(Page 2 of 2)
"fective when it is based on facts," Secretary General Ennals points out. "The large research department we have created here is responsible for getting those facts and thus provides a solid base for the whole organization."Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
In some countries, where communication is impossible, a researcher's lot is a tough one. Michael Dottridge, in charge of central Africa, speaks of the frustrations in obtaining reliable information about atrocities in the Central African Republic. "The mass murders of children took place between the 18th and 20th of April, and we were only able to inform the press on the 14th of May."
When Amnesty collects enough information about a prisoner to declare a case of injustice, the case is assigned to Amnesty groups around the world. Each group "adopts" three prisoners -- one from a Communist country, one from a developing country, and one from a Western country. The system aims to ensure "that each group reflects a political balance in the groups they adopt," according to Mr. Reoch.
The groups then begin their pestering campaign. They write letters ("Courteously worded, please") to governments holding their prisoners or send telegrams to officials. Many send relief supplies or cash donations to prisoners and their families.
In urgent cases when Amnesty hears of prisoners removed to a detention center under threat of torture, Amnesty flashes "urgent action" messages by telex (loaned by a sympathetic company) urging groups to spread the word and cable their concern.
"Within 24 hours we can send 1,000 telegrams from 40 countries," says Mr. Reoch.
In the past, critics of Amnesty International have accused the group of focusing on right- wing failings only, ignoring left-wing oppression.
There is now evidence that Amnesty is living up to the letter of its stated aim to keep a balance of "different world ideologies and groupings."
Says Mr. Dottridge, "We will act wherever and whenever we see injustices. But we do have limitations. We can only act when we are able to obtain substantial evidence to support those injustices. If we are unable to obtain reliable information, then that might be interpreted as ignoring a country."
Amnesty International has come a long way since its modest beginnings 18 years ago when British lawyer Peter Berenson launched an appeal to organize help for those who were unjustly imprisoned. Within a month, offers of support poured in from around the world, and the organization's first international executive committee was formed under the chairmanship of Nobel Peace Prize winner Sean McBride.
In spite of the gigantic strides it has taken since then, Martin Ennals, who steps down from the secretary general post this year, is careful not to exaggerate. He speaks only in terms of "encouragement.
"We get encouragement in the form of hundreds of letters from people who feel -- rightly or wrongly -- that we have helped them. We get encouragement when a government changes and people are released from prison.
"And we get enormous encouragement from recognition," he adds. "First, the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977. Then, even more surprisingly, the UN Human Rights award in 1978. I know of no other case of government's recognizing the hand that bites them, rather than the hand that feeds them!"
"And finally, we get tremendous encouragement from the growing awareness of human rights," he says. "There is a new awareness that the people who drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 after the war knew what they were doing.
"There is a renewed awareness that what happened then in Europe has happened in Uganda, in Argentina, in Uruguay, and is happening in different ways all over the world. And there is an increasing awareness of the fact that politics go back to human beings."