From Liberty to Amnesty
“Amnesty is as good for those who give it as is those who receive it. It has the admirable quality of bestowing mercy on both sides.”- Victor Hugo
Forgiveness is both an envied yet abhorred trait. It is difficult to put the past behind us, and have the heart to move on. However, it is just as painful to linger in perpetual anger, stuck in a cycle of hatred. Rather than forgiveness, many go down the path of enacting righteous vengeance on those who have committed the unspeakable. An eye for an eye, they say. But the complete adage goes- an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.
Amnesty isn’t simply about forgiving the crimes of those that have committed grave transgressions- it is about the protection of human rights and establishing an unshakeable foundation of moral principles. Morality is a subjective term, varying circumstantially and through different perspectives. This ambiguity in its meaning creates leeway for the breach of fundamental human rights, citing religious, legal, or political reasons for doing so.
For example, take the death penalty. Amnesty International launched a worldwide campaign against death penalties. Today, 140 countries have abolished death penalties, rising from 9 in 1961. However, 92 countries still allow capital punishment in their legal framework. Some may argue that it is justified, especially for heinous crimes against humanity.
Perhaps it is deserved, or perhaps it isn’t.
In the end, isn’t it still the deplorable act of taking someone’s life?
As famous civil rights activist Martin Luther King aptly stated- “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”
A baseline of human rights must be created. A boundary that can not be crossed, and bedrock to build a better world from. By establishing a universal set of values, it removes the uncertainty in deciding what is right, and what is wrong. The easier it is to differentiate between the two, the easier it is to fight for justice and recognize offenses. This is the fundamental principle behind the Non-Governmental Organization, Amnesty International, founded in London in 1961 by Peter Benenson, a former English lawyer. Amnesty International is driven by the strong notion that life is inherently valuable and no human has the right to harm or end this life. Issues such as the death penalty, armed conflict, abuse, torture, and reproductive freedom all fall under their jurisdiction.
Amnesty International was born from the sense of injustice Benenson felt reading a news article about 2 Portuguese boys that had been imprisoned for “toasting to liberty”. The Portuguese government at the time was highly authoritarian, indicting citizens for the slightest hint of dissent. Benenson dubbed the story of these two boys as “The Forgotten Prisoners”. Forgotten, because incidents of power abuse were so commonplace, that those two boys were simply raindrops in the torrent of unjust acts. Yet it was these very two nameless victims, these forgotten boys, that inspired the creation of an organization that would fight for those just like them. To their government, those two boys may have been insignificant, but to the world- they brought forth a movement fighting for the very freedom they had toasted to.
A prisoner of conscience is someone who has been imprisoned for their race, sexual orientation, gender, or belief system, like the “forgotten prisoners”. Since its inception, Amnesty International has been the flagbearer for such victims, commencing their fight with the release of Ukrainian Archbishop Josyf Slipy in Siberia.
In 1977, Amnesty International was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their contributions to the world. Another notable achievement is changing laws in Morroco that forced rape victims to marry their abusers. Some eminent figures that are a part of Amnesty International include Angelina Jolie, Nicholas Cage, and Nelson Mandela. More recently, Amnesty International has conducted numerous campaigns against Russian aggression in Ukraine, Hong Kong police brutality, and the Israeli occupation of Palestine. These campaigns include mass petitions, providing supplies, field investigations, and raising awareness.
Amnesty International Day- celebrated on the 28th of May, is an event that calls for the universal preservation of human rights, by all creeds of people. It is a day that appreciates the tireless efforts of Amnesty International, in being the champions of justice for all those who seek it. It is normal to look at the achievements of Amnesty International, and feel a sense of disconnect from their work. To wonder, how exactly you can contribute to an organization that has already done so much. It is easier to sit and complain about human rights issues rather than take action.
“But it is better to light a candle, than curse the darkness”- Amnesty International.
And sometimes, a single candle is enough to ignite hundreds more, illuminating what once seemed bleak.
The power of collective action is stronger than you’d think. Every voice, every face, every fighter, and every person’s contribution brings us one step closer to change. Amnesty International may lead the charge against injustice, but to lead, you must first have those that follow. You can celebrate this day by helping raise awareness against social issues in your locality, and educating yourself about global issues. Taking part in their fundraisers, petitions, and events is also a great way to support them.
With the world constantly changing, and conflicts erupting everywhere, the duties of Amnesty International seem endless. From defending refugees, to intervening in wars and protecting reproductive rights- there are many battles to contend. But the fight for human rights, and a better world, was never meant to be a simple one. So let us conclude with the inspiring words of founder Peter Benenson- “Only when the last prisoner of conscience has been freed, when the last torture chamber has been closed, when the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a reality for the world’s people, will our work be done.”
Written by Janani Gurumurthy