Amnesty International paid tribute today to Labour politician and barrister Lord Archer of Sandwell QC, who died on 14 June 2012 aged 85. He was one of the human rights organization’s founding members.
Though not directly involved in the actual launch of Amnesty International in May 1961, Peter Archer was a founding member of the original Amnesty International Committee along with Peter Benenson, Louis Blom-Cooper, Eric James and Peggy Crane, and was the movement’s Chair for a period in the early 60’s.
He remained a steadfast supporter of Amnesty International for the rest of his life.
Kate Allen, UK Director of Amnesty International, who met and spoke with Peter Archer on several occasions, said:
"Peter Archer supported Amnesty throughout our 50 years of existence and always made time to give me and my colleagues the advice and support we needed. He worked hard supporting our Capital Appeal for the creation of the first ever Human Rights Action Centre, which opened in Shoreditch early in 2005.
“Peter's commitment to human rights and to Amnesty International over such a long period are something the Amnesty movement will miss and for which we will always be grateful."
Louis Blom-Cooper, one of the co-founders of the original Amnesty International Committee, said:
"As a friend and close colleague, Peter was a most congenial adversary at the English Bar, ever exhibiting in his advocacy a tinge of principled human rights."
Lord Archer came from a humble background in the West Midlands’ Black Country leaving school at 16 to work as a clerk in the Ministry of Health.
Aged 18 he was conscripted to work in a local coal mine, where he spent the next four years until starting a law degree by correspondence in 1948.
A human rights campaigner throughout his life as a lawyer, a Labour MP, and a peer, he played his part in the final abolition of the death penalty in Britain by adding Amendment 36 to the 1998 Crime and Disorder Bill.
He joined the Labour party in 1947 and in 1959 fought Hendon South. After another unsuccessful bid as the Brierley Hill Labour candidate in 1964, he became a Member of Parliament for Rowley Regis and Tipton in his native West Midlands in 1966. He was an MP for Warley West from 1974-1992.
He was one of an informal group of people with whom Amnesty International founder Peter Benenson discussed the idea of an Amnesty "Campaign" before its launch in May 1961.
He travelled widely in connection with the protection of human rights and represented the UK at the United Nations in 1969.
He was a member of Amnesty International’s original policy committee and subsequently chairperson of Amnesty International’s UK Section from 1971 to 1974.
After a Labour government was formed in 1974, he became Solicitor General, a post he held until the change of government in 1979.
In 1992 he was inducted to the House of Lords where he sat as a Labour peer.
As recently as 2010, Lord Archer raised issues on behalf of Amnesty International in the House of Lords, such as Camp Ashraf in Iraq and the International Criminal Court.
He is survived by his wife, Margaret Smith, whom he married in 1954, and their son.