Wednesday, 24 December 2014
Amnesty International Director Kate Allen is, for once, getting what she wants for Christmas. For 20 years she and her colleagues have been determinedly campaigning and lobbying for a Global Arms Trade Treaty, which became a reality this April when the UN General Assembly voted to adopt it. By September it had been ratified by over 50 countries, the magic number needed to trigger the 90-day countdown to entry into force. It becomes enshrined in international law today, on Christmas Eve.
The Arms Trade Treaty is an important link in preventing the highly lucrative arms industry from fuelling atrocities around the world. Each state that signs up to it is required to enshrine new principles into its national laws to stop the flow of weapons, munitions and related items to countries where it is known they would be used to commit or facilitate genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes or other serious violations of human rights.
“This campaign is a very good example of how Amnesty works” Kate tells me. “Whilst it’s true that some of our campaigns can have an impact quite quickly, a big proportion of our work is about recognising that big change can take many, many years. This is what I call the Magic of Amnesty. It’s incredible to think that what began as a conversation between colleagues twenty years ago (“Wouldn’t it be nice if there were some kind of control on how arms are exported around the world”) has today become enshrined in international law. It shows how Amnesty will just keep going until it gets a result. With this campaign we were totally relentless! I call it the Magic of Amnesty because it is so important people know that we can make change. Often people who care about the sorts of things we care about can feel quite overwhelmed and helpless. There’s so much injustice around the world and people often feel nothing they could possibly do would ever make a difference. Amnesty provides somewhere for them to go, to take action, knowing our campaigns are well thought through, properly researched and can absolutely make change. You can be confident that Amnesty knows what a particular campaign should look like, where the pressure needs to be placed.”
In the last days running up to its coming into force there was a flurry of countries rushing to sign up / ratify, including Andorra, Israel, Zimbabwe and Lithuania. South Africa is expected to follow suit any day. And Kate insists this is not the end of the story: “Amnesty will continue to monitor progress closely, keeping a watchful eye on individual states to see how they are enforcing these principles, as well as putting pressure on more countries to sign up” she asserts.
I was keen to know what next for Kate and for Amnesty. “This month sees our Global Write for Rights Campaign. This is a concerted piece of action that runs in December each year. In 2013 activists in this campaign undertook 2.4 million actions in 140 countries and resulting in the release of a number of political prisoners. Again, evidence that Amnesty campaigns, and the collective power they mobilise, make very real change for people.
“Of course just at the moment we are also busy with our campaign to get to the bottom of the British Government's role following the recent report on the CIA’s use of torture and rendition in the past decade or more. A truly independent judicial inquiry is essential.
“And we are currently working on a great piece of work developing at EU level really practical guidelines for human rights defenders in Afghanistan, so that these brave people are able to access support and assistance from EU missions once the international forces have departed.
“And an ongoing project is about making Amnesty a truly global organisation,” she continues. Amnesty has its roots firmly in the UK: it was founded in 1961 by a British lawyer, Peter Benenson, whose initial focus was the plight of two Portuguese students imprisoned for their political beliefs. His well-placed Guardian article calling for “something to be done” launched a worldwide campaign that secured their freedom … and the idea of Amnesty was born. (It is this, Amnesty’s dual emphasis on enforcing the rule of law combined with clever use of media, that speaks so directly to Kysen’s heart.) “Like any organisation born in the global north, over time we’ve become far less UK- and London-centric. We’re becoming a global organisation, with new action centres in the Americas, Africa, Asia as well as Europe. As membership has grown to significant numbers, there’s real progress in the work we are able to do from those bases. It makes people in those regions feel so much more connected. And our International Secretariat, originally London-based, is now dispersed across offices in Nairobi, Dakar, Johannesburg and others. We recently opened in Hong Kong and we are about to open in Mexico City. Today we have seven million members, supporters and activists in 160 countries (500,000 of which are in the UK).
“There’s so much more to do!” she says. This could be Kate’s mantra. It’s been a stellar year for Amnesty this year, the Arms Trade Treaty coming into force on Christmas Eve most definitely being the best present Kate could have wished for. I for one hope that Amnesty gets everything it is wishing for in 2015. The world would be so much better place for it, that’s for sure.
Click here to find out more about Amnesty's campaigns or how to get involved.
Who'd have known it's such a hazardous time of year! There are legal pitfalls everywhere! We all know the employment law minefield that is the modern day work Christmas party. But have you thought about the personal injury risks over the festivities? Not to mention the risks of falling foul of copyright. And I haven't even started on the seasonal perils for retailers.
Yes, you've guessed it: we've been having fun teasing out Yule-tide topics for our lawyer friends to comment on. The Evening Standard did us proud this year, running a series of three. The first have appeared already: a warning not to ignore copyright laws in even the most amateur of pantomime shows (Legal action waits in the wings for panto teams that catch frozen fever); and another on who's responsible when online Christmas shoppers are cyber-hacked. You'll have to buy your Standard on Friday to see the next one. We do love this time of year... but be careful!
Join us in playing a Christmas quiz game today! Well, it is the last day of term. The partnership lawyers at Aaron & Partners have created a Christmas Competition by re-writing 10 well known marketing slogans in legalese and challenging contestants to decipher them. You need to articulate the original straplines and name companies for a chance to win a prize. We love it! Here's your starter for 10:
"We are given to understand that all such amounts however small as are in the contemplation of the parties at the date of this advertisement or other similar promotional message may but are not guaranteed to be of use to the customer."
Can you guess? There's more here. You need to submit your answers to Aaron & Partners by 5 January 2015 to be in the game. We'll be tweeting our progress today (but no spoilers!). Good luck everybody! Merry Christmas!