Better to light a candle than curse the darkness
ORGANIZATION SUMMARYAmnesty International has spent decades fighting for free speech and human rights. Now it's expanded its scope to the digital frontier.
Amnesty International Overview ‧ read
Those millions of members include some of the world’s most famous people. Stephen Colbert, Madonna, Justin Bieber and Adele are among its influential supporters.
Amnesty was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977 and became the world’s largest independent human rights organization in 2005. It has influenced the United Nation’s position on torture and human rights and campaigns against violence against women, the use of child soldiers, and other important issues.
But what about digital rights? In recent years, Amnesty International has also campaigned at the digital frontier and promoted the importance of online free speech and privacy.
A toast to liberty: Amnesty International’s beginnings
The appeal turned out to be the start of something much bigger. In organizing what soon became known as “Amnesty,” Benenson put together a team of researchers and campaigners devoted to human rights. Their work uncovered many more cases of people “imprisoned, tortured or executed because his opinions or religion are unacceptable to his government.”
The organization was officially named Amnesty International on September 30, 1962. In 1963, Amnesty International got its first big result: the release of Ukrainian Archbishop Josyf Slipyj from a Siberian jail.
Amnesty action through the years
In 1977, Amnesty was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its “defence of human dignity against torture, violence, and degradation,” which “constitutes a very real contribution to the peace of this world.”
In the 1980s, governments whose actions Amnesty had campaigned against began to criticize the NGO. The then-USSR accused AI of espionage, Morocco denounced it as “a defender of lawbreakers,” and Argentina banned Amnesty’s annual report in 1983.
Amnesty International’s membership reached 7 million in the 1990s, but it continued to face opposition to its work. Some newspapers and magazines blocked Amnesty’s advertisements because the companies they exposed were also paying advertisers. Newspapers have continued to reject Amnesty’s ads in recent years. An Anti-Shell Oil ad, timed to coincide with Shell’s annual general meeting, was pulled by the Financial Times in 2010.
Since 2000, Amnesty’s focus has shifted to the effects of globalization and the erosion of human rights following the 9/11 attacks. Amnesty International’s work has broadened to include economic, cultural, and social rights, such as the right to privacy and free speech. Amnesty has also clashed with the U.S. government over prison camp Guantanamo Bay, which it called “the gulag of our times.”
Amnesty takes on the digital frontier
In 2014, Amnesty launched Detekt, a tool for journalists and human rights defenders to scan their PCs for surveillance software known to target and monitor activists: “Governments are increasingly using dangerous and sophisticated technology that allows them to read activists and journalists’ private emails and remotely turn on their computer’s camera or microphone to secretly record their activities. They use the technology in a cowardly attempt to prevent abuses from being exposed.”
Governments are increasingly using dangerous and sophisticated technology [...] in a cowardly attempt to prevent abuses from being exposed.
How you can join Amnesty International’s fight online
In March 2014, Amnesty took over dating app Tinder for a day to promote its women’s rights campaign.
Amnesty is the benchmark for digital rights campaigners
As well as freeing many “prisoners of conscience” and defending world peace, Amnesty has paved the way for other organizations to protect our internet rights. And now Amnesty is helping to protect the internet too.
There’s no other organization like Amnesty International, and we’re eternally grateful it’s around.
Tinder image: Amnesty International/PR