The Amnesty International story shows the power of one person to literally change the world. In 1961, British lawyer Peter Benenson read a newspaper story about two Portuguese students who were jailed for raising their glasses in a toast to freedom. Appalled by this injustice, he was spurred to action. He published an appeal in The Observer newspaper urging readers to write letters on behalf of "prisoners of conscience" around the world. His appeal sparked an international grassroots campaign to protect human rights - and Amnesty International was born.
The Organization Today
With more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries, and complete independence from government, corporate or ideological interests, we work to protect human rights worldwide. Our global headquarters is based in London, and we have established organizations in 68 countries. Amnesty International USA is the largest country section of the organization with nearly 250,000 members, who work for human rights independently, through national online networks, or with high school, college or community groups.
Amnesty International is funded by dedicated individual supporters and foundations to safeguard our objectivity and ensure that our research is not funded by governments and corporations. We thank these dedicated donors for their contributions to the fight for dignity and freedom.
Because fact-based reports alone are not enough to persuade corporations, governments and others who hold power to respect human rights, Amnesty International builds and mobilizes the grassroots power of millions of people to effect change. Amnesty's massive and unrelenting pressure has brought about transformational developments:
- Ten of thousands of prisoners of conscience have been released from unjust detention. This includes Burmese opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who was released after 15 years of detention following more than 20 years of Amnesty campaigning on her behalf;
- We garnered the public support necessary for the adoption of the United Nations Convention Against Torture and for individual governments to ratify the Convention and bring domestic laws into conformity with it;
- We generated the global support necessary for the establishment of the International Criminal Court, so that those responsible for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity will face justice;
- Our decades-long campaign has led to the death penalty being abolished in law or practice in two-thirds of the world's countries - a sea change from the 1970s, when only 16 countries had abolished capital punishment;
- Our research and vigorous campaigning led to the enactment of the U.S. Tribal Law and Order Act to stop the epidemic of sexual assault of American Indian and Alaska Native women;
The December 2010 Global Write-a-thon, the annual letter-writing marathon for prisoners of conscience and human rights defenders, resulted in positive developments in five of the ten cases, within just months.