Volunteer Stories: From Amnesty International to Wales for Peace

Emily Blower is a Wales for Peace Volunteer and Amnesty International Member.  Originally from London, Emily is used to activism being quite visible and she is looking forward to uncovering what activism looks like in North Wales.

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The non-profit organisation, founded in 1961 by the London lawyer Peter Benenson. It was a reaction to two Portuguese students who were jailed for seven years for ‘illegally’ toasting to liberty. This news story, like many others, did not make headlines but it did provoke disdain within Benenson. Even worse was the fact that there were not any opportunities within the community to act on this emotion in attempt to make a change.

‘Open your newspaper any day of the week and you will find a story from somewhere of someone being imprisoned, tortured or executed because his opinions or religion are unacceptable to his government … The newspaper reader feels a sickening sense of impotence. Yet if these feelings of disgust could be united into common action, something effective could be done’

In founding Amnesty International (AI), Benenson has provided people with the chance to unite and act upon what was being previously pushed aside. Fifty years later and Amnesty International has developed into one of the world’s main organisations to battle against abuses of human rights.

There are many reasons why I became a member of Amnesty International, but the most significant factor is that Amnesty is completely separate from political and corporate sectors of work. This gives AI the ability to act without going through the government such as to put pressure upon international governments if they don’t abide by human rights. By having this freedom, AI have their own standards and policies that don’t alternate for any political or economic reason. They hold a clear set of goals and policies that won’t differ if an alternative party were in power or for financial gain. These are the reasons why I firstly became a member.

I re-joined AI due to the growing refugee crisis. I became aware of the extent of the growing refugee problem through an online source, however, I was shocked when there wasn’t any acknowledgment of this on the news and even worse, that this problem was being ignored by our own  UK Government. AI works closely with refugees. From this, I knew that AI was the right organisation as they portrayed the whole picture but there was also a discussion on how we can all unite to change this.

This is also why I am volunteering for Wales for Peace, there are many ordinary people within Wales who share this international solidarity. To discover the fundamental hidden stories of Wales in terms of international solidarity would create a rich history of ordinary people coming together to create something positive and changing. This is important as typically the hidden histories of ordinary people aren’t presented within the media because they are lacking a household name. However, their stories are important; as a united effort Wales has shown support to international topics to lead to a change.

Listed below are reasons why many people, such as myself, have become a member of Amnesty International.

1. Independent Organisation

AI is a non-governmental organisation that acts to end the abuse of human rights. They demand this through gaining justice, dignity and truth for those whom human rights have been breached. Amnesty International isn’t linked with any other organisation, this includes governments, religions and companies. This is good because it gives them more freedom to put pressure on governments, in terms of letters and protests, to stop restricting the rights of people without causing any political, economic or religious outcry. This is important as potential it could prevent the work of AI. Because they are an independent organisation, the criticism from leaders Idi Amin, Ayatollah combined with the Chinese Communist Party would cause enough of a stir for other organisations to stop Amnesty International. Successively through the past 50 years, Amnesty has for gained global political influence. Amnesty’s lobbying led to the UK government passing the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings in 2008, and more recently agreeing to make women’s rights in Afghanistan.

2. Long term Project with clear aim

Through not being linked to a corporate and governmental organisation they have complete independence to act accordingly to their policies, which is listed as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A core principle of Amnesty is a focus on prisoners of conscience. This is a person is detained for expressing any opinion that isn’t the same as the people in power. There are also another 5 main other objectives that Amnesty deals with the rights of women, children, minorities and indigenous rights, ending torture practices, the abolition of the death penalty, the rights of refugees and protection of human objectivity. By having these clear principles, they appeal almost universally and this gains a lot of support and awareness for Amnesty. This ultimately leads to making a difference, whether its just for one person or for a community they have been successful in the long run. Over the past several years they have achieved to secure an international Arms Trade Treaty in 2013, the International Criminal Court in 2002, and a global convention against torture in 1984. Amnesty International tackle difficult and complex issues that aren’t ‘quick wins’, year on year they campaigned for human rights in Burma and in the last 12 months of 2015 hundreds of political prisoners have been freed.

3. Evokes ordinary people worldwide to unite to make a change for the better of human development

By the creation of AI people can unite and express an act of international solitude. Through their 7 million memberships there are various roles within the organisation which enables all types of people to act as a way of international solidarity. There is a wide spectrum of AI supporters, varying from ordinary people to celebrities such as Eddie Izzard, Madonna to international Amnesty supporters such as Desmond Tutu and Malala Yousafzai to ordinary people, like me. However, who you are doesn’t matter when we can all strive together to stop future injustices from happening again.

With activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries, AI has been able to investigate, mobilise and change societies for better human development and security. Using their memberships and donations they have industrialised into the world’s largest pressure group allowing them to contact governments, organise protests and publicise human rights abuses in the media.

4. Campaign has proven to work

Amnesty is one of the world’s most influential, non-governmental organisations with a track record of success. Their campaigning work has been proved to be successfully through the use of their members

AI act in different ways. For instance, the form of protesting and petitioning. This has been proved to be effective. They successfully pressured Shell to pay out over Niger Delta oil spills in 2008 and 2009. After two years of pressure and letter writing of Amnesty supporters, Myanmar’s community leader Dr Tun Aung was released in January after being imprisoned for trying to calm down a crowd of riots in 2012. There has been various stories of successful campaigning from Amnesty which has caused significant changes to individuals worldwide.

5. Extensive research that is trust worthy

AI’s research is underpinned in the field but having first witnesses accounts and survivors testimonies with forensic data by using tools satellite images where possibly. They also cross check their research with other network resources and experts to make sure it is watertight. Their research is even valuable for external use, such as international bodies like the United Nations, media reporters and investigators as well as other campaigning and human right organisations. By having trust-worthy sources, people can start to grasp the truth behind these societies. This isn’t possible without AI as traditionally our mainstream medias tend to be biased and therefore they arguably showcase evidence in favour to their own belief such as the BBC and Gaza. Through AI, people can explore this watertight evidence and research and come to their own conclusions.

By being born in London, there are more open opportunities to protests which are publicly shown acts of international solidarity. They are traditionally broadcast throughout the online community and local newspapers This is normally where they gain their mass support.

Since moving to Bangor in North Wales, I have found that this type of action wasn’t as publicly displayed or spoke about among the community. This doesn’t mean that there wasn’t any act of international solidarity, it was just underrepresented and hidden from the community. Wales has had a long track history of supporting international countries by protesting or gathering support for the cause. Therefore, by complying Wales hidden histories of acts of international solidarity, it has allowed this rich history to be rediscovered and illustrated back to the community to inspire future generations. These hidden histories will be interviews from ordinary people in Wales and what they believe ‘international solidarity’ means to them personally and what acts of solidarity they have accomplished in the Welsh community. It is crucial to discover the hidden histories of ordinary people.

References:

Peter Benenson. (28 May. 2011) “The Forgotten Prisoners”. The Observer

 

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