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Aung San Suu Kyi records message for Amnesty International's 50th Birthday

The world’s best known political prisoner pays tribute to the world’s largest human rights organisation and looks forward to the day Amnesty no longer exists

Amnesty International, the world’s largest human rights organisation, is celebrating 50 years of work on Saturday 28 May 2011. In a message to Amnesty International, Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s iconic pro-democracy leader who was released last year after having spent 15 of the last 20 years under house arrest, paid tribute to the work that Amnesty had done over the last half a century and said how happy she will be when there is no longer any need for such an organisation.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, said:

“I wish, on this 50th anniversary of Amnesty International, that its work will continue to be so successful, that there will no longer be any need for such an organisation.

“So I hope that we shall be able to cooperate together to bring about this sad, this happy day when Amnesty International no longer needs to carry on its work. “

Aung San Suu Kyi went on to talk about her early awareness of the organisation, and how she became increasingly aware of its importance when she herself became the focus of Amnesty’s campaigning.

Aung San Suu Kyi, said:

“The work that Amnesty International has done for all those who are suffering as prisoners of conscience is great - all over the world.

“I was quite young when I first learned about Amnesty International and was struck by the fact that it had been founded simply because one thinking man had read about the arrest of two young students in Portugal. One man in the UK decided because of what had happened to two young men in Portugal, that there was a need for such an organisation as Amnesty International.

“From that day I have harboured great respect for the organisation and after I was placed under house arrest and many of my colleagues were imprisoned for their political beliefs, my appreciation for Amnesty International increased by the day.”

Amnesty was started in London, in 1961, when British barrister Peter Benenson read an article about two Portuguese students who had been arrested for raising a “toast to freedom”. In the 1960s, Portugal was one of the remaining European colonial powers in Africa, ruled by the authoritarian Estado Novo regime. Anti-regime conspiracies were vigorously repressed by the Portuguese state police and deemed anti-Portuguese. The simple toast was deemed insurgent and a challenge to the government and the two were sent to prison.

Benenson wrote an article entitled ‘The Forgotten Prisoners’, in which he highlighted the plight of similar prisoners who had been jailed around the world for peacefully expressing their views. In an impassioned plea, he coined the term ‘prisoner of conscience’ and called for like-minded people across the world to unite in an appeal for amnesty on their behalf. The response was immense, and within weeks Amnesty International, a coordinated movement of ordinary people standing up for justice, had been born.

Today Amnesty has more than three million supporters, members and activists working at the forefront of human rights issues in more than 150 countries and territories across the globe. Amnesty’s purpose is to protect people when their human rights are denied, calling for an end to the discrimination, persecution and harassment that individuals face.

Aung San Suu Kyi, said:

“Basic to the strength of Amnesty International is the fact that so many ordinary people from so many countries in the world have been persuaded to take part in its work.

“The letters written by ordinary housewives, by school Children's rights, by retired people, by active young businessmen - all over the world - for the rights of those who have been imprisoned, makes a great difference.

“One single postcard means a lot, and it’s this kind of idea; that great things start from small beginnings - that has made Amnesty International such an unusual and such a globally relevant organisation.”

Speaking from Rangoon, wearing her trade-mark huge, bright flower in her hair, the political leader known simply as “The Lady” by her Burmese supporters, looked straight into the camera and smiled as she said what a happy, sad day the end of Amnesty would mark for the world. She acknowledged how vital Amnesty had been in conveying the dire situation of human rights in Burma, and asked that Burma is not neglected after the elections last November.

Aung San Suu Kyi, concluded:

“We should be sorry not to be in touch anymore with all those people who have made this such a very, very valuable organisation, but we should also be very happy when we know that there is no need for Amnesty International any more.”

For more information about Amnesty’s work; past, present and future, and to obtain a copy of the message from Aung San Suu Kyi, contact the press office.

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