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News > News > Dr. Pack and Amnesty International

Dr. Pack and Amnesty International

Having discovered that Dr. Pack spent 20 years working as a volunteer for Amnesty International, including chairing their international executive committee, we decided it was time to find out more!
17 Oct 2022
Written by Caroline Cheal
News
Dr. Pack addressing the 2011 International Council Meeting in the Netherlands.
Dr. Pack addressing the 2011 International Council Meeting in the Netherlands.

We are very grateful to Dr. Pack for sharing the following with us.

Volunteering with Amnesty International

For about twenty years between the early 1990s and 2011, I contributed to the global leadership of Amnesty International (AI), the largest human rights organisation in the world, having originally joined as an ordinary member when I was at Southampton University in 1979. Over the course of two decades, I held a number of different roles, first helping to start up an international trainers network in the 1990s so that our activists could be trained more effectively in key skills such as campaigning, lobbying and advocacy, fundraising, and understanding of international human rights law. I then took on roles chairing policy committees which helped AI to define its policies in complex and controversial areas such as the use of armed force to prevent human rights abuses, and on sexual and reproductive rights. I was elected to the international board in August 2007 and became its chair a few weeks later, holding this post for four years until August 2011.

All of these roles were voluntary and required considerable international travel (for which my expenses were always covered by the organisation). In the days before Zoom and even before widespread internet access, an international movement could only be held together by substantial face-to-face contact: this was particularly important in bringing together people from different cultures and with often very different outlooks on life, but united by a common commitment to the importance of strengthening human rights protection for all. Most of my work entailed meeting people, chairing debates, developing policy positions, and managing consultations across the movement. When I became the chair of the movement, the role shifted towards oversight (rather like school governors oversee the work of the headmaster and other members of the senior leadership team); I was also the person to whom the most senior staff member, the Secretary General, reported, and was ultimately responsible for signing off the accounts of an organisation that was turning over something over £40million annually.

The best parts of the job were undoubtedly the times when AI made, or contributed towards, significant progress in human rights, either by getting international standards improved, or by helping to support campaigners for change in a particular country, or by directly helping victims of human rights abuses. The most difficult times were when AI staff were themselves put at risk by governments that showed no respect for the most basic rights of anyone at all.

My main learning from my time in AI’s leadership was definitely that there are a remarkable number of incredibly brave and principled people in this world who are willing to make extraordinary sacrifices to improve it for everyone. I always thought I had an easy job because I could depart from any meeting knowing that I was returning to a safe home in a safe country, whereas AI’s bravest activists in so many countries had no such guarantees – they came from and returned to situations in which they were often at risk of ill-treatment, arrest, or worse.

For me personally, the most difficult meeting I attended was AI’s International Council in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, in 2001. Very many of us became ill with various tropical ailments that lasted for the whole 10 days or so of the meeting. This was both uncomfortable and had a rather limiting effect on the work we could actually do together. There was a considerable sense of relief when we finally boarded our Air France return flight, knowing that suitable healthcare would soon be available back home.

The existence of AI and similar organisations is indispensable to giving all of those brave people a voice, and in multiplying their efforts through collective action. I am very grateful that for several years the Haberdashers were willing to give me considerable flexibility in school responsibilities to allow me to contribute to AI, and I very much hope that students currently at the school will also, in due course, find ways in which they can make their own contributions to the grand project on human emancipation in ways that are big or small, short-term or long-term, but always worthwhile.

Dr. Pack

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