On Monday 30th January we informally interviewed Alice Podd, Alice is the South West Regional Manager for Amnesty International.
The interview was structured and informal. We had organised a set of questions to ask Alice beforehand. However, we wanted to maintain the flow of speech and ideas via form of follow-on questions and comments.
The interview was recorded, Alice was informed and agreed to consent. We also ensured that she knew that we are not literally working with Amnesty and do not promise to have any technology for Amnesty to exhibit or use in the future.
After a few minutes of getting to know each other, Alice was happy to start the interview.
This is what we acquired:
How does Amnesty International work?
Amnesty International are mainly a lobbyist group, we send small teams of researchers out into crisis areas where they document and interview exactly what is going on – We spend about 40% of our budget on research.
With the research that takes place, it then goes through a really vigorous fact-checking process, once this is done we write up a very thorough report. We can then use this report to:
- Lobby up against governments
- Change laws
- Free a prisoners of conscience
- Document political killings
- Document enforced disappearances around the world
- Document genocide
- Any sort of human rights abuses….
How important is it for Amnesty International to get this knowledge known by the general public?
It is extremely important because it is the basis of what we do. Amnesty is a people power movement, with 7.5 million people around the world, and we use these members to be able to put pressure on those with influence. To be able to give long term solutions, so not only do we go with factually correct problems which are very well documented, but we also give long term solutions of what we want to be done with that problem, and how we want governments to act.
What are the current objectives today of Amnesty International?
Save The Human Rights Act – UK
At the moment there is a huge amount of crisis’ or human rights abuses going on around the world. One of our big, big campaigns here in the UK is trying to save the human rights act. We are massively lobbying against the current government to release what they want to put forward as a British Bill, and to ensure that the human rights of everyday people are included into that.
Campaign Against Hate Crime After Brexit
We also launched a massive campaign against hate crime, which is focusing on all of the hate crimes that came up after Brexit.
In America right now Trump has just got in, it is all going a bit mental. He has already put huge amounts of human rights abuses into place. Whether it be him saying that he wants to deport immigrants, whether it be the ban he has put on certain Muslim countries coming into America – which goes completely against the Geneva Convention.
Particularly we are focusing on the cuts that he has made to abortions and the funding that goes towards that within America and then across the world as well, and obviously have a massive campaign, My Body My Rights. He has also said that he wants to bring back torture. Amnesty got 161 countries around the world to sign to say that they were no longer going to use torture in their prisons as a way of gaining confessions. For Trump to go out and say this, it is a very, very big worry for us. So, that is a huge campaign for us right now. We will be lobbying very much against the UN and against Trump for this and obviously everything that is going on in Syria right now, huge amounts of researchers on the ground, documenting the bombings.
Would you say that the Trump situation is Amnesty’s main campaign at the moment?
Right now, it is definitely what is on our main website, because it is so current and so much in the media. It is not to say that we will be putting more focus into that than other issues that we are looking at right now. Amnesty focuses in 150 countries around the world, looking at all sorts of horrible things that are going on, we also campaign to free prisoners of conscience that are unjustly imprisoned for speaking up against their government’s political views, religious views, and maybe being gay.
Freed Prisoners Of Conscience
Since Amnesty International started in 1961 we have actually freed over 55,000 prisoners of conscience – Which is amazing. Last year we managed to free 650 people. So there are a lot of things going on, it is quite hard to just pinpoint one specific thing. However, I think Trump right now is very current to us.
Arms Trade Treaty
We got the Arms Trade Treaty signed in October 2014, which is basically to just to try and control a completely out of control Arms Trade. We fort for 20 years for that, so there are lots of different policies that we can put in place, trade agreements, or agreements that help us to do what we need to do.
What would you say are your biggest challenges as an organisation?
I think there are a lot of challenges that come up against us, very often, although we have the reports, lobbying can be a really, really long process. So things don’t happen overnight for Amnesty, some of the prisoners of conscience that we have been trying to get released, I mean the last person, a very, very famous person that we got released at the beginning of this year was in prison for 45 years in solitary confinement. So we are tenacious, and we keep on going, but things don’t always happen overnight. So it can be a long draw, and for some of the people that we are fighting for, it can be 5 years, it could be 10 years, it could be 20 years, we don’t stop fighting. We absolutely do not loose faith.
