Thursday, June 2, 2011

Amnesty International at 50

ITS FAMILIAR logo shows a burning candle with a piece of barbed wire wound around it. This was a familiar image of hope during the terrifying days of martial rule (1972-1986) in the Philippines. It was a candle that braved the tempest and shone in the night. Today, it continues to be a source of strength and hope for many oppressed peoples all over the world.

Amnesty International (AI) turned 50 last May 28.

“Since the Amnesty International candle first shone a light on the world’s hellholes, there has been a human rights revolution,” said Salil Shetty, AI’s secretary general. “The call for freedom, justice and dignity has moved from the margins and is now a truly global demand.”

Yes, the world has changed dramatically in so many ways since AI’s founding, but not necessarily for the better. Nations have risen against nations, geographical boundaries have changed. Evil despots rose and fell. Many oppressed peoples and individuals fought, triumphed and broke free.

But the struggle for freedom continues in new landscapes and circumstances. Today, all over the world, many nations and peoples continue to live in terror and unfreedom. New tyrants have emerged, causing destruction and death, bringing untold pain to countless human beings. But there is a candle that continues to shine.

AI is marking its 50th anniversary with the launch of a Global Call to Action “designed to help tip the scales against repression and injustice” with events held in more than 60 countries in every region in the world. The anniversary, AI said, comes against the backdrop of a changing human rights landscape, as people across the Middle East and North Africa courageously confront oppression, tyranny and corruption—often in the face of bloodshed and state violence.

AI’s global call to action for human rights includes a digital “Earth Candle” online that would allow netizens and activists to have an overview of AI’s work worldwide and become a force for change. The catch phrase “Be one more, ask one more, act once more” urges one to move one other person to act for human rights and help create a groundswell.

AI’s Shetty said that activism is a powerful force for change, a shown by the brave protestors in the so-called “Arab Spring.”

AI began as an idea of ordinary people working together to defend human rights and gathered at St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church in London. From that small group started by British lawyer Peter Benenson, AI has grown to more than three million members and supporters all over the world. AI’s presence is felt in more than 150 countries through its human rights work and campaigns to free prisoners of conscience.

The AI anniversary launch was marked by a global symbolic toast to freedom all over the world. This gesture, AI said, pays tribute to two Portuguese students imprisoned for raising their glasses to liberty, an injustice that so enraged Benenson that he launched AI on May 28, 1981.

AI, the world’s largest human rights organization, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977.

AI worked for the freedom (through letter-writing campaigns, documentation, visitations, etc.) of many Filipino political prisoners during the martial-law years and risked the wrath of the dictatorship. Dr. Aurora Parong, a former political prisoner and director of AI-Philippines, recalls: “Years before AI-Philippines was established in 1987, AI members from other countries visited jails and helped in the release of political prisoners. AI amplified the cries of victims of human rights abuse and helped Philippine groups in bringing these to the outside world.”

AI indeed helped in the growth of human rights consciousness and activism in the Philippines.

“Despite progress,” an AI statement said, “human rights violations are at the heart of key challenges facing the world today. Governments fail to uphold the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights and are even fueling violations. Almost two-thirds of humanity lacks access to justice.” Abuses are driving and deepening poverty, discrimination against women is rife, and in the last year alone, AI documented cases of torture and ill-treatment in at least 98 countries. AI recently launched its 2011 Annual Report on Human Rights.

This year, AI’s focuses on six areas: freedom of expression, abolition of the death penalty, reproductive rights for women and girls in Nicaragua, ensuring international justice in the Democratic Republic of Congo, corporate accountability in the Niger Delta, and ending injustice and oppression in the Middle East and North Africa.

Said Shetty: “We can offer something that the forces of repression can never contain or silence: people united in common action; the sharp and powerful rally of public opinion; the lighting of one candle at a time until millions of candles expose injustice, and create pressure for change.”
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This Friday, June 3, at 7 p.m., there will be “sacrificial dinner” at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Memorial Grounds on Quezon Avenue corner Edsa in Quezon City. Dubbed “Pamana ng mga Bayani”, the dinner is part of Bantayog’s 25th anniversary activities.

Bantayog is calling on anti-Marcos activists/survivors to oppose a “hero’s burial” for the late dictator. They are urged to send in their “I was part of the anti-dictatorship struggle” stories that would create a true picture of that period in history that claimed the lives of countless Filipinos.

The dinner hopes to raise funds so that the legacy of heroism of those who fought and died for freedom may live on.

Dinner tickets are at P1,000. For inquiries call Dionie at 4348343 or 09213834988.

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