A toast to birthdays and democracy

On the last night of the ICM, everyone came together to recognize the work we had done over the course of the week and to celebrate fifty years of Amnesty International. In honor of Amnesty’s fiftieth birthday, we ate cake, toasted to freedom, and sang “Happy Birthday” in I don’t know how many languages.

The next morning, at the close of the resolutions plenary, we recognized another birthday. On September 4, Jabbar Savalan, a student activist from Azerbaijan, will be turning twenty. Unfortunately, Jabbar will not be able to celebrate. He is in prison, serving a two and a half year sentence on trumped up drug charges. In February, the day before he was arrested, Savalan posted a Facebook status calling for anti-government protests as part of his work with an opposition organization.

Everyone at the ICM wrote birthday cards to Jabbar, sending messages of hope to the imprisoned youth. Join us by sending cards of support to:

Jabbar Savalan
Detention Centre No. 10
Muzaffar Narimanov Street
Narimanov District, Baku City

And check out the full birthday card action.

Juxtaposed with the case of a young person imprisoned for posting a critical Facebook status, Amnesty International’s commitment to letting every member’s voice be heard is particularly impressive. As a first-time ICM attendee, I was struck by the democratic spirit of Amnesty. Members determine the movement’s priorities and policies.

Any member can bring a resolution to his or her section to try to bring about change in Amnesty International. Through a democratic governance process, some of those resolutions make it as far as the ICM, to be discussed and voted on by delegates from sections and structures around the world. As we all saw at the ICM, governance is not without its disagreements, heated discussions, and difficult decisions, but engaging in these processes is how we push our movement forward.

Yet as I learn more about Amnesty International’s governance, I wish that a greater percentage of its 3 million members took the initiative to get involved in the governance process within their sections or at the international level. At least within my own section, I have seen a core group of people take the lead in governance issues, others opt out, while some are confused by or unaware of the process. While I am sure participation varies from section to section, we can all work to be more inclusive. In order to build a movement that can most effectively achieve human rights victories, we need as many people as possible to participate. It is especially important to include youth and those from the Global South — people who added particularly important contributions to this year’s ICM. Contact your nearby volunteer leaders or regional staff to learn more about getting involved in Amnesty International’s governance.

We are lucky to be part of an organization where we our ideas and critiques are not only accepted, but encouraged. Unlike Jabbar Savalan, we can raise our voices. We must use our freedom to promote his.

Think. How can we free Jabbar and other prisoners of conscience?

Strategize. What should we do to grow the movement?

Raise your voice within Amnesty International.

And, of course, write a letter, help free Jabbar Savalan — this is the essence of Amnesty International’s work.

About Helen Jack

Yale College Class of 2012 Double major in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology and International Studies
This entry was posted in Blogs, English, Looking to the future. Bookmark the permalink.

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