by Judy Kessler
AI has been working for 50 years to promote Human Rights. It was started in response to a lawyer reading a newspaper article about two Portuguese students who had been arrested and imprisoned for making a toast, in public, to democracy.
Prisoners of Conscience are any person who has been imprisoned for making statement or performing actions which would lead to more justice for their group. They must never have used or advocated violence. PoC are adopted and supported by local Amnesty groups * by means of writing letters to the government, public officials who are concerned with the case, the prisoner themselves and their family. This can be a long term affair ! When PoC are eventually released they say how grateful they were to receive such support as they felt they were not alone. Knowing that the case has been recognized by Amnesty can, in many cases, improve the conditions of the PoC.
AI is a worldwide organization with a membership in excess of 3million people who work quietly and persistently for Human Rights and Justice.
Letter writing to governments is a key way of working. The letters are unfailingly polite and diplomatic but uncompromising in their demand for justice. When thousands of letters arrive asking for the same thing it can have a profound effect. It also means the plight of that PoC can no longer be hidden.
AI also demonstrates peacefully to raise awareness of issues. For instance each year, in Leeds, AI holds a public display to collect signatures to try and have all the countries of the UN recognize the rights of the child by banning the use of child soldiers. The Leeds group have also worked to promote awareness of violence against women and the irresponsible way in which oil has been extracted in West Africa leading to pollution of the environment.
A huge campaign was held to try to prevent the execution of Troy Davis in the USA recently. AI is very much against the death penalty. A group will be going to Strasbourg in October to lobby for specific Human Rights causes.
A key role of AI is to have international researchers to get to the truth of situations.
* The Leeds group has adopted a prisoner of conscience from Indonesia called Johan Teterissa