CHANGING TIMES

Salil Shetty, Secretary General, Amnesty International

With threats to justice and dignity lying at the heart of major challenges facing humanity, the human rights landscape we work in is shifting significantly, as is the global power balance.

Reach and influence is moving away from the traditional powers in the West. The so-called BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – and other emerging powers in the South and East are increasing their political influence, while Europe and the USA wrestle with an economic crisis.

For Amnesty International to remain effective, I know that we have to respond to such change. We need to strengthen our public constituency in the global South and East and we need to stand alongside the people who are leading the struggle for human rights. We need to be closer to some of the most vulnerable and fragile communities that we represent in order to be as fast and flexible as possible in our defense of justice and freedom.

We have to adapt to this changing world and find new ways to build on the legacy created by our groundbreaking work of the past 50 years.

We are therefore transforming Amnesty International into a movement that has equal and effective representation around the world, shifting our centre of gravity to the global South and East.

This process responds to a long-held desire of our international membership to change the focus of Amnesty International’s work and will see the introduction of a new, global, way of working.

We will continue to lead our global work from a central office in London, but this will be supported by new offices in a number of major cities around the world from where we will co-ordinate our work in each region. These ‘regional hubs’ will work with our existing national offices in order to drive our human rights work in each region and around the world.

Developing this stronger presence in the global South and East will enable us to respond to changes in the world and to increase significantly the impact of our work for the rights of all people.

Of course, change is never easy – and change of this scale brings many challenges. We know that there will be questions to resolve as we move forwards. But we also know that we are a mature organization – strong enough to meet, and overcome, such challenges.

This is because we all work towards the same end goal: that everyone can live free from fear and from want, enjoying their full human rights.

We cannot rush this change and getting it right is the key to success. But at the same time, we know that we have to respond to the changes in the world we operate in; and the time to do this is now.

But if we are to succeed, some things must never change. There can be no compromise on our commitment to high-quality research, evidence and legal analysis. And the deep principles of political impartiality, independence, accuracy and international solidarity must continue to underpin everything we do.

As Amnesty International’s founder Peter Benenson declared on our 40th anniversary: "Only when the last prisoner of conscience has been freed, when the last torture chamber has been closed, when the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a reality for the world's people, will our work be done."

The idea of creating a truly global presence for Amnesty International inspires me every day, as we seek to give greater voice to the powerless, the abused and the dispossessed. We owe it to the people we work for to be the most effective force for freedom and justice that we can.

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