How Ordinary People Can Make a Real Difference

*Posted on behalf of Frances*

 Congratulations! We have made it through apparently the most depressing Monday of the year in the UK (January 17th) where getting out of bed is at its most difficult. So, as we settle in for the rest of the year (where the only way is up!) it seems a great time to reflect on what has, and can be achieved by campaigns at Amnesty, plus what that means for us as campaigners for children's human rights.

As a relatively new London group member, I have learnt a lot about the success of Amnesty over the past few months. I attended the Amnesty International London regional conference in December last year, unsure of what to expect – just how much of their Saturday would people be willing to give up and what kind of information would we be given throughout the day? What I found was an inspirational group of people and speakers packing the day full of fantastic examples of the tangible impact that Amnesty's work can have.

Steve Crawshaw from the International Secretariat, opened the day talking about the themes explored in his book 'Small acts of resistance: How courage, tenacity and a bit of ingenuity can change the world'. I was very glad to hear his assertion that, while it may sometimes seem easy to argue that certain things will never change, history repeatedly shows us that this is not the case and this and this argument should never stand in our way. Amnesty International, at more than 2million worldwide, is continually able to sent a signal that serious crime needs to be punished and ensure international pressure is felt.

 It was fascinating to hear Steve describe how a landmine ban campaign was described initially as a 'hopelessly utopian ideal' by the Australian foreign minister in 1995, but was in fact agreed intentionally in 1997. Just a few months after Amnesty International was established, the first prisoner release was secured and Steve stressed the very important role that Amnesty International played in the establishment of the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

You don't have to look too far in fact on the Amnesty website for numerous success stories – a great resource to help quieten any sceptical acquaintances in the pub! We can see now too, for example, that there has been a decreased threat of evictions from the Deep Sea settlement in Kenya since Amnesty campaigns began.

Take the Amnesty International Greetings Card campaign, which we are also highlighting on our webpage this year for those cases relating to children. Amnesty's Individual's at RIsk team described these campaigns as simple and effective bursts of solidarity from 'ordinary people', which can make a huge difference.

It was heartening to hear just some of the stories of positive results achieved. Igor Sutiagin in Russia, sentenced to 15 years in 2004, was released in 2010 after 11 years in prison following the Greetings Card campaign. Cuban political prisoner, Pablo Avila, was freed last year and nine women's human rights defenders in Nicaragua had the criminal charges against them dropped in 2009.

I also lived the uplifting story of Ignatius Mahendra Kusuma from Indonesia who received over four thousand cards after being featured in the 2004 Greetings Card campaign. He found that the prison guards really backed off him as a result and his increase in confidence meant that he later successfully petitioned for access to free water for all prisoners. He even managed to write messages of suport to everyone else on the Greetings Card campaign list that year as he knew just how important it was for him.

As members of Amnesty International's Children's Human Rights Network (CHRN) we are always able to tap into the power of campaigns as well, as you know. You will see from a previous post by Lisa that there are several Greetings Cards cases highlighted this year that relate to children's issues. Please click here to read more and write cards – the campaign runs up until 31st January so there is still time!

Of the many other speakers at the regional conference, it was also particularly inspiring to hear from people such as Htein Lin, a gifted Burmese artist who was imprisoned for 7 years as a political prisoner. He explained matter-of-factly that the government could not stop his friends' creativity and that indeed rallying against the injustice of being wrongly imprisoned is what allowed he and his friends to survive. It seemed to epitomise the power of an 'ordinary' person, caught up in extraordinary circumstances who is now able to use those experiences to fight for what he believes is right.

It really struck me that Zoya Pahn, the Burmese human rights campaigner, described England as 'one of the most tolerant societies in the world' – a fantastic platform for us to campaign from and push for change!

We would never claim, of course, that the UK does not have issues of it's own. Our CHRN event in December highlighted that there are many children's issues facing the UK. A previous blog entry summarising the thought provoking December event describes the work, for example, of the Railway Children UK and how we can keep the pressure up on MPs over the issues of street children in this time when funding cuts are rife. Click the link to read the full summary.

We all know that it will not be easy, nor that every case can or will result in the justice that is deserved. What is clear, however, is the power of us as 'ordinary people' to call for change together. I think we all came away from the London conference fired up to keep on pushing using the great research Amnesty does with even more passion.

As the Children's Human Rights Network we will push to call for increased focus on children's rights in particular. We will continue to keep up the pressure on children's human rights issues and it is great that our members continue to visit our action pages to ensure our voices are heard as we move into 2011. So as we put Monday 17th January behind us it seems there really are quite a few reasons that will help to get us out of bed!

 

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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