Amnesty International unveils new SG

By Staff Reporter


The human rights movement needs to be bigger, bolder and more inclusive if it is to tackle the challenges that people face today, new Amnesty International Secretary General Kumi Naidoo said on Thursday.

Naidoo becomes the first South African to head the global human rights watchdog, taking over from Salil Shetty, an Indian.

“In my first message as Secretary General, I want to make clear that Amnesty International is now opening its arms wider than ever before to build a genuinely global community that stretches into all four corners of the world, especially in the global south,” he told journalists in Johannesburg.

“I want us to build a human rights movement that is more inclusive. We need to redefine what it means to be a human rights champion in 2018. An activist can come from all walks of life – a trade union, school, faith group, government or indeed business.”

Naidoo called for a break away from old ideas in order to tackle new challenges.

He said it was sad that people’s rights were still being supressed globally.

“Our world is facing complex problems that can only be tackled if we break away from old ideas that human rights are about some forms of injustice that people face, but not others. The patterns of oppression that we’re living through are interconnected,” Naidoo said.

“You cannot talk about the climate change crisis without recognising that it is also an inequality and race issue; you can’t address sexual discrimination without recognising that it is bound up in the economic exclusion of women; and you can’t ignore the fact that people’s civil and political rights are often suppressed exactly when they are trying to demand basic economic justice.” 

He said warned that the world was living through some of the most divisive times in modern history, with prominent leaders offering a nightmarish vision of society blinded by hatred and fear.

Naidoo said only if people came together under the common values could they overcome such adversity.

“I want young people to know especially that we are open to you and need you to challenge us to do better by you. It is my abiding belief that young people are not the leaders of tomorrow, but the leaders we need here and now. The Ahed Tamimis, the Elin Erssons, the Sibongile Ndashes, and every single person that has not shied away from civil disobedience or being called naïve or idealistic are the bold role models we need today,” said Naidoo.

“Now, more than ever, we need people to come together and stand up to oppressors. I invite people who care about the present and future, for people who care about their children and grandchildren, for people who take injustice personally, to join us. Amnesty International needs your voice, your participation and your presence in our movement to make human rights a reality.”

Naidoo is a Durban born life-long social justice campaigner who also fought the anti-apartheid regime in his country.

Kumi has held multiple leadership roles, but his time as Executive Director of Greenpeace International cemented his reputation as a bold activist who championed civil disobedience, most notably when he was arrested for scaling a Greenlandic oil rig to hand-deliver a petition in protest of drilling in the Arctic in 2011. 

A year later he occupied a Russian oil rig in the Barents Sea in the Russian Arctic.

 Kumi’s most recent role has been as a co-founder and interim chair of the pan-African organisation, Africans Rising for justice, peace and dignity.