One Letter Can Change a Life. Millions Can Start a Human Rights Movement


By Maya Delany, Amnesty USA Student Activist Coordinator for Western Massachusetts

Last December, I arrived at my student group’s annual Write for Rights AmnesTEA event and was greeted by dim lighting, steaming beverages, and our group members sitting in a circle writing letters. I poured myself some tea, read summaries of each case, and started writing a letter to the King of Saudi Arabia about Raif Badawi, a Saudi Arabian blogger who has been sentenced to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes for simply expressing his opinions.

Last year’s Write for Rights, with hundreds of thousands of people worldwide writing a record-breaking 3 million letters and email actions SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Do You Know About Guantánamo Detainee Hussain Almerfedi?

Hussain Salem Mohammed AlmerfediFew people know about the plight of Guantánamo detainee Hussain Salem Mohammed Almerfedi, but they should. That’s why Amnesty International included his case in Write #4Rights,  a special period of global activism from December 5th to 16th  marking International Human Rights Day on December 10th.

Almerfedi is a Yemeni national who has been held in U.S. military custody at Guantánamo Bay for over nine years:

Why Today's Human Rights Day Is So Special

Today is a special Human Rights Day. It marks the beginning of Amnesty International’s 50th year celebration.  That’s 50 years of working together to demand freedom and justice for all.

The shameful imprisonment of writer Liu Xiaobo and China’s refusal to allow him or his family to accept the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo earlier today is a powerful reminder that we must sustain global pressure to achieve basic rights.

Like Liu Xiaobo, millions of people worldwide live in fear of persecution by repressive governments or armed factions and millions more suffer extreme deprivation.  But we are not powerless against this injustice.

Amnesty International has proved for 50 years that collective action is a powerful force for change. Just look at the last month where the world witnessed the joyful release of the world’s most famous political prisoner, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, after 15 years of house arrest in Myanmar.

In 1961, British lawyer Peter Benenson ignited a worldwide campaign when he published an article in The London Observer titled The Forgotten Prisoners.” Benenson wrote: “Open your newspaper any day of the week and you will find a report from somewhere in the world of someone being imprisoned, tortured, or executed because his opinions or religion are unacceptable to his government.” Amnesty International was born that year with an appeal to free six prisoners of conscience.

Over the next 50 years, we’ve shown that collective action is a powerful force for change.  Today Amnesty International is the largest grassroots human rights organization in the world with nearly 3 million members worldwide.  We’ve helped win the freedom of tens of thousands of individuals jailed for expressing beliefs or defending basic rights, shut down torture chambers, halted executions, and established laws and treaties to protect the freedom and dignity of people around the world – and in the United States. And we won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977.

We hope that on this human rights day you’ll join us and our global human rights movement.  Take actionDonate.  Invite your friends.  Help us give the gift of human rights to countless others around the world (watch our video below for a taste of what we can achieve when we work together).

Write a letter for human rights this December

This post is part of our Write for Rights series

Right now, we’re almost halfway to our Write for Rights goal – 350,000 letters! But we need your help. Every letter pledged brings us closer to the tidal wave of letters that can save lives around the world.  That’s why it’s so important for you to make a pledge to Write for Rights this December!

Your words DO have power. They can bring freedom to prisoners of conscience. They can demand justice for survivors of torture. They can offer hope to human rights defenders at risk. Your words can save lives.

We’ve got the proof real success stories told by the people who’ve experienced horrific human rights abuses.

Just check out this video below from one of our previous Write-a-thon cases – Bu Dong Wei, a prisoner of conscience jailed for his activities as a member of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which is banned in China.

Stories like this one are why each year more and more people across the world come together to mark International Human Rights Day on December 10 by taking part in Amnesty International’s Write for Rights Global Write-a-thon – the world’s largest letter writing event. We write letters to demand that the rights of individuals are respected, protected and fulfilled. In doing so, we show solidarity with those suffering human rights abuses and work to bring about real change in people’s lives.

Anybody can take action – whether you want to put on a public event in your community, hold a private event at home with friends and family, or simply write letters as an individual.  So please join today – pledge to Write for Rights.

