We are thrilled to introduce –albeit somewhat belatedly– Salil Shetty who joined Amnesty International as its eighth Secretary General in July 2010!
Growing up in an activist family in India, Shetty moved on to lead the international anti-poverty NGO ActionAid and later became the Director of the United Nations Millennium Campaign. When he joined Amnesty International as the new Secretary General, he sat down and shared some of his thoughts about his lifelong dedication to human rights.
Q: What made you become an activist? Was there a pivotal moment in your life that motivated you?
A: Given my family background, doing anything else would have been very odd! My mother was a lawyer and very active in the women’s movement and my father is a journalist and very active in the Dalit movement. My home was a movement headquarters, a space for a lot of activists. Our phone lines were always being tapped, we had police lurking outside the house and my dad was arrested several times. It was a very tumultuous time when I was growing up in India. In 1976 a state of emergency was declared, rights were curtailed and that created an intense level of activism among journalists and students, artists and many others in the country. People who don’t know my background might think that I come from an economic, social and cultural rights background because I’ve done work on poverty, but that actually came to me much later. My entry point into this kind of work was much more to do with civil and political rights.
Q: In 2003, you were appointed Director of the U.N. Millennium Campaign, which aimed to inspire people and institutions around the world to support the Millennium Development Goals. What were your biggest challenges and achievements?
A: I believe that the work the campaign has done to catalyze people to take action collectively on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) has made a big difference. There have been some real achievements—for example, rich countries saw record increases in foreign aid between
2003 and 2008, and about 35 countries have seen debt cancellation. Not all of this can be credited to the campaign—the anti-debt movement, for example, has a long history—but cumulatively the campaign has helped. Most importantly, we have seen some very real, concrete achievements in the lives of poor people in developing countries—a big reduction in extreme poverty, increased access to water and about 40 million more kids going to school.