Amnesty International

Amnesty International is also known as

  • Amnesty International

About Amnesty International

Amnesty International (also referred to as Amnesty or AI) is an international non-governmental organization focused on human rights, with its headquarters in the United Kingdom. The organization says it has more than ten million members and supporters around the world. The stated mission of the organization is to campaign for “a world in which every person enjoys all of the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments.” The organization has played a notable role in human rights issues due to its frequent citation in media and by world leaders. AI was founded in London in 1961 by the lawyer Peter Benenson. Its original focus was prisoners of conscience, with its remit widening in the 1970s, under the leadership of Sean MacBride and Martin Ennals to include miscarriages of justice and torture. In 1977, it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In the 1980s, its secretary general was Thomas Hammarberg, who succeeded in the 1990s by Pierre Sana. In the 2000s, it was led by Irene Khan. Amnesty draws attention to human rights abuses and campaigns for compliance with international laws and standards. It works to mobilize public opinion to generate pressure on governments where abuse takes place. Amnesty International was founded in London in July 1961 by English barrister Peter Benenson, who had previously been a founding member of the UK law reform organization JUSTICE. Benenson was influenced by his friend Louis Blom-Cooper, who led a political prisoners’ campaign. According to Benenson’s account, he was traveling on the London Underground on 19 November 1960 when he read that two Portuguese students from Coimbra had been sentenced to seven years of imprisonment in Portugal for allegedly “having drunk a toast to liberty”. Researchers have never traced the alleged newspaper article in question. In 1960, Portugal was ruled by the Estado Novo government of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar. The government was authoritarian and strongly anti-communist, suppressing enemies of the state as anti-Portuguese. During the 1970s, Sean MacBride and Martin Ennals led Amnesty International. While continuing to work for prisoners of conscience, Amnesty International’s purview widened to include “fair trial” and opposition to long detention without trial (UDHR Article 9), and especially to the torture of prisoners (UDHR Article 5). Amnesty International believed that the reasons underlying the torture of prisoners by governments were either to acquire and obtain information or to quell opposition by the use of terror, or both. Also of concern was the export of more sophisticated torture methods, equipment, and teaching by the superpowers to “client states,” for example by the United States through some activities of the CIA. By 1980, Amnesty International was drawing more criticism from governments. The Soviet Union alleged that Amnesty International conducted espionage, the Moroccan government denounced it as a defender of lawbreakers, and the Argentinian government banned Amnesty International’s 1983 annual report. Throughout the 1980s, Amnesty International continued to campaign against torture, and on behalf of prisoners of conscience. New issues emerged, including extrajudicial killings, military, security, and police transfers, political killings, and disappearances. Towards the end of the decade, the growing number of refugees worldwide became a focus for Amnesty International. While many of the world’s refugees of the time had been displaced by war and famine, in adherence to its mandate, Amnesty International concentrated on those forced to flee because of the human rights violations it was seeking to prevent. It argued that rather than focusing on new restrictions on entry for asylum-seekers, governments were to address the human rights violations which were forcing people into exile. Throughout the 1990s, Amnesty continued to grow, to a membership of over seven million in over 150 countries and territories, led by Senegalese Secretary General Pierre Sana. Amnesty continued to work on a wide range of issues and world events. For example, South African groups joined in 1992 and hosted a visit by Pierre Sana to meet with the apartheid government to press for an investigation into allegations of police abuse, an end to arms sales to the African Great Lakes region, and the abolition of the death penalty. In particular, Amnesty International brought attention to violations committed against specific groups, including refugees, racial/ethnic/religious minorities, women, and those executed or on Death Row. The death penalty report When the State Kills and the “Human Rights are Women’s Rights” campaign were key actions for the latter two issues. After 2000, Amnesty International’s primary focus turned to the challenges arising from globalization and the reaction to the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States. The issue of globalization provoked a major shift in Amnesty International policy, as the scope of its work was widened to include economic, social, and cultural rights, an area that it had declined to work on in the past. Amnesty International felt this shift was important not just to give credence to its principle of the indivisibility of rights, but because of what it saw as the growing power of companies and the undermining of many nation-states as a result of globalization.

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Address 1Member Services Amnesty International USA
Address 25 Penn Plaza 16th Floor
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Zip/Postal Code10001
CountryUnited States
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