My Assignment in Gaza

I didn’t expect to feel joy in the middle of an area that’s been divided by struggle for decades.

But there they were – a group of girls, like rays of light, bringing the history of human rights to life through art and storytelling.

(c) Amnesty International

It was December 10th – Human Rights Day – and a girls’ school located in Deir El-Balah, a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, was hosting a play and an art show. I was in Gaza on assignment for the United Nations and was honored to be invited to speak.

In Gaza – as well as hundreds of other global human rights hot spots like China and Myanmar (also called Burma), Amnesty International’s work at its core is about people – the people we aim to protect, the people who believe in us and the people who lift our cause up for the world to witness, and act on.

While visiting the school in Gaza, I realized that these young girls represented all of those qualities. Will you stand up for human rights along with them?

So far, we are more than halfway to our goal of 10,000 pledges by September 30th. Until then, generous donors will match your gift dollar-for-dollar, up to $300,000.

During the events that day, I was captivated as the girls took turns re-creating the different articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

I am the right to education.
I am the right to health.
I am the right to equality.

But it was the artwork of a student that was perhaps most remarkable.

She had painted her vision of key moments and heroes in human rights history. There, next to Gandhi, Buddha, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr. was the birth of Amnesty International in May of 1961.

This is what Amnesty means to girls in Gaza: a beacon of hope in a war-torn area of the world. And today, I hope you will consider being a part of this legacy.

Join before Sept. 30 and generous donors will double your gift.

I left Deir al-Balah with a renewed sense of purpose. Our work as human rights defenders is not done until the Declaration of Human Rights is a reality for children in Gaza and everyone struggling for freedom and justice.

So I pass the candle to you. We must never let it fade. Together we are hope. We are light. We are Amnesty International.

The Dalai Lama on Human Rights

On Human Rights Day, His Holiness the Dalai Lama shared his insights into the importance of NGOs in fighting human rights abuses worldwide, specifically expressing thanks to Amnesty International.  We thank His Holiness for his kind words and continued commitment to human rights!  Watch his speech here:

Musicians Shine a Light on Human Rights

It’s amazing the power that music has to inspire people to stand up for what they believe in.  And it’s also amazing how human rights inspire musicians.  There’s a trio of artists who lent their voices this past Human Rights Day and they each have a unique story of their own…

Tom Morello, a talented guitar player, has social activism streaming through his blood.  His mother founded the anti-censorship group, Parents for Rock and Rap and his father was Kenya’s first UN ambassador, so Tom’s long term involvement with social justice and human rights, comes as no surprise.  Amnesty International and Tom Morello have been partnering together for many years (along with his NGO, Axis of Justice).  His most recent collaboration is a duo of cover tunes that he recorded for the Lime Wire Store’s Live at Lime Sessions.  The music was released on December 10, Human Rights Day and proceeds from the sale of these songs were in benefit to Amnesty International. Aside from the songs, there was also a fascinating interview with Henry Rollins and Tom Morello,  about major issues that face all of us.

After an inspiring trip to South Africa,  26-year-old keyboardist, vocalist, composer, and songwriter Salvador Santana decided to use his music as a way to give back to those in need.  His new album, Keyboard City doesn’t come out until February, but Salvador is giving a song away, “Truth Fears No Questions,” for free in honor of Amnesty’s Global Write-a-Thon and the Women Of Atenco, with  the hope of inspiring action.

Finally, Portishead, the UK based, Mercury Prize winning band, wrote a song for Amnesty International in honor of Human Rights day: “Chase the Tear.” It is available as an exclusive download single from 7 digital from 10 December, with all earnings going towards Amnesty’s human rights work and all rights given to the organization.

Let’s toast to these amazing musicians for lending their talent to human rights and showing the world that through music, you can shine a light on those who are in darkness.

This post was contributed by Karen Scott, Music for Human Rights.

Get UN-ited Behind a New UN Women's Agency!

