Thursday, May 28, 2009


"Open your newspaper any day of the week and you will find a story from somewhere of someone being imprisoned, tortured or executed because his opinions or religion are unacceptable to his government [...] The newspaper reader feels a sickening sense of impotence. Yet if these feelings of disgust could be united into common action, something effective could be done." Peter Berenson, Founder of Amnesty International

I've been a member of Amnesty International for many years. I have a thing about fighting for the underdog, I always like to see them triumph over the mighty powers that be.
It doesn't always turn out that way.
All countries, or the governments controlling those countries, commit human rights abuses. Our own country is not an exception. We have a long history of mistreating individuals and groups. From the American Indians, to Japanese Americans interred after Pearl Harbor, to torturing prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.
Countries enforce their laws and policies upon their own populace through the overwhelming use, or threat of force and imprisonment, either by local police, federal police, covert police actions, death squads, and domestic military force. And those are just the countries that are not in the midst of civil war, or at war with foreign entities.
Our own country maintains a strong judicial and legislative system that keeps, or is supposed to keep the power of the executive branch in check. This has not always been effective. George W Bush disregarded our own laws, international laws, and the Constitution of the United States, to archive political gains. The examples most prominent being the illegal attack and occupation of Iraq, domestic spying by the NSA, and the use of torture.
If our own country, touted as a moral leader in the world, cannot hold its own government in check, imagine what it is like to live in a dictatorship, such as North Korea, where its president dines on exquisite international cuisine while its populace starves, with most of the countries resources routed toward military weapons programs (currently two American journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, are being detained in North Korea for entering the country illegally from China, and supposed espionage activities, and are awaiting trial. Their detention is a transparent bid to gain leverage with the United Nations and the U.S., after conducting several short range missile launches, and an underground nuclear test). Or in religious fundamentalist countries, like many in the middle east, where women are subdued and subjugated by 6th century beliefs.
When leaders are held unaccountable for their actions, and they control ruthless government organs that monitor and control their own people, the most gross atrocities can take place with little fear of retribution.
In the past dictatorial regimes have been very successful in hiding their atrocities by suppressing or controlling domestic media outlets, and denying access to international observers and press. Millions have died with their stories untold. The world was unaware of the Holocaust until the Russian and American military liberated Germany's concentration camps. No one knew of the Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge until Dith Pran escaped from Cambodia, and the Vietnamese invaded the country.
Even today, in the Darfur region of Sudan, hundreds of thousands have been exterminated at the hands of their own government. Political considerations, and the thirst for oil, seem to stem the tide of justice, even while the world watches in horror.
Organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and many others, act as independent watch dogs, reporting human rights abuses in over 150 countries, including the United States. They are not loved by these countries. But their mission has been vital, and remains so to this day.
For the prisoner of conscience, who has been imprisoned for political or religious beliefs not favored by their government, Amnesty International, by publicizing their plight to the rest of the world, and the use of massive letter writing campaigns ( which I participate in regularly) may be their only hope of being brought to trial, and eventual release.
These are the five main categories that AI deals with:
Women's Rights, Children's Rights, Ending Torture and Execution, Rights of Refugees and the Rights of Prisoners of Conscience.
I can't put it any better than Wikipedia already has:
"Some specific aims are to abolish the death penalty, end extra judicial executions and "disappearances," ensure prison conditions meet international human rights standards, ensure prompt and fair trial for all political prisoners, ensure free education to all children worldwide, decriminalize abortion, fight impunity from systems of justice, end the recruitment and use of child soldiers, free all prisoners of conscience, promote economic, social and cultural rights for marginalized communities, protect human rights defenders, promote religious tolerance, stop torture and ill-treatment, stop unlawful killings in armed conflict, and to uphold the rights of refugees, migrants and asylum seekers.
To further these aims, Amnesty International has developed several techniques to publicize information and mobilize public opinion. The organization considers as one of its strengths the publication of impartial and accurate reports. Reports are researched by interviewing victims and officials, observing trials, working with local human rights activists and by monitoring the media. It aims to issue timely press releases and publishes information in newsletters and on web sites. It also sends official missions to countries to make courteous but insistent inquiries."
This constant endeavor has always seemed exceptionally worthwhile to me. If it does to you, dear reader, please visit Amnesty International at: 
And join the effort.
Today is the 48th Anniversary of AI's founding.
Happy birthday.  

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