’s 2019 Ambassador of Conscience

June 7, 2019

Climate activist Greta Thunberg and the Fridays for Future movement of schoolchildren have been given Amnesty International’s ‘Ambassador of Conscience’ award for 2019

Climate activist Greta Thunberg and the Fridays for Future movement of schoolchildren have been given Amnesty International’s ‘Ambassador of Conscience’ award for 2019 © Amnesty International

On 7 June it was announced that climate activists Greta Thunberg and the Fridays for Future movement are given Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award 2019 [for more on this and other such awards:http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/ambassador-of-conscience-award]. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/10/first-prix-liberte-of-normandy-for-teen-climate-activist-greta-thunberg/.

The Fridays for Future movement was started by Greta Thunberg, a teenager from Sweden who last August began protesting outside the Swedish parliament – skipping school every Friday demanding the Swedish government take more serious action to tackle the climate crisis. Her efforts have inspired a global movement, with the most recent Fridays for Future schools strikes seeing more than one million young people from all over the world take part, with demonstrations in more than 100 countries.

Greta Thunberg, said: “It is a huge honour to receive Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience award on behalf of Fridays for Future. This is not my award, this is everyone’s award. It is amazing to see the recognition we are getting and know that we are fighting for something that is having an impact.  To act on your conscience means that you fight for what you think is right. I think all those who are part of this movement are doing that, because we have a duty to try and improve the world. The blatant injustice we all need to fight against is that people in the global south are the ones who are and will be most affected by climate change while they are the least responsible for causing it.

Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said: “The Ambassador of Conscience award celebrates people who have shown unique leadership and courage in standing up for human rights. I can think of no better recipients this year than Greta Thunberg and the Fridays for Future climate strike movement.

Greta Thunberg, said: “Human rights and the climate crisis go hand in hand. We can’t solve one without solving the other. Climate change means people won’t be able to grow food, their homes will come under threat and their health will be compromised. Governments have a duty to protect us, so why are they doing nothing to stop climate change from devastating our lives?”

Kananura Irene, a Fridays for Future activist from Kampala, Uganda, said: “Sometimes I feel really sad because some of the people I try to talk to won’t listen. Some people insult us, others think we are politicians, and others ignore us entirely, they tell us maybe we won’t finish what we’ve started.  But I can assure everyone that we are really determined to finish what we have started, because our futures are on the line.

[Around the world, attacks against ordinary people who stand up for freedom, justice and equality are surging. Authorities around the world are misusing their power to crack down on human rights defenders – imprisoning, torturing and even killing them for speaking up. In 2018, 321 defenders in 27 countries were targeted and killed for their work – the highest number ever on record. Amnesty is calling on the UK Government to show the world that protecting human rights defenders is a priority.]

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https://www.amnesty.org.uk/press-releases/greta-thunberg-given-amnestys-2019-ambassador-conscience-award

https://www.dw.com/en/greta-thunberg-fridays-for-future-movement-win-amnesty-human-rights-award/a-49096921

Amnesty launches report on Laws designed to silence human rights defenders

February 21, 2019

The report lists 50 countries worldwide where anti-NGO laws have been implemented or are in the pipeline
Governments around the world are stepping-up their attacks on civil society organisations and human rights defenders, according to a new Amnesty International report. On 21 February 2019 RTE Ireland summarizes it as follows: It says governments are creating laws that subject non-governmental organisations and their staff to surveillance, bureaucratic hurdles and the threat of imprisonment. The international human rights group says the global assault on NGOs has reached a crisis point as new laws curb vital human rights work. The report, Laws Designed to Silence: The Global Crackdown on Civil Society Organisations, lists 50 countries worldwide where anti-NGO laws have been implemented or are in the pipeline.
Amnesty International says these laws commonly include implementing ludicrous registration processes for organisations, monitoring their work, restricting their sources of resources and, in many cases, shutting them down if they do not adhere to the unreasonable requirements imposed on them.
[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/07/global-statement-on-the-20th-anniversary-of-the-un-declaration-on-human-rights-defenders/]
We documented how an increasing number of governments are placing unreasonable restrictions and barriers on NGOs, preventing them from carrying out crucial work,” said Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of Amnesty International. “In many countries, organisations who dare to speak out for human rights are being bullied into silence. Groups of people who come together to defend and demand human rights are facing growing barriers to working freely and safely. Silencing them and preventing their work has consequences for everyone.”  SEE ALSO NAIDOO’S OP-ED: http://news.trust.org//item/20190220144717-jcwuf/
https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/02/global-assault-on-ngos-reaches-crisis-point/

https://www.rte.ie/news/2019/0221/1031852-amnesty_assault_on_ngos/

Working environment at Amnesty International severely judged by own staff

February 8, 2019

That human rights NGOs are severely criticized is nothing new but that it comes from its own staff is rare. Still here is a report that states that “Amnesty International has had a “toxic” working environment going back as far as the 1990s”.  This does not mean that AI is specially bad compared to other larger NGOs, just that there are very few other such public reports.

