Official impeachment proceedings against the President of the Oxford Union are being launched this morning over the treatment of Ebenezer Azamati, a blind postgraduate student, in a case which has received widespread national attention and condemnation from MPs.
Last night, the Union’s Director of Press, Chief of Staff and two members of the Standing Committee and Secretary’s Committee, the Union’s governing body, announced their resignations in protest at Mr Azamati’s treatment.
Standing Committee member Jeremy Mbararia issued a statement of resignation, telling Mr McGrath: “Every action that you have taken in responding to the incident, from bringing a disciplinary action against Ebenezer, to failing to issue an unconditional apology until being pressured to do so, has showed me that you are unable to put aside your political ambition for basic decency.
“I entered the Committee thinking that perhaps the warnings were not entirely true. I feel that not only as a fellow person of colour and African, but as an individual with a sense of morality, I can no longer remain within an institution such as this, so long as you remain in office… I cannot and will not serve such a President. I stand with Ebenezer.”
Secretary’s Committee member, Simon van Teutem, also addressed Mr McGrath in a public statement: “I wish that you were able to take a step back from your personal interests and consider the impact that this has had on Mr Azamati. This is more than the political games you have grown accustomed to.
“Not only was Mr Azamati humiliated by the staff at the debate, you insisted on amplifying his humiliation by attempting to strip him of his membership for a disciplinary offence which he did not commit. I am ashamed that I ever served a President who was capable of such indecent, disrespectful, and vindictive conduct. Although it is your resignation that the Members deserve, it is the resignation of the more junior members that they will have to accept as a token of our apology and shame for the incident. Mine is not the first, and will not be the last.”
Chengkai Xie, Arjun Bhardwaj, and the Director of Operations have also resigned from their positions.
A witness to the initial incident, Harry Hatwell will pin a motion for the impeachment of Brendan McGrath on the Union’s noticeboard at 10:00am. The motion of impeachment is fully supported by Oxford University Africa Society (AfriSoc), who protested the Union last Friday. Mr Azamati is Ghanaian.
The motion reads: “For better or for worse, being President of the Oxford Union is seen as a stepping-stone to high office (our current Prime Minister as a case in point); being President of the Union matters.
“The Union holds itself to be a bastion of democratic debate and liberty, but it is hard to see such values have been upheld here. The actions of the Union and the impunity with which our elected representatives have acted cannot go unchallenged. The President has chosen not to do the brave, courageous, and responsible thing and stand down from his position; we have faith that Union members will make him accountable.”
Having pinned the motion, members of the Union have 48 hours to sign it in support. If 150 members do so in this time, there will be a poll of all members. If two thirds of voters in this poll support impeachment, the President will be immediately removed from office.
The University of Oxford condemned the treatment of Mr Azamati: “We share the widespread outrage regarding the unacceptable treatment of Ebenezer Azamati, a member of our University community, at the Oxford Union. Ebenezer’s college and the University are working to fully support him.
“The Union is an entirely independent club not governed by the University, but this student’s treatment goes against our culture of inclusivity and tolerance – we are pressing the Union for answers on how they plan to remedy the issue and ensure this does not happen in the future.”
The action is being brought against McGrath for his failure to investigate Mr Azamati’s case, for continuing to prosecute him for nearly a month, and for failing to publicly apologise for the incident.
The motion states: “The President has failed in his duty to uphold the principles of equity and fairness, failed to deal with ableism and racism in the Union, and failed to listen to the voices of the Union’s members. He is not fit for office.”
Hatwell raised a Point of Order immediately after the incident to ask for an investigation and also recently gave evidence in defence of Mr Azamati.