Amnesty International An Introduction to Amnesty International By Debbie Manallack FFIT Hon
Amnesty International Talk 1 Introduction - What is Amnesty International? 2 The history of amnesty. 3 David Hicks 4 Conclusion
<ul><ul><li>Introduction </li></ul></ul><ul><li>On May 28 th , 1961 a London lawyer Peter Beneson read about a group of students in Portugal who were arrested and jailed for raising a toast to “freedom” in a public restaurant. This incident prompted him to launch a one year campaign called “Appeal for Amnesty 1961 in the London Observer, a local newspaper. </li></ul>
The “Appeal for Amnesty” called for the release of all people imprisoned because of peaceful expression of their beliefs, politics, race, religion, colour or national origin. Benenson called these people “prisoners of conscience.”
Benenson’s plan was to encourage people to write letters to government officials in countries which have prisoners of conscience, calling for their release. The campaign grew enormously, spread to other countries, and by the end of 1961 the organisation, Amnesty International had been formed. Amnesty was founded on the principle that people have fundamental rights that transcend national, cultural, religious, and ideological boundaries. It worked to obtain prompt and fair trials for all prisoners, to end torture and executions and to secure the release of prisoners of conscience.
Amnesty International defines prisoners of conscience as people who are imprisoned, solely because of their political or religious beliefs, gender, or their racial or ethnic origin, who have neither used nor advocated violence. Amnesty International’s Mandate was based on the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and began work immediately on writing letters for prisoners of conscience.
History of Amnesty Amnesty is a world wide organisation that works for the protection of human rights. It is independent from all governments and is neutral in relation to political groups and ideologies and is also not aligned with any religion. The movement works for the release of women and men who have been arrested for their convictions, the colour of their skin, their ethnic origin or their faith - provided that they have not themselves used force or exhorted others to resort to violence.
Amnesty International calls these prisoners “prisoners of conscience” Amnesty International has also carried on campaigns against torture and ill-treatment as well as - in recent years - against capital punishment. Amnesty can make a difference. AI has helped to end cruelty and abuses of human rights.
So what does this all mean? This means that I have the right to my personal, political, religious and basically any other type of opinion that I may desire without fear of retribution by governments or any other person in authority over me at any time – such as a university chancellor, a principal, a policeman/ or woman, a doctor etc. I have the right to my opinion without fearing detention, torture or any other imposition upon me.
Freedom of speech is the most important part of our lives that we have. It is important to us as the air we breath and the water we drink. It is fundamental to our well being. Freedom of speech therefore is our most important asset. Without this in our lives we may be subjected to harsh regimes and dictatorships. A country that has no freedom of speech has a very dangerous government in control.
For example, in China a teacher was jailed for putting educational information upon the internet. Amnesty International claims that the search engine Yahoo provided the government with details of emails that were sent by this teacher and he was jailed by the Chinese governments. So why are we concerned about freedom of speech in Australia? We seem to have a fair democracy with all the freedoms our hearts could desire.
<ul><li>We are concerned with abuses of human rights internationally as well as in Australia. </li></ul><ul><li>Amnesty has many achievements:- </li></ul><ul><ul><li>prisoners of conscience released </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>death sentences commuted </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>torturers brought to justice </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>government persuaded to change inhumane laws and practices. </li></ul></ul>
Sometimes our solidarity simply keeps hope alive. Hope is a precious weapon for prisoners of conscience battling to survive, relatives trying to obtain justice or human rights defenders bravely continuing their work despite danger and isolation.
Governments vote to start work on Arms Trade Treaty. In December 2006, 153 governments voted at the United Nations General Assembly to start work on developing a global treaty regulating conventional weapons - the weapons most commonly used in armed violence. This was largely thanks to work by the Control Arms campaign and its supporters The Control Arms Campaign was coordinated by AI, Oxfam and the International Action Network on Small arms and campaigns against these weapons being used in atrocities.
AI Stopping violence against women AI has written to the Prime Minster of Jamaica to welcome improvements in laws to stop violence against women. The Prime Minister of Jamaica, Mrs Portia Simpson Miller in March 2007 received a letter from,the AI Secretary General, Irene Khan, urging the government to take further steps during 2007 to eliminate violence against women.
<ul><li>AI advocated for : </li></ul><ul><li>the passing of laws in Jamaica effective to protect women and and girls from violence according to international standards and best practices to criminalise rape, including marital rape and other sexual offences in a gender-sensitive way. </li></ul><ul><li>Removal of the “warning” read to juries in court cases for violence against women which gave lesser weight to a women’s testimony in courts </li></ul><ul><li>Ratification of the Optional Protocol of CEDAW </li></ul><ul><li>the development of a National Gender Policy and Action Plan. </li></ul>
<ul><li>Allocation of a specific budget to National Gender Action Plan </li></ul><ul><li>Funding for more women’s shelters </li></ul><ul><li>funding for the Centre for Investigations of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse </li></ul><ul><li>A clear plan of action to improve the low clear-up rate for sexual assault cases. </li></ul>
Guantanamo: Freedom for UK resident Bisher al-Rawi On April 1, UK resident Bisher al-Rawi was reunited with his family in the UK after more than four years in military custody at the Guantanamo detention camp. Bisher al-Rawi - along with friend Jamil el-Banna - had been detained since November 2002 when the pair were arrested in Gambia on suspicion of alleged links with al-Qu’ida. Bisher al-Rawi expressed his thanks to AI stating:- “ Amnesty International and its good work throughout the world is a blooming flower of hope. I sincerely believe that without Amnesty’s immediate intervention in our case during those extremely difficult first days after our arrest in the Gambia, we probably would have been goners”
Is Amnesty Concerned in Australia? Yes, Amnesty International is an advocate for freedom of speech all around the world and is also concerned with the new sedition laws in Australia which AI argues are an attack on our civil liberties and freedom These laws mirror laws being developed all around the world and restrict freedom of expression and have the potential to impose harsh penalties and detention for those that the government suspects of being a threat to security.
