Diary of a high-level mission: the Secretary General visits Spain

By Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General

There are many elements to my role as Secretary General of Amnesty International and a vital one is to meet with senior public figures around the world.

So from the UN’s Ban Ki-moon to government ministers around the world – my trips overseas are often about pushing a human rights issue at a high level.

This week I’m in Spain and it’s a privilege in this job to be able on the one hand to talk to a victim of a human rights violation during the Franco era, then move on to raise that very issue with the people now in charge.

Because Spain has a new government – elected at the tail end of last year – and we in Amnesty International want them to make some concrete promises.

Every country has its human rights issues – recently in Egypt I raised concerns about the forced “virginity tests” on women detained during demonstrations. On the same trip I visited the inhabitants of a Cairo slum under threat of forced eviction.

In 2010, I met with gay rights activist David Kato in Kampala – he talked eloquently to me about the dangers LGBTI people faced in Uganda. Just a few short weeks later we heard the shocking news he had been murdered.

In Madrid, I’ve got a busy agenda. To give you a snapshot: there’s the issue of truth, justice and reparations for crimes committed during the civil war – particularly urgent now that Judge Baltasar Garzón’s investigation has been stopped.

There’s the situation in the Basque country – gross human rights abuses committed by the separatist group Eta which, before it announced a cessation of violence, was responsible for more than 800 deaths. There’s the issue of torture by security forces.

There’s racism and migrants’ rights; the impact of the economic crisis on labour laws, housing, health.

I also want to remind the Spanish authorities of their capacity to promote human rights globally.

They have a role in the implementation of human rights agendas in the Middle East and North Africa.

Spain also has historic ties which mean it can seek to influence on human rights issues in parts of Latin America, in Equatorial Guinea and in Western Sahara/Morocco.

Then there’s the arms trade. Amnesty International has spent a decade working towards a moment later this year where we could see a massive breakthrough in controlling the sale of weapons. A treaty is by no means a done deal and we want to keep the pressure on right up to the signing in New York in July.

Correction: This blog erroneously stated that Salil Shetty met with the head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). This was incorrect; on a high-level mission to Egypt in June 2011 the Secretary General met with victims of human rights abuses, Egyptian ministers and a member of the SCAF, among others, but he did not meet SCAF leader Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi.