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

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

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - Apologising 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 (Feb 22).

Working conditions at Amnesty were exposed in a review, launched after the suicides of two staff members last year, that found "organisational 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. "Every one 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 e-mailed 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 decentralise the organisation 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 Mr Gaetan Mootoo, a 30-year Amnesty veteran who killed himself in Paris in May 2018, leaving a note citing work pressures, and Ms Rosalind McGregor, a 28-year-old intern in Geneva who killed herself in July 2018.

Efforts by the organisation 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.