Wednesday, August 18, 2010

An Update from our National President and National Director

In recent months there has been plenty of activity and human rights impact across the organisation. Here is an update on some key activities – including information about our priority campaigns, Annual Report launch, BAGMs, the recent Board meeting and our National Annual General Meeting.

Demand Dignity
Indigenous Rights Coordinator, Rodney Dillon and Board member, Sheena Graham joined Indigenous Rights advocates from around the world at the annual UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York in April. AI Australia submitted a paper to the Forum, documenting our concerns about the NT Emergency Response. We hosted a successful side event to discuss health and housing issues. We also publicly called for action on flawed investigations into Aboriginal deaths in custody in relation to Mr. Ward and Mr Doomadgee:
Our outreach to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples continued following successful Sydney Yabun Festival earlier in the year. AI staff and activists have since attended Indigenous events in many locations around Australia - presenting the Declaration as a powerful tool for change and reinforcing the organisation’s ongoing commitment to advancing the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. For example, we presented at the "Barunga Festival" held on 12 and 13 June in the NT and "The Dreaming Festival" held on 12 and 14 June in South Qld. On July 6th to 8th we attended the "Defending Indigenous Peoples Rights Gathering" in Alice Springs" where Denise Skiffington and Sherise Rough from the SA/NT Action Centre and Monica Morgan spoke to a large contingent of NT Rights Holders and supporters. Our presence was well received and welcomed.

Refugee and Asylum Seeker Campaign
We are very concerned about the tenor of public debate on refugee and asylum seeker issues. Before the federal election was called, in line with our impartiality and independence we placed 11 advertisements in regional and metropolitan newspapers calling on politicians to adopt a human approach towards refugees and asylum seekers.
Linking in with World Refugee Week events, we launched our research report on the plight of refugees and asylum-seekers who have reached Malaysia, where they are refused legal recognition, protection, or the right to work. Our Refugee Coordinator, Dr Graham Thom, travelled to Malaysia as part of an IS research mission and contributed heavily to the development of the report. The report generated significant media pick up across a range of media, including: ABC's AM program, The Australian, and ABC2 News Breakfast. For further information about the report please visit:
Thanks to outstanding work by Jessica Baird and Graham Thom, Channel 7's "Sunrise" program featured a long package comprising a prerecorded report on the life of Afghan refugee Chaman Shah Nasiri followed by a live in-studio interview with Graham Thom in which Graham outlined very clearly our key messages on the boat arrivals/asylum seekers issue. To view the clip please visit:

Burma (Myanmar) Campaign
Later this year, Burma will be holding local and national elections -- the first elections held since 1990 when Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) and a coalition of ethnic minority parties resoundingly won national elections but were not allowed to take power.
AI Australia has prioritised our work on Burma in the lead-up to the elections, which are expected to take place in October 2010. To maximise impact, in May AIA coordinated and funded a meeting of Asia Pacific Sections. The purpose of the meeting was to develop an integrated plan designed to apply regional pressure on the oppressive regime in Burma. Our campaign will focus on three freedoms in Burma: freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly. You’ll hear more from AI Australia on this campaign in the coming weeks. To help build our campaign we’ve launched the first stage of our Burma/Three Freedoms multilingual action site:
In a first for Amnesty International the site sends letters in 11 languages simultaneously to 9 foreign ministers (in their own language). The site has already generated over 4000 individual emails to ASEAN foreign ministers. It is also being promoted across the Asia Pacific region - with other sections and structures promoting it on their sites and through their social media networks.
There are exciting plans in place for a second stage development of the site which will allow for more interactive features. Promotion of phase two to our entire supporter base will take place in the coming weeks.
In June, AI Australia hosted a visit by Burma / Thailand Researcher Benjamin Zawacki, who spoke to media, federal politicians, activists and staff about the human rights situation in Burma.

