At our December meeting, we were delighted to be joined by Graham from the local Blackheath and Greenwich Amnesty group, who we are forming links with, who told us that Amnesty International was started in 1961 by Peter Benenson, after his article The forgotten prisoners, which he wrote in response to hearing of two Portuguese students imprisoned for raising a toast to freedom, was published in the Observer newspaper. His idea was that Amnesty International should support prisoners of conscience by letter writing to embassies and to the present day this has grown to include global advocacy, lobbying, campaigns and fundraising.
He showed a short film in which the well-known journalists Jon Snow of Channel 4, Emily Maitlis of the BBC, and Sam Kiley of Sky News, amongst others, were credited as supporting Amnesty International campaigns. As he said, you have to be creative to get human rights issues into the news and if the journalists are not able to do it, democracy collapses. There were also some very moving stories of people suffering from all types of illegal detention and punishment, and some who said they would not be alive if it wasn’t for Amnesty’s work. It also referred to the success of Amnesty’s global campaign which resulted in the Arms Trade Treaty.
The local group write around 200 letters a month regarding people at risk, and have two highly successful books sales each year to raise funds. The book sales involve a lot of forward planning, acquiring and storing unread books from publishers, thanks to much work by the volunteers. In June this year they made an incredible £10,400, and in November another £3,600, much of which goes to the Amnesty International Human Rights Centre in London, while the local group keeps a working budget, including for letter writing.
After the talk there was a letter writing session when we were able to choose from 12 people whose stories were available to read. It was somewhat daunting as my first time doing this, but I was able to relate personal experiences of my grandchildren’s involvement with the climate change marches in the UK, to a young woman in the Philippines who is campaigning to get her government to initiate climate emergency policies, and to combat carbon dioxide emissions. By the end of writing I felt a kind of bond with her, and hope that she will feel a little less alone knowing there are children all over the world who are fighting the same vital battle as she is.
Review by Anna Tagliaferro
You can find out more about Amnesty International’s Write for Rights campaign here
As usual at our December meeting, we also collected food and money to donate to our local refugee charity AFRIL