I think another big challenge for us at the moment is the racial discrimination that is coming around, which is actually perpetuated by the media as well, so making sure that we are challenging against that and stopping the hate crimes that are going on. Trump would be a really big challenge for us at the moment because he is dividing a nation, riding a government, and influencing people.
There are a lot of issues that we come up against; when we are pushing up against an Arms Trade, there is a lot of money involved. There are a lot of things we come up against, but we are really tenacious in the way that we do it, so when we start a project and set out to do something, we don’t stop until we feel like we have completed it, or helped the people within that circumstance. Power to the people.
So we are designing an interactive technology that will support you in some way, what technologies have you previous utilised to gain awareness, or to help the people that you are trying to help?
The Panic Button
We use a lot of different technologies, particularly in the last 10 years it has been amazing. We made an app about 5/6 years ago called ‘The Panic Button‘, so when there is a human rights activist on the ground who feels like they are in trouble they simply press an app on their phone, which automatically encrypts all of the data on their phone, sends out a message to three of their most trusted colleagues/friends/family etc. and automatically sends a trigger to the Amnesty International headquarters in the country that they are in, and then we can GPS track the phone. As the phone has encrypted data on it, if they are going to be arrested, taken to a warehouse, taken to a prison, taken to the middle of the woods, we can find them, we know exactly where they are at all times. So that can really help to save lives, it means that we can instantly start to bombard the government; if we can see they are on their way to a prison we can start to bombard the prison with our Urgent Action Network. Which has got 165,000 people around the world all plugged in, so we can automatically trigger that. Sometimes the emails, faxes have started coming into the prison before the person even gets there. Which saves lives, because no one is going to want to torture someone or rope someone, if 165,000 people from around the world are suddenly contacting them and bombarding them.
We use satellite images, the first time that we used this was for North Korea and we were pretty confident that the North Korean government were using prison camps. Which they were consistently denying, we hired out a satellite and flew it over North Korea and were very easily able to detect the use of prison camps, slapped it onto the North Korean Embassy and they were like “oww those prison camps, yeah, yeah we totally have those”.
We recently launched this out to the public in Sudan, there are a huge amount of issues within that nation right now, and the government have been using chemical weapons against their own people. Sudan is a massive country and our crisis team couldn’t quite scout over all of it via the satellite images, so we opened it up to the public, where they could become analytical decoders, a lot of volunteers, including myself were involved in scanning over the satellite images to look for damage villages or evidence of attacks, so that was really great.
The Street Team won an innovations award because we used virtual reality headsets, our crisis team basically put themselves in loads of danger filming and videoing areas of Syria and the Lepo which had been bombed. People could put them on, plug them into an app on a phone and they could actually see the destruction that had gone on within the Lepo. A huge amount of awareness was raised by this campaign, it was extremely effective, and a great fundraising tool also.
Have Amnesty done anything more art and design based?
Street Demo, Graveyard – Trafalgar Square
Amnesty not necessarily interactively, we use a lot of imagery and we like to use street demos as a way of getting our message across. We have had some really effective campaigns when we were trying to get the Arms Trade Treaty signed, where we turned the whole of Trafalgar Square into a graveyard to represent that someone dies every 60 seconds as a result of the completely out of control Arms Trade.
Street Demo, Bodybags – Brighton Beach
We also did something really effective in Brighton, it was 2 summers ago now, and at one point Italy was the only European Nation to have any search and rescues operations operating in the Mediterranean Sea. British government pushed Italy to take them out, saying that refugees wouldn’t take the risk of crossing the Mediterranean Sea if there weren’t any search and rescue boats. 800 people died in a week and a half, so we laid out hundreds of body bags out on Brighton beach and activist got inside and stayed in their all day. It got so much media attention, we were able to demand to the EU that every European Nation has to have a search and rescue operation.
Is there anyone we could contact regarding the street demos?
I could definitely link you up with some people.