Read the rest of this entry »

Now also Amnesty International strips Aung San Suu Kyi of her award

November 13, 2018

Myanmar"s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi departs after her speech at the ASEAN Business and Investment Summit
Image copyright GETTY IMAGES

On 12 November 2018 Amnesty International announced that it is stripping Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi of its highest honour, the Ambassador of Conscience Award. [for more on this award see: http://trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/ambassador-of-conscience-award]

The politician and Nobel peace prize winner received the honour in 2009, when she was living under house arrest. The rights group said it was profoundly dismayed at her failure to speak out for the Rohingya minority, some 700,000 of whom have fled a military crackdown. This is the latest honour in a string of awards Ms Suu Kyi, 73, has lost. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/09/03/myanmar-time-for-aung-san-suu-kyi-to-return-at-least-some-of-her-many-human-rights-awards/]

We are profoundly dismayed that you no longer represent a symbol of hope, courage, and the undying defence of human rights,” Amnesty’s Secretary General Kumi Naidoo wrote in a letter to the Myanmar leader.

One by one, awards, fellowships and even an honorary citizenship have been revoked for a civilian leader who stubbornly denies crimes against humanity have taken place on her watch. [see e.g., https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/22/aung-san-suu-kyi-to-be-stripped-of-freedom-of-edinburgh-award]

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-46179292

Farewell message from Amnesty’s Salil Shetty

July 17, 2018

I announced Salil’s successor on 22 December [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/12/22/amnesty-announces-kumi-naidoo-as-next-secretary-general-effective-august-2018/]. The farewell message by the departing Secretary General, Salil Shetty, is worth sharing as it contains some general thoughts on the state of the human rights movement:

..

As some of you would know, after eight great years with Amnesty International, I am moving on. My time as Secretary General formally drew to a close on 8 July after the annual gathering of our global leadership in Poland. I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for your important and generous support through this period – a turbulent time in the world at large, and a crucial transformation process internally.
 
It is difficult to sum up eight years in a pithy way, but as we look back on the so-called Arab Spring, the Syrian conflict, spiralling refugee numbers, the social impact of government policies in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, and the rise of popular authoritarians in many countries, it is clear that we have lived – and continue to live – through very challenging times. The voices of those who stand up against oppression and the abuse of power are more isolated but more important than ever. And Amnesty has played a vital role in supporting these voices.
 
We have seen much fruit from the work in virtually every region of the world we have done together during this period – from the adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty to some important breakthroughs on corporate accountability, from another 10 countries abolishing the death penalty to the release of innumerable prisoners unjustly detained. We have built a new body of work on technology and human rights, ready to confront important new challenges ahead. We have also seen some crucial steps forward on women’s rights and have good reason to hope for much more progress in the coming months and years. Above all, it has been a privilege to work with so many extraordinary people from every part of the world. I will treasure the memories of so many courageous activists I have met during my time with Amnesty.
 
For me, the biggest source of hope has always been people at the local level who refuse to accept injustice. During the past eight years we have had a strong focus on building a truly global human rights movement, particularly by rebalancing the centre of gravity from our traditional strongholds in the richer countries of the world towards a more distributed centre with a much stronger voice for the global south. The growth of Amnesty’s membership in key southern powerhouses such as Brazil, India, Indonesia, Egypt and Nigeria, has been very encouraging, and gives us stronger foundations for the future.
 
……..
I am delighted to hand over to my successor, Kumi Naidoo from South Africa, who will take up the reins on 15 August. Kumi is a well-respected activist and leader in the international NGO sector, having previously led Greenpeace International and CIVICUS. …


Best,

Salil Shetty

Amnesty announces Kumi Naidoo as next Secretary General, effective August 2018

December 22, 2017

Amnesty International has appointed Kumi Naidoo as its next Secretary General. As from August 2018, Kumi will succeed Salil Shetty, who served two terms as Secretary General from 2010.

Mr Naidoo is an activist and civil society leader. His previous leadership roles include Executive Director of Greenpeace International, Chair of the Global Call for Climate Action, Founding Chair of the Global Call to Action against Poverty and Secretary General and CEO of CIVICUS, the World Alliance for Citizen Participation. [see also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kumi_Naidoo]. Mr Naidoo currently chairs three start-up organisations in his home country South Africa: Africans Rising for Justice, Peace and Dignity; the Campaign for a Just Energy Future; and the Global Climate Finance Campaign.

Mwikali Muthiani, Chair of the Board of Amnesty, said: “We are delighted to be welcoming Kumi as our new Secretary General. His vision and passion for a just and peaceful world make him an outstanding leader for our global movement, as we strengthen our resolve for a world where human rights are enjoyed by all.

Mr Naidoo himself stated: “I have been an activist and campaigner all my life, so I am excited to be joining the world’s largest people movement for human rights at a time when we need to counter increasing attacks on basic freedoms and on civil society around the globe. This means adapting to a fluid fast-changing global environment with urgency, passion and with courage. ..Amnesty International’s campaigns for justice and equality today are more urgent than ever, and I am humbled and honoured to be leading the organisation in these challenging times.

Amnesty has a global presence including offices in more than 70 countries, 2,600 staff and seven million members, volunteers and supporters worldwide.

Salil Shetty will remain in office until July 2018. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/salil-shetty/]

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2017/12/kumi-naidoo-next-amnesty-international-secretary-general/