TRANSVESTITE CASE MARKS 40 YEARS OF HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGNING

Police claim Vanesa Lorena Ledesma died from a ‘cardiac arrest', though an autopsy reportedly showed she had been tortured, including being beaten while handcuffed, with severe bruising to feet, arms, back and shoulders.

Vanesa, a 47-year-old transvestite whose legal name was Miguel Angel Ledesma, was an active member of the United Transvestites Association of Córdoba. Amnesty International is calling for an investigation into Vanesa's death in custody and for those responsible to be brought to justice.

Gay and transgendered people are frequent victims of harassment and discrimination by the Argentine police. Provincial legislation allowing police to detain people for non-criminal acts is often used to hold people like Vanesa. Amnesty International is aware of many reports of lesbian, gay and transgendered people being held in Argentine police stations in cruel, inhuman and degrading conditions - many subjected to beatings, sexual harassment and extortion by police, though few victims lodge complaints for fear of reprisals.

Vanesa Lorena Ledesma's is one of six featured cases in Amnesty International's 40th anniversary year. At its launch on 28 May 1961, Amnesty International also focused on six prisoner cases and in the 40 years subsequent Amnesty International has taken up 47,000 cases, closing more than 45,000.

Amnesty International, which is taking urgent action in the case of Vanesa Lorena Ledesma, is asking those concerned to write (in Spanish or English), calling for an investigation into the death in custody of Vanesa Lorena Ledesma, and for those responsible to be brought to justice, to:

Senor Gobernador de la Provincia de Córdoba Dr José Manuel de la Sota, Casa de Gobierno Calle Boulevard Chacabuco 1300 5000 Córdoba, Córdoba, Argentina Fax: 00 54 351 434 30 13

Background on Amnesty International's 40th anniversary British lawyer Peter Benenson was inspired to launch Amnesty International in 1961 after reading a newspaper report about two Portuguese students jailed for making a toast to freedom. Benenson's appeal for 'The Forgotten Prisoners', published in The Observer on 28 May 1961, was reproduced in newspapers around the world and generated over 1,000 offers of support.

The appeal featured six prisoners, all of whom were eventually released. This year Amnesty International is again highlighting the cases of six men and Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights - from Argentina, Burma, China, Egypt, Ethiopia and Turkey - who are prisoners of conscience or victims of torture, unfair trial or death in custody.

The world has changed since Amnesty International was founded. The organisation's first decade saw the globe divided into the communist and ‘free' worlds, the ending of colonisation in Africa and Asia, the civil rights movement in the USA and the emergence of military regimes in Latin America.

During the last decade communities have been torn apart by internal conflicts like those in former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Afghanistan. Civilians have often become targets for warfare; over 300,000 Children's rights have been recruited as combatants; and there have been record numbers of refugees fleeing from life-threatening situations.

Today Amnesty International has more than a million members and committed supporters in over 100 countries and territories, 165,000 of whom are in the UK. There are over 300 local groups across the UK.

Peter Benenson, founder of Amnesty International, said:

'In 1961 I wrote ‘Pressure of opinion a hundred years ago brought about the emancipation of the slaves'. Pressure of opinion is now needed to help Amnesty International achieve its ultimate objective: to close for business. Only then, when the last prisoner of conscience has been freed, when the last torture chamber has been closed, when the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a reality for the world's people, will our work be done.'

The organisation campaigns for the release of prisoners of conscience, for fair trials for political prisoners and for an end to torture, 'disappearances', political killings and the death penalty.

In Britain, the flagship event for the anniversary year will be We Know Where You Live. Live! – a major one-night-only comedy and music event hosted by Eddie Izzard, at London's Wembley Arena on Sunday 3 June 2001.

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