Crisis Response Team
In addition to the work on Burma, in recent months our Crisis Response Team rapidly responded to developments in relation to the Gaza aid flotilla crisis - and the crisis situation in Kyrgyzstan - We continue to closely monitor crisis situations wherever they occur.
Podcasts of recent Crisis Briefing events on Burma and Gaza can be found here:

Amnesty International Report 2010: State of the World’s Human Rights
On 28 May, we launched the Amnesty International Report: 2010 – The State of the World’s Human Rights. Our launch reached an estimated audience of 2 million people via all forms of media. Highlights included interviews with Claire Mallinson on SKY News, SBS World News Australia and ABC2 News Breakfast. Thank you to the Media Team and our spokespeople - Claire and Andrew Beswick.
To coincide with the launch of the AI Report 2010, the Fundraising team held major donor events in Sydney and Melbourne. Fifty-three donors and influencers were briefed on the Report and our refugee and asylum seeker campaign.

Human Rights Act Campaign
The Australian Government is displaying a profound lack of courage and is completely ignoring the findings of its own extensive public consultation process by failing to implement a Human Rights Act.
Regrettably, in late April the Government has ruled out a Human Rights Act for Australia and won’t review the position until 2014. As you may know, the Government released ‘Australia’s Human Rights Framework’ which includes increased funding for human rights education, a Parliamentary Committee to compare proposed legislation with the seven core UN human rights treaties to which Australia is a party and other measures.
Amnesty International Australia publicly expressed our concern and disappointment about the actions taken by the government, and those not taken, on this important issue:
We’ve scaled back our Human Rights Act campaign and will continue to monitor the human rights protections at federal and state levels. We’ll continue to lever key opportunities to campaign for human rights protections here in Australia.

SVAW Campaign
Our global Stop Violence Against Women (SVAW) campaign formally ended on 1 April after six years. However, women’s rights remain a priority. Here in Australia we will continue to work on our existing campaigns well into this year including violence against women in Papua New Guinea, and the work on women’s rights and gender discrimination will be ongoing around the world. Our SVAW network has developed into a major asset both internationally and in Australia. The wealth of expertise on women’s rights that exists within our staff and supporters will continue to be used and enhanced.
The SVAW unit at the International Secretariat will be reborn as the Gender, Sexuality and Identity Unit. In addition, a task force has been set up to ensure that all future campaigns include women’s human rights issues, including: reproductive crimes such as abortion or adultery, where women are more likely to be prosecuted than men. The unit will also continue current and planned projects related to violence against women, including: impunity for rape in Cambodia, sexual slavery in conflict – focused on Japan, and maternal mortality and sexual and reproductive rights in Indonesia.
In Australia, we will continue to work on women’s rights within all of our campaigns, with the major focus internationally and in Australia for work on women’s rights happening through the Demand Dignity campaign.
Thanks to years of dedicated work and tireless enthusiasm from hundreds of Stop Violence Against Women activists around the country, we have achieved some really significant outcomes here in Australia. Together with our many partners in the women’s movement we have indirectly contributed to some groundbreaking changes around the world. For more information please see the latest (June / July / August) edition of Human Rights Defender Magazine.

Branch Annual General Meetings (BAGMs)
In mid-May we held successful BAGMs in each of the regions. Thank you to everyone who participated. BAGMs featured campaign updates and activist-led activities and as well as elections for Branch Committees and NAGM delegates. This year for the first time, as a result of our strengthening democracy project, each BAGM held elections for the positions of Regional Representative and Branch President.
We’re delighted to report that our Branch Presidents are: Gabe Kavanagh (NSW), David Forde (QLD), Clare Wiseman (TAS), Tony Bergen (VIC), Nathan Boyle (ACT/NNSW), Gregg Stitt (WA) and Denise Skiffington (SA/NT).
We’d like to welcome the following Regional Representatives to the Amnesty International Australia Board:
Caroline Jakeman (Tasmania), Giles Gunesekera (NSW), Kathy Richards (ACT/NNSW), Wayne Sanderson (QLD), Denise Skiffington (SA/NT), Russell Solomon (VIC), Greg Stitt (WA).
For full details of our Board members please visit:
On behalf of the Board we’d like to express our thanks and gratitude to Maree Klemm, Toni Matulick and Clare Wiseman for their tireless efforts as Branch Presidents of Queensland, ACT/NNSW and Tasmania respectively.

