Accused of bullying staff, top brass at Amnesty International offer to quit

by Ellen Wulfhorst | @EJWulfhorst | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Saturday, 23 February 2019 00:27 GMT

The logo of Amnesty International is seen next to director of Mujeres En Linea Luisa Kislinger, during a news conference to announce the results of an investigation into humans rights abuses committed in Venezuela during protests against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela February 20, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Jass

Image Caption and Rights Information
Review cites 'disconcerting' number of incidences of bullying, racism and sexism and multiple cases of managers belittling and publicly humiliating staff

By Ellen Wulfhorst

NEW YORK, Feb 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Apologizing for a workplace climate of bullying, harassment and public humiliation, top officials at the influential rights group Amnesty International offered to resign in a letter made public on Friday.

Working conditions at Amnesty were exposed in a review, launched after the suicides of two staff members last year, that found "organizational culture and management failures" were the root cause of deep staff unhappiness.

The poor management compounded job pressures for the Amnesty staff of about 2,500 who routinely work on cases of detentions, disappearances, killings, torture and other human rights abuses around the world, an external review found.

Amnesty's senior leadership team members wrote in their letter that they "take shared responsibility for the climate of tension and mistrust."

"Whilst it was never our intention to inflict pain on anyone, we must accept that this did unfortunately occur," they said in the letter dated Feb. 21, 2019.

"Everyone of us is ready to step aside."

The head of Amnesty, Secretary-General Kumi Naidoo, said he may not accept all the resignation offers but that his priority is to rebuild trust.

"These are dangerous times, and Amnesty is needed now more than ever," he wrote in an emailed statement on Friday.

The scathing 56-page external review cited a "disconcerting" number of incidences of bullying, racism and sexism and multiple cases of managers belittling and publicly humiliating staff and making "demeaning, menacing", profanity-filled comments.

Poor handling of an effort to decentralize the organization from its London base and put staff in high-risk regions put workers' lives in unnecessary turmoil, the review, revealed late last month, said.

Triggering the review were the deaths of Gaetan Mootoo, a 30-year Amnesty veteran who killed himself in Paris in May 2018, leaving a note citing work pressures, and Rosalind McGregor, a 28-year-old intern in Geneva who killed herself in July 2018.

Efforts by the organization to address its problems have been "ad hoc, reactive, and inconsistent," the report said, and the senior leadership team was described by staff as out-of-touch, incompetent and callous.

The leadership team members signing the letter were the senior directors of research, the secretary-general's office, global fundraising, global operations, people and services, law and policy and campaigns and communications.

(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Jason Fields

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.