Farewell Salil, Welcome Kumi and Welcome Back Salil

Aakar Patel, Amnesty International India
4 August 2018 11:09 am

Featured image: Salil Shetty at the defunct Union Carbide pesticide factory on November 30, 2014, in Bhopal, India.

Salil Shetty, who was Secretary General of Amnesty International for eight years, stepped down on 8 July 2018, and has been succeeded by former Director of Greenpeace Kumi Naidoo. Salil was the first Indian citizen to hold the position, and in one crucial way his eight years working from the office in London, were the most important for the organisation and its future. 


Salil Shetty marking the 30th anniversary of the Bhopal Disaster
Salil Shetty marking the 30th anniversary of the Bhopal Disaster

It is in these eight years, that Amnesty International executed a strategy called the Global Transition Programme, through which it sought to move closer to the ground. Amnesty International was originally conceived in the Cold War era as a body of researchers, advocates and campaigners based primarily out of London. Founded in 1961, it quickly developed  significant presence in European nations and in the global north. It was able to attract large numbers of individuals as members and supporters. These individuals took action that helped change the world in many ways.

Amnesty was and is run as a democratic organisation with members voting in elected boards that appoint the executives. In every way it was a global movement, meaning a group of people around the world working together to advance their shared beliefs about human rights. And it is in recognition of this that it received the Nobel Peace prize in 1977.

However, in terms of ground presence there was much to be done outside of Europe and the global north. This strategic shift happened in Salil’s time. 

New national offices were set up in India, Brazil, Nigeria, Indonesia, South Africa and Kenya six years ago. The human rights work done on these countries, which was done by researchers and campaigners out of London, would now be done from inside the countries themselves.

Amnesty India is today one of the largest human rights entities anywhere in the world. It counts over 40 lakh people as its supporters over the last six years. 100,000 people have funded it. The issues that it works on for those in India are among the most vital human rights issues that our country must deal with. I am very proud of belonging to this very Indian organisation that has a global outlook.

It is the Global Transition Programme that made this possible. There are many things that Salil can be proud of having achieved in his eight years, and this is the time which saw Amnesty International at its best. But as it moves on to the next phase of its development with Kumi, it will be from the base that Salil set up. This transition to becoming a truly global organisation is his legacy.

Kumi Naidoo
Kumi Naidoo, The New Secretary General

Salil was uniquely qualified to steer the change in many ways. He studied among other places at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, where he got an MBA, and then later he also studied at the London School of Economics.

Salil is a Bangalorean (as I am) and it is with great delight that we anticipate his return to India after a terrific tenure.