On 16th March Anne Walker spoke to the Stockport group about the work of Amnesty and how it has changed over time.
Anne has been a member of Amnesty International since 1970 and in that time has had various roles such as Branch Secretary, Treasurer and Newsletter Editor.
Amnesty International is a membership based organisation with more than 7 million members in over 150 countries. In the UK there are more than 600,000 supporters and 300 local groups. It is a democratic organisation with national debate, and decision making via the Annual General Meeting. International debate and decision making is via the International Council. Amnesty is financially independent and will accept no money with strings attached. It is not a charity in the UK.
What Amnesty stands for has changed over the years. It began in 1961 fighting for freedom for prisoners of conscience following an article by Peter Benenson in the Observer Newspaper called "The Forgotten Prisoners".
In the 1970s they added calls for fair trials for political prisoners, no torture and no death penalty. In 1973 a new technique “Urgent Action” was developed, aimed at mobilising the membership into action rapidly as some prisoners did not have much time.
In the 1980s and 1990s, they added Female Genital Mutilation and Demolition of homes [Domicide] to the list of things they campaigned against.
In the noughties they produced comprehensive Mission and Vision statements emphasising their commitment to Human Rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights standards.
Amnesty international are committed to undertake research and action focused on preventing and ending abuses of these rights. In reality a strategic plan is devised and some difficult decisions have to be made. In 1980 campaigns were held against the death penalty, whist in 2003 the mandate was widened amid worries about stopping support for political prisoners.
Originally Amnesty would not condone the use of force but the situation in Rwanda changed all that, as only a UN peacekeeping force could stop the genocide.
A position on abortion was laid out in 2007. They call for the decriminalisation of abortion and access to quality services for the management of complications arising from abortions. They want legal, safe, and accessible abortion in cases of rape, sexual assault, incest, risk to life or grave risk to the health of the mother. This was a controversial campaign. Some wanted to go further but others thought it had gone too far. Some groups closed, particularly those that met in churches, but other people joined. The Roman Catholic Church does not support Amnesty.
One of the most recent issues in 2015 is the decriminalisation of consensual sex workers.
The My Body My Rights campaign considers that sexual and reproductive rights are human rights that belong to us all. We need to be able to make decisions about sexual health, and to seek and receive information about sexual matters. The Universal Declaration of Human rights does not explicitly cover sexual and reproductive rights. Also it does not apply to the unborn child. Campaigns are active: in Nepal, where uterine prolapses are a problem; in Maghreb where victims can be forced to marry their rapists; in Burkina Faso where there are forced marriages and no access to affordable contraception; in El Salvador where a total ban on abortion can result in a 30 year prison sentence for miscarriage; and in Ireland where abortion is illegal and 12 women a day come to the UK for
What does Amnesty stand For?
“We are ordinary people from across the world standing up for humanity and human rights."
“We work to protect men women and children wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.”
To get involved people can make a donation, become a member, become an individual activist or join a local group.