End of a personal era: Reflections on 16 years of Amnesty activism

For 16 years, I have been an Amnesty International member. I joined Amnesty in early 2003 as the Iraq War drew near, thinking that there would be significant human rights abuses committed, but also because of growing concern around the War on Terror.

During those 16 years Amnesty International New Zealand have done almost much for me as I have done for them. They have given me a plethora of skills from their numerous workshops and a Leadership Course that I was able to participate in early on. My public speaking, my knowledge of procedure such as being in a chairing/co-ordinating role all stemmed from that. And in return I have been able to return that support with solid activism, vastly improved knowledge of human rights as an issue.

I have seen much change at Amnesty in that time. When I first joined a young lady from Sri Lanka who fled the country with her parents was on the International Executive Council. New Zealand Annual Meetings were two day affairs that could fill a hall. Its work in addressing cases such as – but not limited to – the Abu Ghraib prison abuses, the continuing attack on journalists and human rights activists in Russia and China’s increasingly dystopian view of dissent and dissidents. I remember the division in the organization following the 2006 decision to support abortion and the near complete absence of church based Amnesty groups as a result.

I have after 16 years come to the conclusion that it is time to step down from being a front line member. It is time for someone else to take my place along side my very able fellow activists, some of whom have become good friends. At this stage I do not envisage being gone forever, but I have no activist plans for 2020 whatsoever.

Over the last year and in particular the last few months, I have noted a drift from the human rights activism of Amnesty. It had been dealing with a plethora of issues from dystopian China’s rounding up of Muslims in Xinjiang to ending hate; from on going efforts to end the death penalty to stopping. In the last few months, climate change activism has been creeping in, which I have found unsettling. Whilst not denying we have a problem, I honestly do not believe this is a job for Amnesty.

I hope that Amnesty takes a look at itself and sees that the mandate it has, was not made for climate change activism. I have been told quite clearly by Amnesty New Zealand staff that it falls well within the mandate. But they miss the thrust of my argument, which is there are plenty of other organizations out there who are better structured and resourced to make a more tangible difference than Amnesty. I am told in gold faith it still will, yet one could not help but note that Greta Thunberg has been made an Ambassador of Conscience for climate change activism. Nor, if you follow social media such as Facebook, can you fail to notice the increasing presence of Amnesty members at climate rallies, and not going as themselves which they might have been asked to do in a past time, but as Amnesty members. I think the time might be running out for the larger membership to be formally asked what it thinks should happen on the subject of climate change activism.

I am not the only one in my group having second thoughts about Amnesty. Across the country I am sure that there are numerous groups which are having or have had honest discussions with their members about whether they think Amnesty has exceeded the mandate. If they have not, I hope that they do or 2020 might roll around with the new activism starting minus a few members that were understood to be on board.


1 thought on “End of a personal era: Reflections on 16 years of Amnesty activism

  1. I always equated Amnesty Int’l with human rights – particularly the rights of political prisoners. I suppose climate change affects human rights, but like you said, there are other organisations better equipped to focus on that issue.


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