Amnesty International at 50 Years: Moving forward

“Growth is not a goal in and of itself.  Our aim is to decrease human rights violations.”  – Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty

2011 marks Amnesty International’s fiftieth anniversary.  Fifty years ago, attorney Peter Benenson wrote an appeal to free two Portuguese students who had been imprisoned for toasting to freedom.  This letter to the Observer newspaper in the UK marked the beginning of Amnesty International, and a worldwide movement to realize human rights.

Since then, Amnesty has overcome many challenges and celebrated many successes.  Throughout the world, Amnesty International accompanies individuals on their journey to realize their human rights.  These successes have been highlighted here at the International Council Meeting.  Examples include Amnesty International Ghana’s work to halt forced evictions, the UK section’s work in the realm of corporate responsibility, lobbying against Shell’s negative effects in the Niger Delta, and Amnesty Ireland’s work to advocate for adoption of a new protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  The examples of success in human rights realizations are countless.  Here at the ICM, the mood has been realistic and reflective, but also optimistic and determined for a positive future of progressive human rights realizations.

A prominent theme at the ICM has been Amnesty’s plans to move ‘closer to the ground’, closer to the hearts and minds of our partners, working in collaborative partnership.  This invites an interesting theme:  structure vs. flexibility.  It is clear that as Amnesty charts a new path, it will be important not to think in false dichotomies. Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty emphasized this in an address at the ICM, stating that Amnesty must work to maintain their global framework while also continually improving local presence and latitude to operate on a local level.  These have been themes here at the ICM – finding innovative ways to integrate global vs. local, and international vs. grassroots.  Moving our work closer to the ground presents high potential to foster a system of collaborative social change, where each partner learns equally from the other.  Ideally, the results will be true, collaborative social change and partnership.

Moving forward, Amnesty International will face challenges, but there is no doubt that it is advancing in the right direction.  While maintaining a thoughtful, critical, approach, Amnesty must journey forward in the quest for dignity, equality, and justice for all. It will increase Amnesty’s future sustainability and effectiveness.  It will lend legitimacy because no one knows the local culture, customs and human rights landscape as well as the local population!  It will be key to increasing our effectiveness and realizing a vision that every person will enjoy human rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international standards.

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