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"The celebrations in London are a testament to the enduring work of the organisation"
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Director of Amnesty Kate Allen
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Former Nigerian political prisoner Beko Ransome-Kuti
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Monday, 28 May, 2001, 22:23 GMT 23:23 UK
Amnesty celebrates 40 years
Amnesty International candle festival
Candles representing individuals helped by Amnesty
Thousands of people took part in a London parade and street party to celebrate the 40th anniversary of human rights organisation Amnesty International.

Freed political prisoners, volunteers and campaigners, including the director of Amnesty's UK branch Kate Allen, marched to Trafalgar Square in London.

Also present were Helen Bamber, a member of the world's first Amnesty group and Perico Rodriguez, a former political prisoner jailed by the Argentinian junta in 1978.

Amnesty's work is needed more than ever

Amanda Barnes, AI spokeswoman
Other events and celebrations were held across the UK and around the world.

Amnesty was formed in 1961 after a British lawyer set up a campaign to help prisoners of conscience after two Portuguese students were jailed for toasting freedom.

Forty years later, Amnesty International has intervened in the cases of 47,000 individuals, campaigning for an end to their torture, imprisonment or death sentence.

In recognition of its work, Amnesty was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977.

Fighting on

Spokeswoman Amanda Barnes said 45,000 of the cases it had taken on were now closed.

Giant candles with the names of prisoners were carried on the march
But, unfortunately, its work on behalf of prisoners of conscience was still needed.

"We are seeing fewer countries using the death penalty and fewer countries holding prisoners of conscience," she said.

"But there is still torture going on in 130 countries worldwide. There are human rights violations going on around the world and Amnesty's work is needed more than ever."

Letter writing

When it was established in 1961 by British lawyer Peter Benenson, the organisation was given the title Amnesty.

"It got such a fantastic response all over the world with people who wanted to join, it has become the success it is today and is still going strong after 40 years," said Ms Barnes.

AI 'Stop torture' list
Akbar Ganji, Iranian journalist
Zhuo Xiaojun - a Hong Kong citizen sentenced to death in China
More than 100 alleged plotters from the Democratic Republic of Congo
Briton Gary Dixon, accused of car bombings in Saudi Arabia
Juvenile detainees in Brazil
10 Malaysian politicians and human rights activists
Samer Fawzi 'Awartani, arrested by the Israeli security forces on 7 May 2001
About one million people now subscribe to Amnesty International, offering their time to take part in the various campaigns' key tactic - letter writing.

Letters written by supporters are sent to lobby governments and authorities on behalf of individuals or groups of individuals to get them out of jail or prevent them being tortured.

As well as individual successes, Amnesty International's work has also influenced international events, Ms Barnes said.

These included the arrest and trial of Chilean General Augusto Pinochet, the arrest of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, and the creation of a United Nations Convention against Torture.

Former US State Department spokesman James Rubin recognises this impact but says there is another side to Amnesty, too.

"When abuses were uncovered in China or in African countries or during the Balkan conflict... I think they had a huge impact and made sure the US Government couldn't avert its eyes from these tragedies.

"But when it came to the decision to publish an obscure lawyer's view that Nato's bombardment of certain facilities in Belgrade was a violation of international law, I think that led to occasions when many of us had the feeling of 'there they go again'."


During the celebrations in London, marchers carried 40 candles bearing the portrait of an individual helped by the organisation over the last 40 years.

These included Jacqueline Drouilly Yurich, who disappeared in Chile during 1974, President of the Czech Republic and playwright Vaclav Havel, jailed for five years for his peacefully-held views in 1983.

Eddie Izzard
Eddie Izzard: artistic director of the charity event
They also include Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of National League for Democracy and Nobel Laureate, held under house arrest in Burma for five years.

Jonathan Power, author of newly-published history of the group Like Water on Stone said that although pressuring governments to release political prisoners still made up 75% of Amnesty's work, its role in the 21st century could be to teach multinational companies to defend human rights.

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See also:

22 May 01 | Africa
Ethiopia urged to free academics
08 May 01 | Americas
Brazil denies condoning torture
28 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Amnesty urges Tibetan musician's release
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