About AI

Ever been bored in class and wondered about the origins of the universe? We aren't really qualified to answer that question, but we can tell you about how Amnesty International came into being. Read on...

About Amnesty International


The candle burns not for us, but for all those whom we failed to rescue from prison, who were shot on the way to prison, who were tortured, who were kidnapped, who “disappeared”. That is what the candle is for.
~ Peter Benenson

In 1961, a London Lawyer named Peter Benenson was going about his daily business of reading the Daily Telegraph. In his reading, he chanced upon a news brief which told of two Portuguese students who were imprisoned for seven years without trial for raising their glasses in a toast to freedom in a Lisbon cafe during the Salazar dictatorship. He was enraged and began "Appeal for amnesty 1961" with a newspaper article published on May 28 1961 in the Observer called "The Forgotten Prisoners" which called on readers to take part in a year-long letter writing campaign to release what Benenson termed as "Prisoners of Conscience" - anyone imprisoned because of their race, religion, color, language, sexual orientation, or belief, so long as they have not used or advocated violence.

One thing led to another, and before long the movement gained popularity and snowballed into the organization we all know as Amnesty International. Initially focusing mostly on political prisoners and paying particular attention to civil and political rights, Amnesty International's mandate now includes the full spectrum of human rights abuses as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This has, more recently, come to include such challenges as economic social and cultural rights. In order to remain impartial, Amnesty does not accept donations from governments.

CUAI is just one of many campus Amnesty groups belonging to AI USA which, in turn, is one of many sections in AI, the global organisation. The international secretariat is based in London and coordinates research and dissemination of information on human rights abuses around the world. A common manifestation of the work of the IS is the "Urgent Action", a document containing the details of a specific human rights abuse, usually one or more prisoners of conscience, and a list of officials to whom to send letters. Broad worldwide responses to urgent actions is surprisingly effective at improving the plight of those arbitrarily detained and has been the core of AI's activism since it's inception.