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Amnesty International 

Read the following text about Amnesty International and then answer these questions:

  1. Who started the organisation?
  2. How many members does AI have?
  3. Where does AI get its finance from?
  4. Name two things that AI opposes.
  5. How many cases of human rights abuse has it investigated since it started?
  6. Does Amnesty work?
  7. How can AI members participate in AI campaigns?
  8. How can you help Amnesty International?

The most famous human rights movement in the world is Amnesty International. Its 1.1 million members work within a closely-defined mandate to:

  • seek the release of prisoners of conscience - those imprisoned solely for their beliefs, colour, sex, ethnic origin, language or religion - who have not used or advocated the use of violence
  • work for fair and prompt trials for all political prisoners
  • oppose the death penalty, torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of all prisoners
  • end extrajudicial executions and "disappearances"

In 1960 a newspaper reported the case of two Portuguese students who had been arrested and sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment for raising their glasses in public in a toast to freedom. Peter Benenson, a British lawyer, was so shocked by the case that he decided something should be done. In 1961 he wrote a newspaper article calling on people in all walks of life to begin working impartially and peacefully for the release of thousands of men and women imprisoned throughout the world for their political and religious beliefs. The response was immediate and Amnesty International soon became the world’s largest voluntary organisation dealing with human rights. There are now more than 1,100,000 members in more than 170 countries.

Since 1961 the organisation has adopted or investigated more than 43,500 cases. Of these cases, 40,753 are now closed. Although Amnesty doesn’t claim that its actions are the only reasons for these case closures, former victims of human rights abuses and people in authority have commented on the effectiveness of Amnesty’s actions.

Amnesty is an independent organisation and is financed entirely by subscriptions and donations from its world-wide membership. It is impartial and does not support or oppose any government or political system. It believes human rights must be respected universally and concentrates on trying to end specific violations of human rights.

One of the main ways in which AI campaigns is by encouraging its members and friends to write letters to governments about specific cases. A steady stream of letters from all around the world can and does have an effect on governments. No state admits to torturing people. According to AI, the most repressive governments are anxious to have the outside world believe they are fair and reasonable. Showing governments that they are being watched by ordinary men and women throughout the world, who care about the victims of repressive regimes, can and does bring relief to such victims.

"When the first two hundred letters came, the guards gave me back my clothes. Then the next two hundred letters came and the prison director came to see me. When the next pile of letters arrived, the director got in touch with his superior. The letters kept coming and coming: three thousand of them. The President was informed. The letters still kept arriving and the President called the prison and told them to let me go.

After I was released the President called me to his office for a man to man talk. He said: "How is it that a trade union leader like you has so many friends all over the world?" He showed me an enormous box full of letters he had received and, when we parted, he gave them to me. I still have them."

(Letter from a former prisoner of conscience from the Dominican Republic)

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