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How the Urgent Action Network Started

How the Urgent Action Network Started

In desperation, Amnesty researchers developed the Urgent Action technique as a means of acting rapidly when torture and "disappearance" were most likely.


Professor Luiz Rossi

The first Urgent Action was issued on March 19, 1973 following the arrest of Luiz Rossi, a professor of economics at the University of Sao Paulo. On the evening of February 15, 1973, Professor Rossi's home was surrounded by a force of military police armed with machine guns, local police, army police and police from the Sao Paulo Department of Public Order and Security Headquarters (Departamento de Ordem Política e Social, DOPS). Rossi was arrested without explanation.

Information about Professor Rossi's arrest passed through several hands. María José Rossi, his wife, explains: “We couldn't get out of the house, not even to the street, so I had to write a note to a neighbor without the police seeing”. Eventually Maria Rossi's note reached Amnesty International headquarters in London, which had for some time been receiving reports from individuals in Brazil telling of a brutal state, one in which torture and human rights violations were rampant. Professor Rossi's detention was not acknowledged until two weeks later.

After consulting several international organizations and related bodies for support in its campaign for Professor Rossi, sixteen days later Amnesty International issued its first Urgent Action.

During the first week of April, María José Rossi was told to report to the DOPS headquarters to identify her husband's body. Upon arrival, however, she saw her husband alive and was shown a pile of letters from Amnesty supporters. The DOPS Director told her, "Your husband must be more important than we thought, because we've got all these letters from all over the world."

Prof. Rossi was freed on October 24, 1973. He later wrote:

"In my own name, in the name of my wife, of our children and of other Brazilians in similar situations we would like to thank all the proofs of humanity and kindness that have comforted and helped us."

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