Still urgent after 40 years
It’s 40 years today since we issued the first ever Urgent Action, on behalf of Brazilian Labour Rights activist Professor Luiz Basilio Rossi, detained and tortured by the military junta all because of his political activism. Like many stories of individuals suffering from human rights abuses around the world, his story is a powerful one.
When Tracy Ulltveit-Moe, the then-Central America researcher heard about his case almost 40 years ago today, she decided to try something new. She sent out what she called an ‘Urgent Action’ to try and stop Basilio’s ill-treatment. The result was astonishing. When Amnesty supporters wrote letters to the Brazilian authorities Professor Rossi’s torture stopped and he was later released. Read Tracey’s incredible story about that first Urgent Action and how they became a core part of our campaigning.
Professor Rossi’s story set a powerful model for the tens of thousands of Urgent Actions that have followed over the past 40 years.
It’s all based on a very simple idea: that when someone is in immediate danger of serious human rights abuse, those responsible would receive thousands of letters, faxes and telegrams from all over the world demanding it to stop. This would show the authorities that the world is watching and might protect that person from further abuse. This immediate response from people all over the world is still as effective today as it was in 1973! 165,000 people from all over the world are members of the Urgent Action Network, and 13,000 of you here in the UK are ready and waiting for emails from us that will ask you to send a letter, email, or fax to help protect someone.
Since 1973, we have issued Urgent Actions on behalf of some hugely influential people including political leaders such as Aung Sun Suu Kyi and former president of Czechoslovakia Vaclav Havel. Kim Dae Jung featured in one Urgent Action and he went on to become winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and President of Korea after his release. But the majority are stories of ‘ordinary’ people from all over the world either standing up for human rights in their country or facing human rights abuse.
A lot has also changed over the past 40 years, and something in particular that has changed dramatically is technology. When Tracy Ulltveit-Moe wrote the first Urgent Action in 1973 neither email, the internet or fax existed back then, only snail mail! Now, we are seeing increasing Urgent Actions about people who are being arrested for expressing their opinions online, something that wasn’t foreseeable back then!
However one thing has remained the same and that is the amazing ability of Urgent Actions to help prevent and stop human rights abuses happening around the world, 40 years on.
We often receive good news about those people featured in Urgent Actions. Just a few weeks ago we were told that Mao Hengfeng, a Chinese woman jailed for her human rights work had been released from prison and allowed to serve the remainder of her sentence at home with her husband.
Mao herself thanked Amnesty supporters and others who had written to the Chinese authorities on her behalf. She and her husband believed that it was these letters, emails and faxes that had resulted in her being allowed to go home.
As we celebrate the successes that the Urgent Action network has achieved over the past 40 years I would also like to remember those people, and those families, who did not have a happy ending. 40 years on, we are still sending out over almost 400 Urgent Actions every year, each one featuring someone who is facing human rights abuse. This is why it is so very important that we keep sending letters, emails and faxes to stand up for human rights and Individuals at Risk around the world.
We don’t know who the next Urgent Action will be about or what human rights issue it will highlight but I hope that you will stand with us and speak up for this individual whoever or wherever they are.
So add your voice and join the Urgent Action network. The power of your action and letter could make that difference.
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.