Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Kate Allen

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, IsraelZimbabwe 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!

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Bianca Jagger

Bianca Jagger made an unforgettable impression at the launch reception for Amnesty's Circle of Conscience. And surprisingly, not because of her star-studded jet-setting past as a 70s actress & model, former Studio 54 regular (counting Andy Warhol and Truman Capote among her many A-list friends).  Nor for being Mick Jagger's first wife. Not even because as a great-grandmother (her daughter Jade became a grandmother this May) this award-winning social and human rights activist is still a stunningly beautiful woman. No. What demanded everybody's attention far more at this launch event in Kensington's Bulgari Hotel... what in fact brought an entire room full of Amnesty supporters to a humbled silence ... was Bianca's explanation of where her campaigning heart comes from, in her speech as the Circle's new Patron:  "My passion for activism didn't come from books, or reading about the wrongs of the world, but from my own personal experience"

Bianca shared with us how she grew up under a corrupt and oppressive regime in Nicaragua in the 1960s.  She left in 1970 with a scholarship to study political science at the Paris Institute of Political Studies.  But in 1972 she returned, to look for her parents after the devastating earthquake which destroyed the capital Managua, claimed 10,000 lives and rendered many more numbers homeless. In 1979 she returned again, this time with the International Red Cross, and was shocked to see how the country had devolved in the intervening years.  "I was horrified to see how the corrupt Somoza regime had taken advantage of the natural disaster and exploited the people of Nicaragua instead of helping them, profiting obscenely from the tragedy.  It inspired me to fight for those suffering from discrimination, injustice and violence.  In the years that have followed, I have visited individuals and communities across the world, from central America, across Europe to South Asia, visiting refugee camps, war zones, remote rainforests, and prisoners on death row.  By witnessing injustice and the denial of human rights first hand, I have become even more determined to use my knowledge, skills, influence and time to become a force for change and a voice for the most vulnerable."

In public Bianca has spoken often about her personal epiphany: in 1981 she was stationed at a UN refugee camp in Honduras, part of a visiting US congressional delegation. At one point in the official visit she and her colleagues witnessed 40 captured refugees being marched off at gunpoint by a death squad. Horrified, Bianca and her co-workers followed the group to see where they were being taken, realising summary executions were about to take place. Armed only with cameras (so at least they could document the raid) Bianca and her team took brave action: once within earshot of the death squad they shouted "You will have to kill us all!"  This stopped the squad in its tracks and forced a reappraisal of the situation: the prisoners were released. In many interviews since, Bianca has pinpointed this as a turning point in her life as she realised positive action can absolutely make a difference.

In private, at the Amnesty Circle of Conscience reception the Kysen team attended, Bianca let us in on another turning point in her life: "after campaigning tirelessly for one particular death row prisoner we came to a very harrowing end of the road when we realised there would be no reprieve and all appeals routes had been exhausted. On a very emotional day we were finally informed of the date for his execution. Not long after, I was stunned to receive a request from the prisoner that I personally attend the execution. I wasn't expecting that. But of course I had to go. I will spare you the details of what it was like, seeing a man you believe to be innocent being put to death by the authorities, right in front of your eyes. You can imagine for yourselves the profound effect it had on me." So when she says her heart for social and human rights action comes from experience rather than books, you can absolutely trust what she says.

"I have always believed in the power of ordinary people to change the world if they work together and I am so proud to be part of the global movement of more than 7 million people brought together by Amnesty International who are actively campaigning for a world where human rights are enjoyed by all...  but we need to do more!  With greater help and support, from more people, we can focus on increasing the impact that Amnesty can make helping people to fight for their human rights and live in dignity." 

Well, that's a Call to Action if ever I heard one!

You will find links here about Amnesty's new Circle of Conscience and other aspects of the charity's work. You can click here for information on the Bianca Jagger Foundation.  Do you feel inspired to get more involved? I know I do!
We always look forward to reading Edward Fennell's diary column in Times Law and last week's was particularly classic: I just loved the story of UKIP's Christmas card catastrophe, using a cartoonist's work without their permission. Pilsbury's Paul Harris observes drily in the column that "clearly, the IP in UKIP does not stand for intellectual property". Quite. He continues: "Now it's just a matter of destroying the cards. Pulp fiction, perhaps?" When it comes to UKIP (and please do excuse me, I usually try to avoid party politics) I couldn't agree more!

Take advantage of this Friday's Christmas Jumper Day to clothe yourself in the Christmas Spirit. It's time we all got into the the festive mood. On 12 December Save the Children is encouraging us all to "make the world better with a sweater" (love it!) wearing our woollies to work and donating £2 to the charity.

And if you're worried a Christmas sweater could cause offence in the workplace considering we are all of so many different cultural and religious persuasions, here's the solution: the mixed-faith pullover "for those wanting to celebrate the festive season as the multicultural nation we are." As the Independent on Sunday put it: Oh come all ye multi-faithful! Perfect!!