Activism: Email activism on behalf of Amnesty International does make a political difference. We can prove it. No politician wants one million emails clogging up their inbox…
Amnesty International: It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness
Fact: Every country on this planet violates human rights in some way.
A case in point is Nigeria where Shell, the oil company, is systematically poisoning the Niger Delta environment with oil and gas. The pollution has resulted in the people having practically lost their livelihood (fishing) because a caught fish will taste of oil. Another example: in Kenya 7,000 residents of the Deep Sea shantytown are at risk of illegal forced eviction. A third case: In China there are 7,000 death sentences a year. These are all human rights violations and if you’re anything like me, you see this kind of stuff on the news and think “That’s awful, but what can I do? I don’t have money to send to them, and it all goes into the (corrupt) government’s pockets anyway…”
But what if, to help save the people of the Niger Delta (that is, 31 million people), all you had to do was send an email? This is what Amnesty International (hereafter known as Amnesty) does. Amnesty campaigns for human rights by raising awareness of the violations around the world. Human rights are the basic, absolute freedoms that every single person has. For example, you have the right to go to school. You have the right to travel to another country. And, most important of all, you have the right to live. That means the death penalty should not even exist. That it does in sixty countries (including the richest in the world-America) shows how little a human life is worth to some people.
Sixty years ago the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drawn up. After the Holocaust people wanted to ensure that nothing as terrible could ever happen again. So the thirty articles (laws) which they decided upon had to be respected by every country, every government, everywhere. You may be seeing a problem here, which is that obviously these aren’t respected everywhere.
Peter Benenson thought so too. In 1961, he read in the newspaper about two students in Portugal, who had been arrested – for drinking a toast to freedom. Think about that for a second. For clinking your glasses to a hope for the future, you are dragged off, with no time to tell your family what has happened, and thrown in a prison cell. They were later sentenced to seven years in prison. So if you were fourteen when it happened, you’d be 21 by the time you were released. Peter Benenson was so outraged by this he wrote a famous letter to the Observer, exposing their case. Offers of help flooded in and Amnesty International was born.
Unjust imprisonment still happens today, in well over half of all countries. (Amnesty International Report, 2009)
Now, if you could send a text, sign a petition or write an email to set them free, wouldn’t you? This is how Amnesty gets people the justice they deserve. Very few other charities that I know of work in this ‘grass-roots’ way, encouraging ordinary people to do something wonderful. Now, you may be saying that one letter cannot make a difference. The government will just laugh and chuck it. But Amnesty has over 2 million members. If only half of those send a letter, that’s a helluva lot of paper coming through someone’s letterbox. But let’s be more realistic. If you ask people on the street to give to charity probably far less than half will. So, a quarter? That’s still 500,000 letters clogging up someone’s office, or 500,000 emails in someone’s inbox. Even if a tenth of Amnesty’s members ,still 20,000 people, send letters…ok, you’re getting the picture. I quoted one of Amnesty’s mottos as the title for this piece, and another one is: Small Action x Millions = Big Change.
Enquiring minds would be right in demanding examples to show that this can and does work:
- Mirza Hussein, who has spent 18 years in a Pakistani prison for a crime he committed in self defence, now released due to Amnesty pressure.
- Murat Kurnaz, held in Guantanamo Bay for over four years without ever being charged. He’s now released due to sustained pressure from Amnesty and the German government.
- Rehab Abdel Bagi Mohamed Ali, who was beaten in Sudanese detention. After a few days, her guards asked her “Did you know your name is all over the internet?” From that time on, her treatment got better.
If you’re thinking, great, you’ve proved Amnesty’s system can work, but everything seems so distant and unrelated to me (and indeed the examples I have quoted so far have all been from overseas countries), then let’s look at some statistics closer to home:
- Two women a week are killed by a former or current partner in the UK. (Povey, (ed.), 2005; Home Office, 1999; Department of Health, 2005.)
- There are 4000 female victims of trafficking (effectively slaves) in the UK right now. (CHASTE charity)
- Women who have ‘insecure immigrant’ status cannot use public funds if they are suffering from domestic violence. This means they cannot go to a publicly funded shelter, and must stay at home with an abusive partner. (Amnesty International)
I’m not going to show you sad pictures of starving little kids and try to make you feel guilty. But I will leave you with some facts. To get involved in human rights is not very hard. Only the cost of a stamp to send a letter, nothing to sign a petition. But it could:
- Get someone the vital medicine they need.
- Save someone on Death Row-there are numerous cases of last minute reprieves.
- Make a ‘disappeared’ person come back from the dead.
And a quote about the state of human rights in the world today: Us few, who have so many, must stand up for those many, who have so few.
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