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Salil Shetty: 'Speaking truth to power'

The secretary general of Amnesty International says rights groups need to adapt to changing realities on the ground.

Last updated: 10 Feb 2014 18:27
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The most expensive Olympic Games in history are getting underway in Russia and has cost more than all the previous Winter Olympics combined.

Evolution and change is so critical for any organisation to remain relevant, to remain effective .... I think the change essentially is to make sure that Amnesty stands alongside human rights defenders and victims of human rights violations, stays close to them, and works alongside them.

Salil Shetty, Amnesty International

The Sochi games have been dogged by allegations of corruption in the tendering and construction process and the games have also drawn controversy over human rights issues and a law banning gay 'propaganda'.

But Russia has not been the only country put in the spotlight; Qatar has also been questioned, and the huge preparations for the World Cup in 2022 have raised many questions about the rights of workers in the country.

Among those expressing concern is Amnesty International. Now three million members strong, it was originally established in the United Kingdom in 1961 to lobby for freedom of opinion and religion, and the release of political prisoners. 

But the international organisation has morphed into a proponent for a wider definition of human rights, its supporters saying it has become a force for good.

And behind the scenes, Amnesty is going through big changes. With most of its leadership based in London, its workers have often been somewhat cut off from the field. The organisation now says it needs a new structure to make it more effective and connected to the rest of the world.

"If you look at its 52-year history, at every stage, the way it has remained the most relevant and most powerful human rights movement in the world is by adapting to the changing external realities," says Salil Shetty, the secretary general of Amnesty International.

"Evolution and change is so critical for any organisation to remain relevant, to remain effective .... I think the change essentially is to make sure that Amnesty stands alongside human rights defenders and victims of human rights violations, stays close to them, and works alongside them," he says.

So as Amnesty embarks on campaigns around the world, the man at the helm, Salil Shetty, talks to Al Jazeera about the core principles of the organisation, where its future lies, and how it picks the causes it fights for.

Talk to Al Jazeera  can be seen each week at the following times GMT: Saturday: 0430 and 1930; Sunday: 1930; Monday: 1430 .  

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