Financial crisis hits Amnesty

THE Hongkong section of Amnesty International faces financial destitution unless cost cutting measures are made.

At a meeting on Wednesday night, members urged the executive committee to seek further funds from head office.

Members from London will visit the territory this month.

If the funding bid fails, the committee is expected to take measures to keep the organisation afloat.

The Hongkong section is running at a loss of $20,000 a month, using up proceeds from the sale of its previous office.

But original cost-cutting moves decided by its four members on the executive committee in November have provoked a bitter row with the local director, Miss Shum Yan-shan.

In November it was decided that Miss Shum's post should be terminated at the end of December, together with the office assistant's position.

It was also decided to close the present office and for the organisation to revert to using volunteers as it had done previously.

Miss Shum's post was funded by the international office under a two-year grant but the executive committee believed further funds would not be forthcoming because of the general fund-raising crisis facing Amnesty International.

Letters to London outlining the situation were not answered.

The decision made in November has since been reversed and Miss Shum is on maternity leave in Singapore until March 31.

However, Miss Shum charged in a letter to all members of Amnesty International dated December 26, that she believed the decision to terminate her position was due to her pregnancy, rather than the financial crisis.

She said it did not appear that the decision was made democratically and after thorough discussion and consultation.

In an emotional four-page letter she claimed the Hongkong section was dominated by expatriates who wanted to control the human rights section. The section's membership is two-thirds expatriate.

She said they were not interested in attracting more support from the local community.

The chairman in Hongkong, Mr Gabriel Donleavy, yesterday vowed to keep the local section's work going.

He described Miss Shum's charge that she was dismissed because she was pregnant as ''self-evidently absurd''.

''The idea of a human rights organisation that so misjudges things that it elects people to dismiss a woman for being pregnant, is inconceivable. The fact of her pregnancy was immaterial.

''It was just bad timing because of its coincidence with the impending bankruptcy.'' He said Miss Shum was well aware of the financial crisis facing Amnesty and that a decision on her future had to be taken at the November meeting.

He also rejected her charge that the organisation was dominated by expatriates.

He said although there were more expatriate members than local this was not because local members were being kept out.

Executive committee member Ms Robyn Kilpatrick believed all expatriate members considered encouraging membership growth among the Chinese community as a key priority.

''It is very difficult to promote human rights in Hongkong in the present political climate,'' she said.

Mr Donleavy said after the meeting on Wednesday members had urged that if possible, they should continue to employ a full time director.

He said while the international office would be sympathetic, the prospects for the local office would depend on its potential for recruiting people to human rights movements in China.

He said it would also depend on whether Amnesty wanted to use the Hongkong office as a research centre. At the moment only membership and recruiting is carried out.

In Hongkong, Amnesty is best known for its support for the abolition of the death penalty and its lobbying through letters against detention without trial and torture.

It also lobbied hard on behalf of the Vietnamese boat people.

A report by the international organisation on screening was the most comprehensive done to date and forced the Government to introduce a number of changes and improvements to the process.

The Hongkong section has about 400 members.

Fund-raising activities earn about $120,000 a year but monthly costs run at about $30,000.