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Amnesty International: a Human Rights Organization in Today's Society and The Assyrian Case

Posted: Wednesday, November 07, 2001 at 12:58 PM CT


  • Have you ever criticized the government?
  • Have you ever belonged to:
  • A political party?
  • A trade union?
  • A religious organization?
  • A national minority?
  • An ethnic community?

In over 100 countries around the world people are imprisoned, tortured or killed for "crimes" such as these. Amnesty International has been created to oppose such crimes.

Amnesty International (AI) is a worldwide voluntary human rights movement, which is independent of any government, political faction, ideology, economic interest or religious creed. AI works to prevent some of the gravest violations of people's fundamental human rights.

The main focus of its campaigning is to:

  • Free all prisoners of conscience - those imprisoned for solely for their beliefs, color, sex, ethnic origin, language or religion, who have not used or advocated violence.
  • Ensure fair and prompt trails for all political prisoners.
  • Abolish the death penalty, torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of all prisoners.
  • End extra - judicial executions and disappearances.
  • Also opposes abuses by opposition groups: hostage taking, torture and killings of prisoners and other arbitrary killings.
  • Supports the struggle for all human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


“It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness”

This ancient proverb inspired Peter Benenson's choice of a symbol for AI. The candle in barbed wire is still used today.

AI was launched in 1961 by Peter Benenson a British Lawyer, after reading about two Portuguese students who had been sentenced to seven years in prison for raising their glasses in a toast to freedom. His newspaper appeal, “The Forgotten Prisoners”, was published world-wide on 28 May 1961 and brought in more than 1,000 offers of support for the idea of an international campaign to protect human rights. Within 12 months the new organization had sent delegates to four countries to make representations for prisoners, had taken up 210 cases, and had organized national branches in seven countries. From the beginning, the principles of fairness and independence were established and its members began to act on cases world-wide, but did not become involved in cases in their own countries. The emphasis was on the international protection of human rights. The first year's expenditure was £6,040 only.


From a small group of volunteers in a tiny office in London, AI has now become the world's largest international voluntary organization dealing with human rights. AI has more than one million members, subscribers and regular donors in more than one hundred countries and territories and over 4,300 local Amnesty International groups registered with the International Secretariat, in addition to the many thousands of school, university, professional and other groups which do not normally register internationally. There are nationally organized sections in 55 countries, 33 of them are in areas outside Western Europe and North America.

The organization’s nerve centre is the International Secretariat in London, with 300 permanent paid staff and 95 volunteers from more than 50 countries. In Britain (United Kingdom Section) alone has more than 140,000 members, 330 local groups and 900 organizations connected with the main section office in London.

AI has democratic decision-making structures. Under the Secretary General the organization is governed by an International Executive Committee which consists of eight volunteer members (elected by an International Council of representatives from around the world) and an elected member of the International Secretariat.

In 1977, AI was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for having “contributed to securing the ground for freedom, for justice, and thereby also for peace in the world”. In 1978, AI received the United Nations Human Rights prize for its “outstanding contributions in the field of human rights”. Based on the organization’s belief that the protection of human rights is an international responsibility, AI seeks to get countries throughout the world to follow internationally agreed human rights standards. Consequently, close relations and cooperation with the United Nations and other inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations are an important part of its efforts to develop international human rights standards and to strengthen the structure for making sure that they are respected by governments. AI is represented at the United Nations by officers in New York, Geneva, Vienna, and at UNESCO in Paris, in addition to that, the organization has a consultative status with UN's Economic and Social Council, contributes to work of the UN Commission on Human Rights and enjoys formal relations with the Council of Europe, the European Union, the Organization of American States and the Organization of African Unity.


AI is a financially independent organization which relies on donations from the members and the public. The largest part of its funds come from small individual donations, membership fees and local fund-raising events. The activists make it possible to put pressure on certain governments by raising money to support Amnesty International's efforts and ensures it continues to be seen as an independent and unbiased organization. Amnesty International does not ask for or accept money from governments and in order to protect the independence of the organization, all contributions are strictly controlled by guidelines laid down by the International Council, therefore, governments, funding agencies and pressure groups do not interfere in its objectives.


Amnesty Activists:

More than a million activists are involved with AI and there are many millions of supporters around the world. These people come from all cultures and reflect a range of viewpoints. They play a central role in the movements campaigning - building awareness and concern about human rights in their communities. AI's task is to encourage them to take part in decision-making and elect the movement's governing board. Frequently, outraged public opinion is the first line of defense to those who face human rights violations. Mass public pressure is sometime the only way that human rights can be improved.

Media and publicity:

AI was founded as a result of a newspaper article, and publicity remains one of the most powerful methods for raising awareness about human rights. Public pressures can be created by using newspapers, adverts, radio and television to alert the public and get them to take action. An informed and angry public can put pressure on officials to review their policies and take steps to protect human rights. In many countries, publicity abroad has been followed by improved prison conditions, open trials, death sentences being commuted, and 'death squad' killings being investigated.

Direct appeals:

AI applies direct pressure on the authorities by sending polite but firm messages of concern. Letters used to be sent to a selection of officials, including diplomatic representatives and prison authorities. Urgent actions and petitions are other forms of direct appeal. AI also makes direct appeals to target governments during face-to-face meetings, such as embassy visits and missions. During embassy visits, AI's representatives present their concerns and ask the envoys (diplomats) to tell their home governments about the appeals. AI's representatives usually go on missions to gather information or to observe trials, but often they can meet with the authorities and present concerns.

