Amnesty chief steps down early amid claims it has failed to adequately tackle institutional racism

Kate Allen said in March that she intended to retire in September after more than 20 years in the role

Kate Allen
Kate Allen

The chief executive of Amnesty International UK has stepped down four months early amid ongoing concerns its leadership is not doing enough to tackle institutional racism.

Katie Allen announced in March that she would leave in September after more than 20 years in the role, but – along with other senior leaders – has since faced calls to step down from former staff members and Unite the union following reports of overt racism at the human rights organisation's international secretariat.

Sacha Deshmukh has been announced as AIUK’s interim chief executive and will lead the charity until at least January next year while it searches for a permanent successor.

Deshmukh was previously executive director of Unicef UK, but resigned after less than six months in the role having made claims of bullying behaviour against the charity’s then-chair, Douglas Alexander.

An independent inquiry subsequently rejected the claims against Alexander.

Deshmukh said today: “I want to create an inclusive and rights-respecting culture which allows the brilliant people who work and volunteer for Amnesty to thrive.”

But two former staff members, who had previously spoken to Third Sector, have accused senior leaders of ignoring the reports of racism at the organisation after sharing what appeared to be an internal email from AIUK’s board to all of its staff.

The email reveals AIUK plans to make a number of changes to its senior management team, including splitting its director of corporate services role into two positions to include a director of people and culture.

It will also recruit for a new role, director of investments.

The email also promises “concrete actions in the coming weeks” to ensure the organisation is more inclusive and equitable going forward.

But former advocacy officer Kieran Aldred said on Twitter: “I have been informed that internally the @AmnestyUK directors are simply not speaking about race or racism, despite the union and staff raising the issue consistently. A deafening, irresponsible silence that only continues to prove how incapable they are of addressing #racism.”

Zainab Asunramu, an ex-trusts and corporate fundraising co-ordinator, added: “On this point I salute my ex-colleagues who took a stand, left the meeting and refused to take part in the wider staff and volunteer meeting. That leadership thinks it’s acceptable to ignore what’s happened is insulting.”

AIUK declined to confirm the authenticity of the email or the claims of staff walking out.

Two former AIUK board members also wrote to the charity’s leadership following the revelations at the end of last month and accused its leaders of “insufficient action” and failing to investigate evidence of a toxic culture.

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