May Board Meeting
Some highlights:
A presentation by Russell Thirgood, member of the International Mobilisation Trust Grant Committee, who joined the meeting via video-conference, on the work of the International Mobilisation Trust and how funding applications are considered. Russell noted the importance of assisting the smaller sections, and the work of AIA in the Asia Pacific region.
The launch of Amnesty International Report 2010: State of the World’s Human Rights.
An update from the Director of Communications and Director of Campaigns on AI Australia’s "non-political" federal election positioning. It was agreed that, in line with our independence and impartiality, AI Australia would promote a non-political message about key human rights issues to all politicians. A guide to campaigning in the lead up to the election and our impartial, non-political calls on all parties can be found here:
The National Director presented a paper on AI’s plans for global integration, including long term plans for developing Centers of Excellence. During the next international Integrated Strategic Plan centers of excellence will be formed around the movement and function as hubs of expertise to help coordinate the work of Amnesty International. Examples of functional areas that might become Centers of Excellence include: campaigning, media, online, and fundraising. The Board discussed the role that AI Australia’s might play in a global integrated movement and identified areas where we might seek to become Centers of Excellence in the future.
The Director of Campaigns spoke to presentation on the Demand Dignity campaign. It was noted that the outreach program will be moving around Australia and building activist skills in the area of Declaration of Indigenous Rights.
Sheena Graham joined the meeting via Skype and spoke about her attendance at a recent meeting of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
The Director of Fundraising and Marketing presented a comprehensive paper on the role of membership in the Australian Section. This was in response to the resolution at the 2009 NEGM which asked the Board to look at mechanisms for encouraging Human Rights Defenders to become members. An update on the inspiring 500,000 people to take action project was also presented, and it was noted that the fieldworker roll-out is due to commence in the later this year (subject to successful recruitment).
The 2011 International Council Meeting agenda and AIA resolutions were discussed.
A paper from the International Secretarial on the Global Governance Taskforce was discussed.

National Annual General Meeting (NAGM)
This year, the Tasmanian Branch hosted 100 delegates, observers, members of the Board and branches at NAGM 2010. It was a highly rewarding weekend of governance, human rights and activism as well as an opportunity for people to get together and network.
We were inspired by Chaman Shah Nasiri who, as mentioned above, is a refugee from Afghanistan who now calls Australia home. He spoke of his experiences fleeing Afghanistan, being detained on Nauru, finally being granted asylum and moving to Australia. Immediately after, we took to the streets of Hobart to get people to sign our petition calling on the government to treat asylum seekers with compassion and according to law. In the evening of Day Two, five young refugees from around the globe also shared their stories in a performance called Living in Between. We were all moved by their courage, their talent and their faith in humanity. You can view a slide show of NAGM images, including photographs of Chaman by visiting:
Dr Sarah Pritchard, renowned human rights lawyer, spoke about the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and what it means for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia. Sheena Graham, former Board member, reported on her recent trip to the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York. A panel discussion featuring Robin Banks, Rodney Croome and Paula Abood on successful grassroots activism was highly engaging and furthered the theme of NAGM.
There were also a number of exciting workshops held over the weekend. For details please see the full NAGM agenda here:
At the meeting, we elected 7 members of our Board. Congratulations to: President, Nicole Bieske; Vice President, Anthony Mitchell; National Secretary, Michael Butler; and National Treasurer, Dawna Wright. Georgina Perry, Ulli Corbett and Kate Cooper were elected as ‘ordinary’ Board members. Thank you to all candidates who ran for Board positions in the NAGM election. This year we also confirmed our delegates for the next International Council Meeting in 2011.
We would like to thank outgoing members of our Board who have made outstanding contributions to our organisation and to human rights: Jim Sharp and Sheena Graham. Congratulations also to June Fassina award winner, Ray Shepherd, for his outstanding contribution to human rights activism and to Amnesty International.
Of course, NAGM would not have been possible without the hard work of the Tasmanian Branch, led by President Clare Wiseman, and Prep Com, headed up by Jim Sharp. Thank you to all attendees, volunteers and staff for an inspiring weekend!

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