How to Add Your Voice to the Fight for Human Rights Abroad and at Home
Recently, we heard the news of the passing of Nelson Mandela, a hero to so many of us and a role model for human rights activists around the world.
It is with this inspiration that Amnesty International completed its annual Write for Rights campaign, during which we concentrated our power to stand up for the rights of a set of focus cases. As we have proven year after year for over fifty years now, when we come together across borders and concentrate our power, we save lives.
Sometimes it is easy to get overwhelmed by all the human rights issues that need our attention.
Among the many human rights challenges we faced this past year we witnessed a deepening humanitarian crisis in Syria that is impacting hundreds of thousands of children; a repressive new protest law in Egypt; and, the continued sidelining of women from key decision-making processes about Afghanistan’s future. Our researchers also utilized satellite imagery to uncover prison labor camps in North Korea, and we continue to send alerts about the deteriorating human rights situation in Russia ahead of next year’s winter Olympic Games.
Our own country is not immune to human rights concerns. We learned that the National Security Agency has access to information about our phone calls and emails which has a profound and still unchecked impact on our privacy rights. Despite many appeals, Albert Woodfox is still imprisoned in a six by nine foot cell—held in solitary for over 41 years. 82 men, who have been cleared for transfer and never charged with a crime, are still detained indefinitely by the U.S. Government at GuantÃ¡namo Bay. Indigenous women in the United States still face alarming and disproportionate rates of sexual violence and multiple barriers to seeking justice.
Yet this year there were also many reasons to have hope. Just recently we welcomed the release of prominent Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh. She was a prisoner of conscience and the subject of sustained activism by Amnesty International members and partners since her arrest in 2010. This past summer, Chinese journalist Shi Tao was released from prison. After over eight years of incarceration and a long campaign of support by Amnesty International supporters, he has his freedom!
This spring the Violence Against Women Act was reauthorized in the United States, including critical protections for Indigenous women, the LGBT community, and immigrant women, and in March the death penalty was abolished in Maryland, making it the sixth state in six years to repeal this ultimate human rights violation. And, after decades of public activism and hard-fought legal battles, after enduring 40 years of solitary confinement for a crime that he may not have committed, Herman Wallace was released from prison and spent the final days of his life in the care of his loved ones.
We accomplished these victories together. Nasrin, Shi Tao and Herman are and were joined in solidarity by people throughout the world who stood with them, advocated for them and did not give up until they were released. Thousands of us ensured that Congress passed a comprehensive Violence Against Women Act and that another state abolished the death penalty.
We did this through individual acts of activism, peaceful collective protests and demonstrations, and the many letters that we wrote to express our solidarity with human rights defenders.
In the face of many challenges we proved to ourselves, yet again, that when we work together for human rights we can save lives and advance systemic changes that keep bending the arc of the moral universe towards justice.
This year we joined together to write letters to demand justice for Azza Hilal Ahmad Suleiman and Miriam Lopez, who were assaulted by security forces in their respective countries of Egypt and Mexico, yet their perpetrators have not been held accountable; we wrote letters to the local authorities in Belarus, urging them to investigate hate crimes against an LGBT activist; we also called for the immediate transfer of Shaker Aamer and other detainees who have been cleared for transfer from GuantÃ¡namo; and for the immediate release of Albert Woodfox in Louisiana.
These are just some of the many people who we stand in solidarity with. Our individual actions, brought together, will be a powerful collective force for justice. In the coming year, I hope you join me.