Urgent Action Network: Saving Lives Through Fast Action

May 25, 2011

“Please act as quickly as possible. This may be crucial in locating Professor Rossi, or even in helping to save his life.  Others have disappeared in this manner, and never been found again…We must do all we can to prevent another similar case.”

Professor Luiz Basilio Rossi

Those were the closing words of a brief but urgent message received by Amnesty International supporters on March 19, 1973. It was the first-ever Urgent Action, issued on behalf of Professor Luiz Basilio Rossi, who had disappeared after his arrest on February 15th, 1973 in São Paulo, Brazil.

A prisoner of conscience in Brazil under the military regime, then a human rights activist – his story has set a powerful model for the tens of thousands of Urgent Actions that have followed. It was not until the letters started to pour in that Rossi’s relatives were allowed to visit him. Although many people taken into police custody were never seen again, Rossi was eventually freed in October 1973.

As Amnesty commemorates its 50th year, we celebrate the Urgent Action Network, a program that enables the swift, worldwide mobilization of people to take action at short notice when an individual is in immediate danger, or when a human rights crisis is taking place, such as in the case of Professor Rossi.

Today, the Urgent Action Network has over 100,000 members worldwide, and Urgent Actions are regularly sent out via e-mail as well as postal mail. Members respond by immediately sending letters, faxes, and emails to government officials. One of the strengths of the Urgent Action Network is not just the speed with which members respond, but also the impact of so many individually written appeals, each an individual voice being raised to protect the rights of another individual.

For those who doubt the power of fast-acting grassroots mobilization like the Urgent Action Network, just ask the family of Faizan Rafiq Hakeem, a 14-year-old boy who was arrested this past February in Jammu and Kashmir, in India. The authorities claimed that he was actually 27, and held him for weeks without charge or trial. On March 31, Amnesty International issued an Urgent Action calling for the release of Faizan Rafiq Hakeem, and, inspired by the Urgent Action, activists launched a Twitter campaign targeting the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. Five days after the original Urgent Action was issued, Faizan Hakeem was released, ending his own and his family’s ordeal.

So, as you raise your glass in a toast to freedom and in celebration of Amnesty International’s 50th birthday, toast the members of the Urgent Action Network too – and consider joining us in continuing to take fast action and protect more lives.