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Amnesty - 50 Years of Defending Human Rights

Thursday, 26th May 2011 at 3:08 pm
Staff Reporter
The world’s largest human rights organisation, Amnesty International will mark its 50th anniversary on 28 May - and Australia will join in celebrations along with another 60 countries around the world.

Thursday, 26th May 2011
at 3:08 pm
Staff Reporter



Amnesty - 50 Years of Defending Human Rights
Thursday, 26th May 2011 at 3:08 pm
Peter Benenson, the British lawyer who founded Amnesty International in 1961, rekindles the original candle on the movement's 20th anniversary, outside St Martin in the Fields Church, London, UK, May 1981. © Raoul Shade

The world’s largest human rights organisation, Amnesty International will mark its 50th anniversary on 28 May – and Australia will join in celebrations along with another 60 countries around the world.

From Argentina to Ghana to Turkey and to New Zealand and Australia, dozens of countries will hold a symbolic toast to freedom as part of the celebrations.

Amnesty International was founded in 1961 by London barrister Peter Benenson, after a group of students in Portugal were jailed for raising a toast to freedom.

In 1961 The Forgotten Prisoners, an article by Benenson, was published in the UK's Observer newspaper. In it, Benenson described his disgust at the global trend of people being imprisoned, tortured or executed because their political views or religious orientation which were unacceptable to their governments.

At the time, the author recognised, there were "several million such people in prison…and their numbers are growing."

Peter Benenson launched the "Appeal for Amnesty 1961", to collect, publish and distribute information about prisoners of conscience around the world. This appeal was reprinted in newspapers globally.

In July 1961 at the first international meeting, delegates decided to establish "a permanent international movement in defence of freedom of opinion and religion".

Claire Mallinson, National Director, Amnesty International Australia says Benenson had an idea about how this problem could be solved and in doing so, he gave life to the vision of collective action that defines Amnesty International's work today.

In Australia, homes and restaurants all over the country are holding candlelit dinners and raising a toast to freedom.

Mallison says what better way to celebrate 50 years of defending rights and freedom than thousands of people around the world making that same toast.

She says that for half a century Amnesty International has borne witness to abuses and atrocities, has offered hope to the oppressed and forgotten, and has campaigned with innovation and determination for justice.

It has played a leading role in making torturers international outlaws, in ending the untouchable status of leaders accused of human rights crimes, in the creation of the International Criminal Court and in achieving unstoppable momentum towards a death penalty-free world.

In 1977, Amnesty International was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

She says fifty years after the Amnesty International candle first shone a light on the world’s hidden hellholes and torture chambers, the call for justice, dignity and human rights is now firmly on the global stage.

However, Mallison says despite progress, human rights violations are at the heart of key challenges facing the world today but they have certainly learnt that change is possible and that people power can make the world a better place. 

Amnesty International has evolved over the years, and its mandate has expanded. Over the last decade, campaigns in Australia have focused on areas such as the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, violence against women and the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

The organisation also highlighted racially discriminatory aspects of the Northern Territory intervention and has facilitated the attendance of rights-holders at a UN forum currently underway in New York. In February 2011, the tireless efforts of thousands of Amnesty International supporters and partner organisations resulted in the release of a National Plan of Action to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children endorsed by Federal, State and Territory Governments.
For Amnesty in Australia, letter writing groups were established in Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania in 1962. Amnesty International was founded in Sydney as Amnesty International Australia in 1975.

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