50- not out
I once made the mistake of asking my dad if the garden was “finished”, yet.
It turns out a garden is never finished. It’s a constant process of staying vigilant, planning your moves and slogging away.
Similarly, fifty years on, it might at first seem shoddy that Amnesty has not yet “got the job done.” The front page of the New Review in yesterday’s Observer, was emblazoned with the iconic Pablo Picasso poster designed for Amnesty and under it the words: 50 years on- why we still need Amnesty.
It was a fitting place to stage the first piece of coverage about Amnesty: past, present and future, as we celebrate our half century, since The Observer was the very paper where, in 1961, an article from British barrister Peter Benenson launched the organisation.
It features a lengthy article about Belarus, Europe’s last dictatorship, showcases a selection of posters from the five decades, and there is a centre page double-spread map of the world according to Amnesty. The issue also includes interviews with Amnesty employees around the world and explores what motivated them to do the work they do.
Yet perhaps the climax of the features, are the interviews with four of the individuals Amnesty has helped. Nita May is now a BBC journalist, but she spent three years in Burma’s notorious Insein prison, where she gave birth to her son. Pablo Pacheco was a journalist and blogger arrested in the “black spring” in Cuba in 2003 and who now lives in exile in Spain. It is his birthday today. Then there is Omar Deghayes, who spent time at Bagram before being moved to Guantanamo where he was imprisoned for more that five years. Jack Mapanje is a Malawian poet and academic who spent three and a half years in prison, he told the Observer:
“Amnesty International. That’s what saved my life. What the authorities used to do was arrest you, and put you in prison without telling anyone. Then they monitored the radio stations to find out if anybody was talking about you. If nobody was, they could kill you.”
All four of them state that they owe their liberty, and sometimes lives, to Amnesty and the attention focussed on their case. It is quite rare that good news is the focus of this blog. Back to business as usual tomorrow, no doubt, because whilst the bad news is that we still need Amnesty International, the good news is we’re still going strong.
An exhibition of Amnesty Posters starts today in the Guardian building and runs until 28 April. It is open to the public each day from 10 to 6pm. GNM, Kings Place, 90 York Way, N1 9GU
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.