Amnesty issues public apology over golden handshakes

Letter from human rights organisation says it wants to win back the trust of members after large payoffs to former general secretary Irene Khan and her deputy

Amnesty International
Amnesty International

Amnesty International has apologised in public for the "anger and puzzlement" caused by outgoing secretary general Irene Khan’s £533,000 golden handshake.

The organisation made payments totalling about £850,000 to Khan and her deputy Kate Gilmore when they left in 2009, its accounts showed.

Since news of the payments broke, Peter Pack, chair of the organisation’s international executive committee, has written to all Amnesty members to "apologise unreservedly for the considerable upset this decision has caused" and setting out details of the severance agreements reached with the two women.

The letter, published on the Amnesty website, says the severance payments made to Khan included a year’s salary, bonuses and back pay, and a £192,000 "termination-related payment".

Pack’s letter says Amnesty International had decided not to renew Khan’s contract when it came to an end on December 31 2009 after she had been in post for seven years. It had been left with the choice of sacking her or "reaching a confidential agreement" about her departure, it says. 

Pack says that the board decided on the latter course in order to avoid a lawsuit and "enormous damage to the operations and reputation of Amnesty International".

Pack’s committee decided to tell the full story after extensive news coverage was generated when the payments appeared in the organisation’s annual accounts.

Pack said the decision to go public was intended to "demonstrate Amnesty International’s commitment to transparency and accountability, and to win back the trust of all those whose support we rely upon".

He said the organisation would "almost certainly" not enter into confidential agreements in the future and would have a stronger performance review system for the new secretary general, Salil Shetty.

In total, Khan received a year’s salary, plus a £59,000 backdated salary increase, a further £59,000 in back pay, £20,000 in previously unclaimed bonuses and a £192,000 "termination-related payment".

It also paid £325,000 to Kate Gilmore, her deputy, who left at the same time, including a £60,000 termination payment.

Amnesty International is not a charity, but has a charitable arm called Amnesty International Charity Ltd. Both are UK-based organisations, but separate from Amnesty International UK.

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