Amnesty International pledges reform after employee suicide

The charity promises action after Gaëtan Mootoo took his own life at the charity's Paris office earlier this year

Amnesty International has pledged to reform its culture and structure after an independent inquiry into the suicide of a Paris-based researcher working for the charity.

Gaëtan Mootoo, 65, was a researcher in Amnesty International’s Paris office and had worked for the charity for 32 years before he committed suicide on the night of 25 May at the charity’s offices.

In a note left by Mootoo, he mentioned his workload at the charity and said he had tried to get help, but help was "not possible".

Amnesty commissioned an independent inquiry into Mootoo’s death, which was carried out by James Laddie QC. A report on his inquiry’s findings was published yesterday

The report discusses changes introduced in 2010 to "decentralise" Amnesty, with staff told to move to countries in the "global south", which led to many experienced staff leaving the charity between 2011 and 2015.

Many staff spoken to by the inquiry said they agreed with the goals of the reforms, but felt it was done too quickly and should have been phased in over a number of years.

Mootoo was retained at the Paris office after lobbying to avoid being moved to Dakar in Senegal, but there were a number of changes in his team, including the departure of a long-serving colleague in 2014.

The report says the inquiry found "no evidence that any serious thought was given to how much support might be needed for Gaëtan in the immediate aftermath of 2014", and witnesses cited in the report said that Mootoo felt "abandoned" in Paris.

Over the years there were a number of requests from Mootoo for more administrative support, the report says.

The report concludes that there was no breach by the charity of the duty to provide a safe system of work under English law, but suggests that the charity might have been in breach of at least some applicable French legal principles.

In a statement, Kumi Naidoo, secretary general of Amnesty International, said the report "makes for a difficult read, as it brings back to memory not only the circumstances of Gaëtan’s death, but also the difficult years of organisational change, which affected many".

His statement acknowledged that the charity failed to properly take into account Mootoo’s wellbeing during some of the changes to the charity’s structure and culture over the past eight years.

Naidoo said: "It casts a shadow over some of the management practices during this period of change in Amnesty International. Staff wellbeing must be at the heart, front and centre of our leadership and management practice.

"Nobody in the organisation should feel isolated, undervalued or ignored. I would like to assure you that the international board, the senior leadership team and I will work together to ensure that the recommendations are implemented."

Naidoo said a detailed plan and timetable for implementing changes would be published by the end of the year, which would include ways in which staff could be involved in reforms to wellbeing and duty of care at the charity.

Naidoo said he was considering changes to the culture, ways of working and structure of the senior leadership team, for which he would work with an external expert and ensure that the findings in the report were taken into account.

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