Urgent Actions:

Urgent actions are issued when somebody is in immediate danger of torture, execution, unfair trail and so on, or when a human right crisis demands an instant response. AI used to send out Urgent Action appeals to those who take part in the Urgent Action network. These are people who have committed themselves to responding to a specific number of appeals each year. The appeals contain addresses to write to and suggestions for putting appeals together. With regard to the Assyrians persecutions and their human rights such Urgent Action were taken in April 1985 when 153 members and supporters of the Assyrian Democratic Movement (Zowaa) were arrested and three of the leadership members were executed by the Iraqi government without trial.

There are some other actions used to be taken by AI in order to promote human rights and to express concern such as home government approach, symbolic events and theme & country campaigns, etc. Individuals play a crucial role in AI's action by joining the organization.


National members:

AI is a membership organization and is open to anyone who supports its goal. You do not need to have special knowledge or skills, all you need is a basic concern for others. By joining as national member this will give AI the numbers needs for successful lobbying, campaigning, publicity and fund-raising. All national members can receive AI's magazine which contains news about work around the world, news from the national section, and details about the letter-writing action-Worldwide Appeal - Real Live.

Local groups:

Individuals can join AI through their local groups. Local groups actively campaign, fund raise and try to get publicity for Amnesty International. They are also AI's representatives in their community. They use many techniques to get their message across, for example, instantly responding in a crisis or applying pressure over many years. Each group plans and carries out different activities. For instance in London, upon Assyrian Club invitation on 20 October 1998, Mr. Colum MacAndrew, Speaker of a Local group of AI has visited the Club and delivered a lecture on Amnesty International works on human rights is a good example needs to be followed by the other Assyrian Organizations.

Urgent Action Network:

Some individual members agree to deal with a limited number of appeals a year when they receive information about an urgent case. The crucial element here is speed, so members commit themselves to responding immediately by sending letters, faxes, e-mails, or telegrams.

Outreach networks and groups:

Some individuals use their interests and professional skills to help AI's work. Members from (Medical activity, Journalists, Lawyers, Business executives, Trade union, Religious groups, School and youth groups, Teachers and academics, Women's groups, Groups and individuals from ethnic minorities, Artists and etc. ) occupations and interests groups use their practical skills and expertise to help Amnesty International's campaigning activity . The efforts of volunteers have a greater effect when activists work together. AI can create far more pressure by sharing information and acting together as a team than as individuals working alone.


Amnesty International and other human rights organizations, can only take action against a violation of human rights when a persistent voice is raised and supported by actions. The recent acquittal and release of Fr.Yousif Akbulat by Turkish authorities is a live example in our minds. Thanks to all Assyrians and English-speaking friends who raised awareness with effective protests which brought the priest’s case to a righteous end.

The current lack of information or actions over the violation of Assyrian national rights (by the Middle Eastern governments, in particular, Iraqi and Turkish regimes and, as well as by the Kurdish factions in the northern Iraq) is tragically apparent in Amnesty International's Annual Report where coverage of the Assyrian plight is lacking, or at the furthest is a few words. The Assyrians and their political parties & national organizations are to blame. The announcements released as usual by the Assyrian groups about such violation of, as Turks and Kurds killing and victimization of Assyrians and Iraq's Ba'ath party policy of Arabization of Assyrians, fall on deaf ears internationally and amount to no more than a curse of darkness. Most of them are just unidirectional message, i.e. from Assyrians to Assyrians, the little which is reaching to human rights organizations is paralyzed and void of real and continued action of protestation. Assyrians need to light a candle and not just confine their action to a curse of darkness. Their protestations must be associated with a logical strategy and documented information, both through effective demonstrations and via the media in order for the Assyrian voice to reach the ears of Amnesty International and others and to persuade them to take action.

Thanks to the Assyrian Democratic Movement's (Zowaa) supporters, friends and other brave Assyrians who condemned the atrocities of the Iraqi regime outside its embassies in Europe, Australia and U.S.A and eventually, for the first time of the contemporary Assyrian Case, an Urgent Action and Recommendations over the execution of three members of ZOWAA's leadership in 1985 were taken, by Amnesty International under Ref. No. MDE 14/01/84 dated 3 April 1985, which stated, “ On 6 February 1985, three members of Assyrian in Iraq were reportedly executed without trial. They were among a group of 153 Assyrians (members and supporters of the Assyrian Democratic Movement) have been arrested in mid-August 1984. They were allegedly arrested for demanding 'national and equal rights' and for urging the government to cease its policy of wiping out the Assyrian community in Iraq. The three executed are: Yousef Toma Zibari, a 32-year - old (Engineer), Youkhana Esho Shlimon, a 38 - year-old, (Business consultant) and Youbert Benyamin, a 29 - year - old (Engineer). ”

Dear Assyrian,

We, Assyrians, have full and legal right to work effectively and actively submit our national petition by associating with human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, in order to publicize and legitimize our national case in the international arena. We must light a candle on the existence of our national rights in our Homeland, then we will no longer be regarded as a forgotten nation.

Government Conference

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