A Worldwide Grassroots Organization
Amnesty International was founded in 1961 by British lawyer Peter Benenson, who was outraged by a newspaper story of two Portuguese students sentenced to seven years in jail for raising their glasses in a toast to freedom. The one-year “Appeal for Amnesty” campaign, which encouraged people to write letters for the release of the students and other prisoners of conscience, was so successful that it became a permanent organization, Amnesty International. In 1977, Amnesty International was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its successful human rights work. In the forty‐five years since its founding, AI has worked on behalf of more than 45,000 prisoner cases, over 40,248 of which are now closed.
Today, Amnesty International remains a movement of grassroots activism, consisting mainly of volunteers serviced by a small professional staff. The International Secretariat in London maintains a professional staff of researchers who are responsible for investigating cases of human rights abuses and issuing actions to the membership. They have gained a reputation for their accuracy and impartiality.
Amnesty International uses human rights standards set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and in international treaties and conventions. Amnesty International works independently of all governments and political ideologies to:
- Secure the release of prisoners of conscience (men, women, and children detained solely because of their beliefs, ethnic origin, gender, sexual orientation, color, or language, and who have neither used nor advocated violence);
- Ensure fair and prompt trials for all political prisoners; and
- End all use of torture, “disappearance,” political killing, and the death penalty.
You Can Help Protect Human Rights Around the World
When we hear about political arrests or people facing torture or execution, we focus first on getting the facts. Then our members go into action, sending a flood of calls, letters, faxes, and telegrams to people in positions of authority, from prison wardens to presidents.
Amnesty International works because it creates a constant pressure on government authorities on the behalf of an individual. Your letter by itself may seem a small gesture, but when combined with hundreds or even thousands of other letters from around the world, it has the power to free a prisoner or at least to prevent torture and ill-treatment. Amnesty International is about individuals helping individuals.
Amnesty International achieves its goals of protecting Human Rights through local groups and student groups who participate in the following:
- Adopting an action file: the group is assigned an individual case file which will include one or more of the following tasks: work for the release of a prisoner of conscience, ask for a prompt and fair trial for a political prisoner, or try to find the whereabouts of a “disappeared” person.
- Campaigning: gathering, assessing, and distributing information on current human rights issues.
- Education through tabling, workshops, and public demonstrations.
There are two local groups based in Orange County, in Orange and Irvine, and one based in Long Beach. In addition, there are several student groups based at high schools, community colleges, and universities across the region. Each group has its own special focus and interests. Select one of the links to learn more about individual groups.
Amnesty International’s famous “candle and barbed wire” logo is recognized everywhere as a symbol of human rights.