Human Rights

By: Lindsay Mathieson
SNN Co-Editor
Port Hardy Secondary School
Port Hardy, BC

If students are wondering what they can do to fight for human rights, an organization called Amnesty International has the answer.

Amnesty International (AI) was started in 1961 by British lawyer Peter Beneson. He made a newspaper appeal called "The Forgotten Prisoners" and immediately received offers of support to protect human rights internationally. From that year on, Amnesty International has grown to include over 1 million people in more than 160 countries and territories. Canada alone has roughly 67000 AI members and over 500 youth and student groups.


According to Amnesty International, the members’ main focuses are to "free all prisoners of conscience, ensure fair and prompt trials for political prisoners, abolish the death penalty and other degrading treatment of prisoners and extrajudicial executions."

Laryn Oates, a youth AI member from Vancouver, got involved with Amnesty International when she was 14 because she was disturbed by some of the horrors she read about the treatment of Afghan women by the Taleban militia group. She began volunteering in the AI office two years later, and after a two-year mentorship and training sessions in Ottawa, she has now become a fieldworker.

Oates comments, "As a member of Amnesty, you are committed to the protection of human rights". Amnesty members receive a newsletter, The Activist six times a year, which details cases of people who have had their human rights violated. These cases include people who have been imprisoned for reasons such as their political views, religious or other beliefs, sex, sexual orientation, ethnic background, race or culture. Members then write letters to the governments and embassies of the countries that are committing the violation and sometimes to the prisoners themselves. Members can also focus on one case only and campaign until the specific prisoner is released.

Oates also says that it can be very intimidating for embassies or governments to receive 30 000 letters outlining the injustices that have occurred. According to Oates, "Amnesty has stopped approximately one third of human rights violations they work on simply from letter-writing."

To become involved with Amnesty International, visit their website at or call them at 1-800-amnesty.

NOTE from SNN: Amnesty International as well as other organizations are actively involved in human rights issues. Check out some other websites and articles dealing with this issue: