John EDMUNDSON: a new President for Agir Ensemble pour les Droits de l’Homme


John EDMUNDSONSince October 2012, John Edmundson has replaced André Barthélemy as head of our organization.

Who are you, John Edmundson?

JE: I am British and I started working in Southern countries in the 1960s. Before university, I spent one year in India. This is a typically British sequence. In India, I discovered the problems of what were then called “underdeveloped countries”. This experience influenced my later life choices.

I spent a large part of my professional life working for the British Council, an institution that represents Britain’s cultural and development interests overseas.

How did you get to know AEDH?

JE: After retiring in 2001, I settled in Lyon because my wife is from the Rhône area. We wished to become volunteers and started acting in favour of homeless people and asylum seekers. I then became the coordinator of the volunteers in the shelter “Train de nuit” (night train) managed by Habitat et Humanisme and Secours Catholique. I also joined COSI and Forum Réfugiés. One day, a Congolese asylum seeker asked me if I wanted to translate the news bulletin of an association I had never heard about, AEDH. I did that for 6 years. In 2006, I joined the board of the association and became the treasurer some time later.

Why did you apply for the job of president?

JE: In 2010, André Barthélémy had said he wanted to leave the Presidency of AEDH He did so in September 2012 and I was elected in October. It is a privilege. I am happy and flattered that a French association chooses a non national as President. Having a President who is a foreigner is not necessarily an advantage but not a drawback either for an organization working internationally. Until I was elected, I was a volunteer in several organizations. I said that if I was elected, I would commit myself only to our organization.

Are there any differences with André Barthélémy?

JE: What André Barthélémy has created is exceptional. I do not know of any other organization which concentrates more on sending money out in the field. This will not change. I will not change the mission of AEDH.

According to you, what are the main challenges facing AEDH at the moment ?

JE: The first challenge we have to meet is the fact our funds are diminishing every year. If it becomes too small, it will jeopardize our activity. When I submitted my candidacy for President, I said several times that it was essential to guarantee our funding, ensuring that the money came from sufficient and diversified sources. This renewal must be based on existing partnerships but also on the development of new networks. I intend to find new resources, both in France and abroad.

What are your projects for AEDH in the coming years?

JE: Our main mission has always been to grant subventions to partner associations. As a board member, I have already met several of them: in India, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Rwanda. When you spend time with these associations locally, you immediately understand the importance of what we do and why we have to go on supporting them.

Another aspect of our activity, and one that has become more and more important, is the Emergency Fund for persecuted Human Rights Defenders. As the President, I am even more aware of how important it is to address the dangers experienced daily by our colleagues out in the field. I think the danger for any organization is bureaucracy, thinking more about means than aims. We will have to balance several needs: renewing our management and organization, working with local Human Rights Defenders as well as ensuring the survival of AEDH.

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