DETENTION WITHOUT CHARGE The original proposal of the ASIO Bill 2002 (Cth) proposed that ASIO have the power to detain people in police custody without charge; to hold them incommunicado; to deny them access to legal advice; to strip-search detainees; and to interrogate them in detention for at least 48 hours, with provision for indefinite extension through the issuing of repeated warrants. Under this original Bill, detainees did not need to be suspected of a terrorist offence or any other criminal offence, but merely a suspicion leading to “reasonable grounds” to believe that the interrogation of detainees would “substantially assist the collection of intelligence that is important in relation to a terrorism offence” even where no terrorist act had occurred
Officers are able to use reasonable force to strip search people. Interrogation may be videotaped. There is no guarantees against the planting of evidence and extraction of false confessions according to Michael Chaaya in his analysis of the ASIO Act. In an attempt to prevent openly breaching the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Joint Parliamentary Committee proposed to restrict the detention power to adults over the age of 18 years.
The government in response only partially accepted the recommendations and it is now possible for children as young as 14 to be liable to detention provided that a parent, guardian or an ‘other acceptable representative’ be present during interogation. ASIO has the power to monitor all communicaiton between a detainee and a lawyer and if a lawyer is seen to ‘disrupt’ the interrogation ASIO now has the power to remove such a lawyer.
In response to the laws on terrorism, many submissions were made – One woman stating: “ The anti-terrorism legislation which allows ASIO to detain people incommunicado for up to 48 hours without charges without the right of silence and without access to a lawyer is quite draconian and reminiscent of Nazi Germany”
A Melbourne woman stated: It is my belief that the Bills being proposed are not really going to be used to defend Australia against terrorism, rather they will use the ‘war against terrorism’ against voices of dissent within the Australian community.
Another submission commented: Basic safeguards of freedom from arbitrary arrest should not be compromised in this way or the State itself becomes the terrorist. To quote Benjamin Franklin in his Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759, - “ They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
Amnesty International is concerned with human rights internationally. You are able to get involved with areas such as letter writing, fund raising and a range of activities. I encourage you all to become active for Candle Day which is AI’s day of public awareness raising and a day of celebration for human rights.
For over five years, the Howard government has supported the Bush administration’s treatment of David Hicks, along with other suspects in the “war on terror” has been held in what Amnesty International calles the “gulag of our times”, and the British Attorney-General calls “a shocking affront to democracy”
In Guantanamo, Hicks was first kept in a cage, then a tiny concrete cell without sunlight for months at a time, subjected to solitary confinement and ongoing physical and psychological torture such as sleep and sensory deprivation and stripped of all his legal rights. At the end of last year, the Howard government was forced to act after public outrage at the treatment of Hicks and the government’s involvement in the abuse. A Military Commission was convened under new laws similar to those struck down by the US Supreme Court in June 2006.
Hicks was charged. After a shambolic courtroom appearance and secret plea bargain negotiations, Hicks confessed to “providing material support to terrorism”, an offence introduced five years after the crime is alleged to have taken place. The outrageous, political fix-up has been compared to a Stalinist show trial. According to Robert Richter QC, “Hundreds of years of what constituted the rule of law have been jettisoned so that Howard, Ruddock and Downer can pretend that Hicks is off their election agenda. Forget habeas corpus,
Forget retrospective legislation. Forget coerced evidence and confessions. Forget commissions in which guilt has been predetermined. Forget prosecutors being judges in their own cause.” The pleas deal meant Hicks was sentenced to a further nine months jail, a gag on speaking with the media, and the threat of a further seven years in prision fi he disobeys. Bizarrely, the plea bargain also involved Hicks denying he had been mistreated by the Americans, despite the fact he had already written a detailed statement of his abuse at Guantanamo.
This plea deal is a sham and a further breach of international law. The Howard government is one of the only governments in the world to accept the Military Commission as a legal authority. The Australian Labor Party has said there is no way Hicks can receive justice under a process designed to produce guilty verdicts. David Hicks has broken no laws. He must be freed now.
Conclusion Clearly we cannot give up our freedom for example in order to combat terrorism as all is lost. Without our freedom we are nothing. We don’t want terrorism to occur but cannot take away our very fibre of society in combating the things we fear. We create a world filled with fear rather than a world of freedom and liberty, of equality and safety. Amnesty believes in justice and humanity for all and advocates for this all over the world.