Happy Birthday, Amnesty International: Peter Benenson’s “The Forgotten Prisoners” Published 50 Years Ago Today

Exactly 50 years ago, on May 28, 1961, the Observer gave over its front page to an article entitled, “The Forgotten Prisoners,” by the lawyer Peter Benenson, who had conceived of a worldwide campaign, “Appeal for Amnesty,” to urge governments to release or give a fair trial to people imprisoned because of their political or religious views. Benenson drew on Article 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the extraordinary post-war manifesto for a better world, which had been launched 13 years before, and his appeal — with its description of “prisoners of conscience” and its immortal line, “if these feelings of disgust all over the world could be united into common action, something effective could be done” — immediately drew supporters.

Within a year, Amnesty International was formed, which, as a blog post stated yesterday, “has grown to a global movement of 3 million supporters, members and activists with 18 national sections and 850 groups in over 27 countries.” Along the way, Peter Benenson’s original vision has been broadened to include, from the 1980s onwards, work on refugees and human rights education. In 1991, Amnesty decided to promote all the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in 2001 began to focus on “economic, social and cultural rights, paving the way for global campaigns on maternal mortality, slums and corporate accountability.”

On this important day, I’d like to wish Amnesty International a very happy 50th birthday, and to note how delighted I have been to work with Amnesty as part of its campaign to close Guantánamo and to secure justice for the prisoners still held there, including Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, particularly through the ongoing tour of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” which I co-directed with Polly Nash. Mainly involving screenings to Amnesty student groups, the tour grew out of an invitation to speak at last year’s student conference in London. This was a wonderful and inspiring event, which, in turn, followed a screening of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” at Amnesty’s London headquarters in February 2010. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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