Amnesty International (commonly known as Amnesty or AI) is a London-based non-governmental organization focused on human rights. The organization says it has more than seven million members and supporters around the world.
In the field of international human rights organizations, Amnesty has the third longest history, after the International Federation for Human Rights, and broadest name recognition, and is believed by many to set standards for the movement as a whole.
Benenson worked with friend Eric Baker. Baker was a member of the Religious Society of Friends who had been involved in funding the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament as well as becoming head of Quaker Peace and Social Witness, and in his memoirs Benenson described him as "a partner in the launching of the project". In consultation with other writers, academics and lawyers and, in particular, Alec Digges, they wrote via Louis Blom-Cooper to David Astor, editor of The Observer newspaper, who, on 28 May 1961, published Benenson's article "The Forgotten Prisoners". The article brought the reader's attention to those "imprisoned, tortured or executed because his opinions or religion are unacceptable to his government" or, put another way, to violations, by governments, of articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The article described these violations occurring, on a global scale, in the context of restrictions to press freedom, to political oppositions, to timely public trial before impartial courts, and to asylum. It marked the launch of "Appeal for Amnesty, 1961", the aim of which was to mobilize public opinion, quickly and widely, in defence of these individuals, whom Benenson named "Prisoners of Conscience". The "Appeal for Amnesty" was reprinted by a large number of international newspapers. In the same year, Benenson had a book published, Persecution 1961, which detailed the cases of nine prisoners of conscience investigated and compiled by Benenson and Baker (Maurice Adin, Ashton Jones, Agostinho Neto, Patrick Duncan, Olga Ivinskaya, Luis Taruc, Constantin Noica, Antonio Amat and Hu Feng). In July 1961 the leadership had decided that the appeal would form the basis of a permanent organization, Amnesty, with the first meeting taking place in London. Benenson ensured that all three major political parties were represented, enlisting members of parliament from the Labour Party, the Conservative Party, and the Liberal Party. On 30 September 1962, it was officially named "Amnesty International". Between the "Appeal for Amnesty, 1961" and September 1962 the organization had been known simply as "Amnesty".
During the 1970s, Sean MacBride and Martin Ennals led Amnesty International. While continuing to work for prisoners of conscience, Amnesty International's purview widened to include "fair trial" and opposition to long detention without trial (UDHR Article 9), and especially to the torture of prisoners (UDHR Article 5). Amnesty International believed that the reasons underlying torture of prisoners by governments, were either to acquire and obtain information or to quell opposition by the use of terror, or both. Also of concern was the export of more sophisticated torture methods, equipment and teaching by the superpowers to "client states", for example by the United States through some activities of the CIA.
Towards the end of the decade, the growing number of refugees worldwide became a focus for Amnesty International's. While many of the world's refugees of the time had been displaced by war and famine, in adherence to its mandate, Amnesty International concentrated on those forced to flee because of the human rights violations it was seeking to prevent. It argued that rather than focusing on new restrictions on entry for asylum-seekers, governments were to address the human rights violations which were forcing people into exile.
In 1990, when the United States government was deciding whether or not to invade Iraq, a Kuwaiti woman, known to Congress by her first name only, Nayirah, told the congress that when Iraq invaded Kuwait, she stayed behind after some of her family left the country. She said she was volunteering in a local hospital when Iraqi soldiers stole the incubators with children in them and left them to freeze to death. Amnesty International, who had human rights investigators in Kuwait, confirmed the story and helped spread it. The organization also inflated the number of children who were killed by the robbery to over 300, more than the number of incubators available in the city hospitals of the country. It was often cited by people, including the Congresspeople who voted to approve the Gulf War, as one of the reasons to fight. After the war, it was found that the woman was lying, the story was made up, and her last name was not given, because her father was a delegate for Kuwait's government at the same congressional hearing.
In 2009, Amnesty International accused Israel and the Palestinian Hamas movement of committing war crimes during Israel's January offensive in Gaza, called Operation Cast Lead, that resulted in the deaths of more than 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis. The 117-page Amnesty report charged Israeli forces with killing hundreds of civilians and wanton destruction of thousands of homes. Amnesty found evidence of Israeli soldiers using Palestinian civilians as human shields. A subsequent United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict was carried out; Amnesty stated that its findings were consistent with those of Amnesty's own field investigation, and called on the UN to act promptly to implement the mission's recommendations.
In November 2018, Amnesty reported the arrest of 19 or more rights activists and lawyers in Egypt. The arrests were made by the Egyptian authorities as part of the regime's ongoing crackdown on dissent. One of the arrested was Hoda Abdel-Monaim, a 60-year-old human rights lawyer and former member of the National Council for Human Rights. Amnesty reported that following the arrests Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF) decided to suspend its activities due to the hostile environment towards civil society in the country.
The role of Amnesty International has a significant impact on getting citizens on board with focusing on human rights issues. These groups influence countries and governments to give their people justice with pressure and in human resources. An example of Amnesty International's work is writing letters to free imprisoned people that were put there for non-violent expressions. The group now has power, attends sessions, and became a source of information for the UN. The increase in participation of non-governmental organizations changes how we live today. Felix Dodds states in a recent document: "In 1972 there were 39 democratic countries in the world; by 2002, there were 139." This shows that non-governmental organizations make enormous leaps within a short period of time for human rights.