The stats are in: according to Amnesty International’s recent report, The Gender Trap: Women, Violence and Poverty, women comprise 70 percent of the world’s poor and 75 percent of the world’s illiterate. One in three women – nearly one billion women – will be beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime.  In Chad’s refugee camps, female survivors of war face sexual harassment, rape, and other forms of oppression on a daily basis. In the Middle East and in immigrant communities around the world, an estimated 5,000 women are victims of “honor” killings every year. And sadly, the list goes on.

The marginalization and disempowerment of women is an international problem of truly epidemic proportions. In every corner of the globe, from isolated rural villages to bustling modern cities, women face harassment, discrimination, extreme poverty, sexual assault and domestic violence, fatal preventable health complications, and innumerable other affronts to their dignity and livelihoods.

The United Nations (UN), with its vast membership, access to resources, and international status, is one of the few institutions capable of undertaking measures to empower women globally. Currently, four separate U.N. entities exist to address women’s issues, but for years, the lack of coordination, country presence, and funding have prevented these entities from effectively promoting gender equality and from holding member countries accountable to their treaty obligations.


Honor Women's Rights Defenders by calling for a strong UN agency for Women

Gertrude Hambira, Zimbabwe. (c) Amnesty International

Gertrude Hambira, Zimbabwe. (c) Amnesty International

Amnesty International spoke to three inspiring women’s rights activists about the challenges they face in their work, the personal risks they endure and their motivation to continue their struggle.  Today, on World Human Rights Day, we should take a moment to recognize the work done by Gertrude Hambira from Zimbabwe, Zebo Sharifova from Tajikistan and Aminatou Haidar from Western Sahara, and countless women like them around the world, to defend human rights.

Despite threats and physical abuse women’s human rights defenders strive to improve women’s lives and promote human rights.  However, all too often, their work is constrained by limited resources and limited commitment to promoting women’s rights from their governments.

The United Nations is a galvanizing force in setting new international standards and commitments to protect and promote women’s human rights.  The UN needs the strength and the capacity to ensure that these commitments are fulfilled.  Amnesty is calling on the President of the General Assembly to make the United Nations more effective in realizing women’s rights by creating a strong, UN agency for women.  Today, on the final day of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence and World Human Rights Day, take action to increase the UN’s effectiveness in realizing women’s human rights and sign the petition calling for a strong UN agency for women. Take action today in honor of Gertrude, Zebo and Aminatou.

Happy Human Rights Day! Now get to work!

Human Rights Day - © AI

Human Rights Day - © AI

The date of December 10th was chosen to honor the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) more than sixty years ago today. The declaration says that every human being deserves dignity, freedom and respect. It is the first blueprint for our global rights and continues to light the way for our work today.

Protecting human rights may sound like a major undertaking, but here are 5 simple things that you can do to stand up for our universal rights today – on Human Rights Day – and for as long as it takes until human rights are realized and protected in every corner of the world.

  1. Write a letter. Save a life.
  2. The Global Write-a-thon is the biggest Amnesty International event all year. It also uses one of the oldest (and most powerful) weapons of the human rights movement – writing letters.

    We’ve seen it work! Just last year, Ma Khin Khin Leh, a school teacher in Myanmar and Hana Abdi, a women’s rights advocate in Iran, were both released from prison soon after Write-a-thon letters overwhelmed their respective government offices.

    Your letters can bring justice and human rights back to people who need it.

  3. Make a video – tell your best human rights story.
  4. Each month, YouTube’s Video Volunteers program asks folks to make videos about organizations working on a particular issue. This month’s issue is human rights. To participate, make a promotional, less than 3-minute video about a human rights organization whose work you admire. Submit it by December 21, 2009. The top 3 videos will appear on the YouTube homepage at the end of the month.

  5. Urge elected officials and corporations around the world to take action on key human rights issues
  6. Send emails directly to those responsible for ongoing human rights violations involving issues such as poverty, indefinite detention, torture and the death penalty.

  7. Write a blog on human rights and help spread the word!
  8. Your opinion counts. Blog about a human rights issue that is important to you and help get others involved.

  9. Oh yeah, join Amnesty International!
  10. For nearly 50 years, our worldwide network of activists have helped free political prisoners from jail and bring brutal human rights abuses to an end.  By joining one of the largest and most effective human rights organizations in the world, you can stand on the front lines of change.