At the meeting on Monday 15th March at the Old Hall Hotel in Buxton, the group heard a talk from Anne Walker about her long-standing and considerable involvement in the work of Amnesty International (AI). Anne is also a long-standing member of the British Humanist Association and Greater Manchester Humanists. Anne gave us a very interesting and detailed talk. She started by asking us what we thought Amnesty is all about and then went on to describe its history from its beginnings in 1961 as an article in the Observer written by a UK lawyer about people who had been imprisoned because of their beliefs – who came to be called “prisoners of conscience” or PoCs. Throughout the 70s and 80s the remit of AI became wider and wider until it became so all-encompassing that it was confusing so in 2003, there was a change of mandate to simplify its aims so that it became all about human rights – promoting awareness of the larger picture and opposing specific abuses. The current mandate was adopted in 2007 and has widened the scope of the aims to become – to undertake research and action focussed on preventing and ending grave abuses of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There have been some recent controversies within the movement, including one about the campaign against the death penalty and another on a woman’s right to choose abortion. Currently AI is involved in many campaigns, it has 2.8 million members in 150 countries, 260 thousand of them in the UK and it employs 320 staff who research the abuses that are reported to it. There are 300 local groups in the UK, one of which is in Buxton and has 100 members.
Everyone stayed behind after the discussion to meet Andrew Bingham, who had come to talk with us about the questions we sent out to all the declared candidates in the forthcoming general election. The questions were sent to all 6 candidates but only 3 had replied – Conservative (Andrew), Labour (Caitlin Bisknell) and Sylvia Hall (UKIP). Andrew was the only one to offer to come to speak to the group. The questions related to
– the “religious” question in the census
– allowing schoolchildren to decide themselves if they want to opt out of collective worship and religious education
– assisted dying.
Andrew appeared to be reasonably in tune with the views of the group. He seemed to think that the issues we had raised would not be settled on a party basis but that MPs would be able to vote according to their individual conscience.
The next meeting of the group is to be held on Monday 19th April at the Old Hall. It will take the form of a book group – all are invited to read “The Book of Atheist Spirituality” by Andre Comte-Sponville before the meeting and come along to discuss it. Even if you don’t manage to get round to reading it, please come along anyway as a synopsis of the issues it raises will be given by members of the group to kick-start the discussion. If you would like to discuss another book, please bring it alone prepared to introduce it to the rest of us. It would be helpful if you would let the secretary, Marge Rose, know if you intend to do this and the title of the book.